The controversial reconversion of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque has sparked a political row in faraway Kerala, with the ruling CPI(M) questioning the Congress’s stand on the issue after a senior leader of its ally, Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), hailed Turkey’s decision.
In an article in party daily Chandrika, senior IUML leader Panakkad Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal said that the US has protested the decision but it is noteworthy that Russia, where 25 per cent of Orthodox Christians live, has not interfered. “Many European countries, which have opposed Turkey’s decision on Hagia Sophia, have not allowed Muslims the right to offer namaz… when all contemporary Christian religious and political leaders disagree with the conversion… they do not make any stake over its ownership realising that historically there is no ground for such a demand,” he wrote.
Sadiq Ali, part of the IUML’s high power committee, is also a prominent member of the Malappuram-based Panakkad family, which has a considerable stake in north Kerala politics. “Turkey president Tayyip Erdogan, who is raising his voice in the international community for the systematically-oppressed Muslims across the world, has been attacked under the guise of pseudo secularism,” he wrote.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, CPI(M) politburo member and party state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan asked how the IUML can now oppose the BJP government’s move to construct a Ram temple where a mosque once stood. “Jamaat-e-Islami is an organisation which supports the Turkey government. With the IUML leader hailing the conversion of Sophia Hagia into a mosque, the link between IUML and Jamaat-e-Islami has come to the fore. Congress has decided to make an alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political wing of Popular Front of India. What is the stand of Congress towards IUML approach of acknowledging the act of Turkey ruler.”
The pro-Congress Catholic Church in Kerala has also opposed the IUML leader’s remarks.
In a statement, Kerala Catholic Bishops Council spokesperson Fr Varghese Vallikkatt said, “Before glorifying the encroachment of Hagia Sophia Church, IUML leader Sadiq Ali should have learned history. To justify Erdogan would be a liability of political Islamists in Kerala… that should not be at the cost of endangering the future of Indian secular democracy and peaceful co-existence of religions. There is danger in unilaterally interpreting the history.”
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