While monuments to heroic Americans of a former age—including abolitionists who died fighting slavery—get toppled and dishonored, a land-grabber, mass-slaver, terrorist, and pedophile—Ottoman sultan Muhammad II—was recently honored by the president of Turkey.
During his recent public address celebrating the July 10, 2020 decree to transform the Hagia Sophia, which for a millennium had functioned as Eastern Christendom’s greatest church, into a mosque, Turkish president Erdoğan repeatedly saluted Sultan Muhammad (1432-1481), also known as al-Fatih (“the Conqueror”), for violently transforming Christian Constantinople into Islamic Istanbul.
Of the apparently intolerable decades when Hagia Sophia served as a museum (1935 to the recent decision), Erdoğan began by quoting a Turkish poet:
Hagia Sophia, O magnificent temple, do not worry: the grandchildren of Muhammad al-Fatih will overthrow all the [Christian] idols and convert you into a mosque; they will perform their ablutions with tears and prostrate; tahlils [recitations of the Islamic credo] and takbirs [cries of “Allahu akbar”] will replenish your empty domes … Your minaret balconies will light up in honor of Allah and his Prophet Muhammad. The whole world will think that Muhammad al-Fatih has resurrected. This will be Hagia Sophia; this will be a second conquest, a new resurrection”
Erdoğan’s and much of Turkey’s adoration of and desire to emulate Muhammad al-Fatih—this, to quote Erdoğan, “happy, blessed servant of Allah,” who in fact behaved like an ISIS chieftain—should (but won’t) be cause for alarm.
Consider: Sultan Muhammad’s sole justification for conquering Constantinople was that Islam demands the subjugation of “infidels,” in this case, Christians. He had no other “grievance” than that. In fact, when he first became sultan, he “swore by the god of their false prophet, by the prophet whose name he bore,” a bitter Christian contemporary retrospectively wrote, that “he was their friend, and would remain for the whole of his life a friend and ally of Constantinople.” Although they believed him, Muhammad was taking advantage of “the basest arts of dissimulation and deceit,” wrote Edward Gibbon. “Peace was on his lips while war was in his heart.”
During the siege of Constantinople, he regularly exhorted his followers with jihadi ideology, including by unleashing throngs of preachers crying,
Children of Muhammad, be of good heart, for tomorrow we shall have so many Christians in our hands that we will sell them, two slaves for a ducat, and will have such riches that we will all be of gold, and from the beards of the Greeks we will make leads for our dogs, and their families will be our slaves. So be of good heart and be ready to die cheerfully for the love of our [past and present] Muhammad.
“Recall the promises of our Prophet concerning fallen warriors in the Koran,” the sultan himself exhorted: “the man who dies in combat shall be transported bodily to paradise and shall dine with Muhammad in the presence of women, handsome boys, and virgins.”
The mention of “handsome boys” was not just an accurate reference to the Koran’s promise; Muhammad was a notorious pedophile. His enslavement and rape of Jacob Notaras—a handsome 14-year-old noble’s son in Constantinople, whom Muhammad forced into becoming his personal catamite until he escaped—was only one the most infamous. According to Gibbon, the sultan stabbed to death another Christian boy who “preferred death to infamy.”
After his conquest and desecration of the Hagia Sophia, Muhammad had the “wretched citizens of Constantinople” dragged before his men during evening festivities and “ordered many of them to be hacked to pieces, for the sake of entertainment.” The rest of the city’s population—as many as 45,000—was hauled off in chains to be sold as slaves.
This is the man whom Turkey and its president honor—including by rededicating one of Christendom’s greatest and oldest churches as a victory mosque to him. As Erdoğan concluded his speech:
The conquest of Istanbul [Constantinople] and the conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque are among the most glorious chapters of Turkish history.….The resurrection of the Hagia Sophia represents our memory full of heydays in our history, from [the battles of] Badr to Manzikert, from Nicopolis, to Gallipoli [all jihadi victories] … The resurrection of the Hagia Sophia is required by our respect and commitment to all of our ancestors, from Alp Arslan [Islamic victor of Manzikert and conqueror of Asia Minor, who massacred or enslaved tens of thousands of Christians], to Muhammad al-Fatah, to Abdulhamid [who massacred as many as 300,000 Armenians in the name of jihad between 1894-1896]. The resurrection of the Hagia Sophia … honors Muhammad al-Fatih’s spirit of conquest… Allah willing, we will continue to walk on this sacred path without pause or hesitation, until we reach our ultimate destination.
The message is clear; jihadi ideology dominates Turkey. Hating, invading, and conquering neighboring peoples—not due to any grievances but because they are non-Muslim—with all the attending atrocities, rapes, destruction, and mass slavery is apparently the ideal, to resume once the sunset of Western power is complete.
Not, of course, that any of this stops Erdoğan from playing the victim card. In the same speech, he said that transforming the Hagia Sophia into a mosque is not only supposed to “reignite” all Muslims, but “all the oppressed, all the wronged, downtrodden, and exploited”; moreover, the real issue that needs discussing is not his transformation of a site deemed sacred to millions of Orthodox Christians into a victory mosque but rather Western “Islamophobia and xenophobia.”
Sadly, because Americans are used to seeing statues of this nation’s heroes toppled—for no other reason than they were white and/or Christian, and therefore inherently evil—the significance of Erdoğan’s words and praise of Muhammad the Conqueror—who as an Asian Muslim is further immune from Western criticism, as that would be “racist”—will remain lost on them.
Raymond Ibrahim, author of Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.