UAE criticises the decision to turn Saint Sophia into mosque, stresses its universal heritage

UAE Culture Minister Noura Al Kaabi attacks Erdoğan's decision. The building, now a museum, is an important example of interaction and dialogue. For Archbishop Pizzaballa, the decision reopens a wound. Radical Palestinian movement and al-Aqsa imam are in favour.

Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) – Humanity’s cultural landmarks should be preserved for their value and function, and must " neither be misused nor altered " for personal purposes, said Noura Al Kaabi, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Minister of Culture and Youth.

For Al Kaabi, the decision of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to turn the Basilica of Saint Sophia, now a museum, into a mosque deeply “touches the human essence” because the Unesco heritage site has “exceptional international value" for "all peoples and cultures".

The UAE’s reaction is one of the most critical in the Arab world. UAE leaders committed their country to the document on human brotherhood signed by Pope Francis and Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmad al-Tayyeb.

With respect to Saint Sophia, the UAE Minister for Culture slams the change in status, regardless of its historical and human value, noting how it served “as a bridge connecting different peoples and cementing their bonds”.

Saint Sophia, she explained, “is a unique witness to the interaction between Asia and Europe across centuries. It is a symbol of dialogue”.

Meanwhile, a week after Turkey's decision to convert the Byzantine basilica into a mosque, comments and reactions continue. As Erdoğan announced, the first prayer is set for 24 July.

Archbishop  Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, said that the decision “reopens wounds in the relations between Christians and Muslims” since Saint Sophia is a symbol for everyone, not only for the Orthodox.

“Just like Al-Azhar protested the decision, we can do the same,” he added. “We have to be firm in our attitude with our Muslim brothers and friends.”

Conversely, the radical Palestinian Hamas movement is among the groups in favour of the decision by Turkey’s Council of State, calling it “a proud moment for all Muslims”, whilst criticising those Arab leaders who express “sadness and weeping” over the tribunal’s ruling.

The decision was also well received by Sheikh ‘Ekrima Sa’id Sabri, the preacher of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who congratulated Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.