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A Tale of Two Countries: Protests at the Hagia Sophia

In May 2015, protesters descended upon Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, calling for the UNESCO World Heritage site to be opened for Muslim worship. Constructed in the sixth century, the Hagia Sophia served as a Byzantine cathedral until the Ottoman takeover in 1453, at which point it became a mosque. Following the creation of the Republic of Turkey, secular leaders converted the mosque into its current state as a public museum. This contrasts with the other famous place of worship in Istanbul, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, which is featured on the cover of this issue and is more commonly known as the Blue Mosque. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque has remained a functioning place of Muslim worship since its construction. The protest over the future of the Hagia Sophia was representative of a larger divide in Turkey between the country’s secularists and Islamists, a divide which has been growing in recent years and which is just one part of the larger debate occurring today among Muslims throughout the world on the role of Islam in society.

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