Turkey has come under fire from world leaders for converting the Hagia Sophia to a mosque, but one particular critic has a lot to lose by speaking out against the regime.
NBA star Enes Kanter, who is a Muslim from turkey, has criticized his government’s move, telling CBN News that the move to turn the UNESCO World Heritage Site into a mosque “broke” his heart.
“I feel sad for all my Christians, my brothers and my sisters out there because the Hagia Sophia was a world United Nations heritage site. So, as a Muslim I’m deeply pained by this decision,” the Boston Celtics center said.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the Hagia Sophia to Muslim prayers on July 24 despite pleas from around the world.
Kanter is a human rights advocate who has been outspoken out against Turkey’s human rights record for years now and has used his platform in the NBA to get out his message, he told CBN News.
“Turkey is the number one in the world that put most journalists in jail. That shows there’s no freedom of speech in Turkey, religion, or expression. There’s no democracy or human rights. Just because I talk about these issues, the Turkish government [is] basically declaring me as a terrorist.”
And, as Kanter noted, “Turkey has enough mosques around that area and they’re not even half full. So, why would you convert another church to a mosque?”
Orthodox Christians were especially upset since the site was originally built as a church in 537. It was later turned into a mosque in 1453 and then turned into a museum in 1935.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem said that despite being rife with religious conflict, “wiser leaders have sought toleration and coexistence.”
“Our experience in Jerusalem is that to attempt to treat contested holy sites in an exclusive manner is simply a recipe for bitterness and suffering,” Theophilos III admonishes in a USA Today opinion piece.
“When our holy sites are open to all, there is peace and mutual respect. Even the holy sites that belong particularly to Christians are open to all who wish to visit, and are shared among the various denominations. Our record in the Holy Land is far from perfect, but we have learnt, and continue to learn, from unhappy experience.”
Just this week, an Israeli news analyst called Turkey a “rogue state” for its actions of late throughout the Middle East.
“Erdogan keeps repeating that he will ‘liberate’ the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and has just converted Turkey’s largest church into a mosque while broadening intervention in Libya, a country that has seen civil war since 2011.”
In Jerusalem, “Turkey is working diligently to deepen its involvement and influence on the Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem, and in east Jerusalem neighborhoods,” the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs reports.
“It is encouraging welfare-religious (dawa) activities – in the form of economic, communal, religious, and social assistance – aimed at drawing the Palestinian public toward the Turkish-Islamic heritage and at weakening Israel’s hold on the Old City and east Jerusalem.”
The Jewish Press reported several months ago that Turkey has been conducting extensive activity within Jerusalem’s Old City and has specifically been targeting the Armenian and Christian Quarters. Turkey has been pouring money into pro-Palestinian initiatives within Israel, is encouraging its citizens to take pilgrimages to Israel and is trying to buy property in the Old City owned by Chritians.
“Turkish nonprofits operate in Jerusalem daily, helping mainly the Muslim Brotherhood and Jerusalem religious activities,” reporter Baruch Yedid wrote.
“The growing Turkish activity in Jerusalem and its support for the Muslim Brotherhood are of concern to Israel. In its recent annual intelligence assessment, the IDF Intelligence Division has, for the first time, defined Turkey as a threat.”