After the re-conversion of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a Mosque by the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, there is a demand to re-convert the famous Cordoba Cathedral in Spain into a Mosque as well. The person who has stirred this hornet's nest is the ruler of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi.
In an interview given to a local news channel, the Emir of Sharjah cited the example of Hagia Sophia and said that its time for Muslims to get the Cathedral back in their hands, away from Christians who "don't deserve it."
"We demand the return of Cordoba Mosque, which was granted to the church, as this is a gift which doesn't belong to those who don't deserve it," the Emir, who is also known as Sheikh Sultan III, stated.
Interestingly, the statement from the sovereign of Sharjah, which is among the most prominent Emirates in the UAE, directly goes against the stance taken by one of the senior functionaries of the country's government.
Noura Al Kaabi, the minister of Culture and Knowledge Development in UAE's government, condemned the move to turn Hagia Sophia back into a Mosque. "Humanity's cultural landmarks should be preserved for their value and function, and must neither be misused nor altered for personal purposes," Al Kaabi had said in reaction to the Erdogan government's move.
History of the Site
The Cordoba Cathedral has a very interesting history behind it. The site where it stands once hosted a Visigothic Church of Catholics called Basilica of Saint Vincent of Lérins, built in the eighth century. In 711, when the Arabs conquered Spain, Cordoba became one of the main centers of their empire in the country.
In 784, the ruler of Spain ordered a grand Mosque to be built on the site of the basilica. That's how the Grand Mosque of Cordoba came into existence. However, during the period when Spanish Christian rulers regained Spain from Muslim rule, a process known as Reconquista, they took over Cordoba in 1236 and converted the Mosque into a Church again.
The building was modified in the 16th century by the addition of a Church nave right in the middle of the Mosque's inner structure. Interestingly, the then ruler of Spain Charles V did not find the change aesthetically pleasing and criticised it. "You have destroyed something unique to build something commonplace," he is reported to have said.
The cathedral is officially known as Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, but is also called the Mezquita-Catedral de Cordoba (Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba). The building is also registered as UNESCO World Heritage site.
Demands by Muslims regarding the mosque have been made before as well. As of now, Muslims are not allowed in the building to pray. There has been a campaign since 2004 to change that situation. Leaders and organizations representing Muslims have demanded the right to pray inside the building. But there has been strong resistance from the Christians, including the Pope.