Indonesian Muslim party warns Erdogan could spark global ‘clash of civilizations’

hagia sophia shutterstock Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey. | K_Boonnitrod/Shutterstock

An Islamic political party in Indonesia said Tuesday that Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could spark a civilizational clash because of his calls for an Islamic "reawakening" amid the establishment of the Hagia Sophia as a mosque.

A recent tweet from Erdogan "summoned Muslims 'in every corner of the earth' to follow Turkey's lead in reawakening the Islamic nation, or ummah, which was largely united under the political and military leadership of a caliph from the 7th century CE until the dissolution of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924," Indonesia's National Awakening Party said in a July 21 statement.

Recent statements from the Turkish president "are attacking the rules-based international order; inflaming emotions 'wherever Muslims dwell throughout the earth;' and threaten to
rekindle a clash of civilizations that afflicted humanity for nearly 1300 years, along a fault line stretching 'from Bukhara (in Central Asia) to al-Andalus (Spain),'" the statement added.

While "President Erdogan has defended the conversion of Hagia Sofia into a mosque by citing Turkey's right, as a sovereign nation state, to do as it pleases with the former Orthodox Christian cathedral," the effects of the president's call for an Islamic reawakening "extend far beyond Turkey's borders and threaten both Muslim- majority and non-Muslim nations worldwide," the National Awakening Party said.

Hagia Sophia, the church of "Holy Wisdom," was built in the year 537 and served as the cathedral of the Patriarch of Constantinople. It stood as the largest known building in the world and the largest Christian church, for a period of time.

In the year 1453, Turkish armies sacked Constantinople and the church was turned into a mosque. In 1934, the cabinet of then-Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk-head of a secularist government-converted the mosque into a museum and opened it to visitors from around the world.

On July 2, a Turkish court ruled that the 1934 conversion of Hagia Sophia from a mosque to a museum was unlawful. The decision was announced July 10, and Erdogan subsequently announced that Hagia Sophia would be converted back into a mosque.

Erdogan made his announcement in a lengthy July speech that was littered with historical, geographical, and religious references to the old Islamic world, connecting Hagia Sophia's reconversion to a much-broader "Islamic renaissance."

In his speech, the Turkish leader predicted that Hagia Sophia's reconversion would herald the liberation of al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in the old city of Jerusalem, the third-holiest site in Islam.

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, a former vice chair on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told CNA July 17 that the president's speech aimed to "justify what he [Erdogan] sees as a kind of religious destiny, and also a geopolitical model for Turkey's revisionism and expansionism."

Erdogan specifically chose these "historical figures" to promote the depth of Turkey's history and to "encompass Turkic tribes from Central Asia into the Ottoman Empire," she said.

It was a speech "heralding the liberation of the full Muslim world," Prodromou said.

Christian and political leaders around the world condemned the decision to reconvert Hagia Sophia. Orthodox and Catholic leaders have declared July 24 a day of mourning for the decision.

For its part, the National Awakening Party said that "Erdogan's statements were swiftly endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran and a wide range of Islamic supremacists worldwide, including Indonesian Muslims who seek to transform the multi-religious and pluralistic Republic of Indonesia into an Islamic State or caliphate."

"The Islamic world is in the midst of a rapidly metastasizing crisis, with no apparent sign of remission. Among the most obvious manifestations of this crisis are the brutal conflicts now raging across a huge swath of territory inhabited by Muslims, from Africa and the Middle East to the borders of India; rampant social turbulence throughout the Islamic world; the unchecked spread of religious extremism and terror; and a rising tide of Islamophobia among non-Muslim populations, in direct response to these developments," the party said.

That crisis, the statement added, has led to humanitarian problems in many parts of the world, and increased Islamic militant radicalization.

"In the midst of these circumstances, it is the height of irresponsibility for Recep Erdogan to further inflame Muslim emotions in pursuit of his domestic political agenda and to serve as a cover for his violation of international norms-by drilling for natural gas within the territorial waters of Cyprus and Greece; supporting al-Nusra (an affiliate of al-Qaeda) in Syria; and intervening in the Libyan conflict on behalf of the Islamist-dominated interim government-in an effort to enhance Turkish regional power and assert maritime rights in the eastern Mediterranean," the party said.

The National Awakening Party was founded in Indonesia in 1999, and holds 47 of 560 seats in the country's lower legislative house. It is generally identified as a centrist party, and is aligned with centrist Christian Democrat parties in Europe.

More in Asia - Pacific

Las week, Indonesian Sheikh Yahya Cholil Staquf, leader of the largest independent Muslim organization in the world, said that "campaigns of mass killing, displacement, and terror that threaten to break the already badly frayed bonds of trust that make a shared communal life between Muslims and non-Muslims possible."

Staquf is the general secretary of Indonesia's Nahdlatul Ulama, the world's largest Muslim organization with more than 90 million followers. He has also co-founded a global movement promoting a "humanitarian Islam" that shuns the ideas of a caliphate, Sharia law, and "kafir," or infidels.

In a July 7 essay in Public Discourse, he called for "a global strategy to develop a new Islamic orthodoxy that reflects the actual circumstances of the modern world in which Muslims must live and practice their faith."

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