The Conquestand Hagia Sophi

The conquest of Istanbul has been a significant milestone not only in Turkish and Islamic history but also for all of humanity. The Ottoman Empire established peace, tolerance, and prosperity across a vast geographical area for centuries. This era, historically known as the ‘Ottoman Peace’ (Pax Ottomana), is a reflection of a unique climate of tranquility and a vision of civilization in challenging regions such as the perpetually conflict-ridden Middle East, North Africa, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. The profound spirit of tolerance that ensured the coexistence of diverse peoples, tribes, languages, religions, sects, and beliefs in harmony and peace was evident from the very moments of the Conquest of Istanbul, as embodied in the demeanor of Fatih Sultan Mehmed Khan.

In the Ottoman tradition, apractice continued for centuries was to recite the call to prayer (ezan) from the main mosque of a newly conquered city and to perform the first Friday prayer (Jumu'ah) there. This act solidified the city's conquest, and the respective mosque would be named the 'Fethiye Mosque', while other mosques in the city remained untouched unless necessary. Fatih Sultan Mehmed Khan symbolically raised his flag at the spot of the mihrab in the center of Hagia Sophia, shot an arrow towards the dome, and personally recited the first call to prayer to seal the Conquest of Istanbul. Following this, he performed a prostration of gratitude and offered two rak'ahs of prayer. With this gesture, he demonstrated the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.On the third day of the conquest, the first Friday prayer was held at Hagia Sophia Mosque,led by Akşemseddin, the spiritual guide of the conques. Over the course of three days, day and night preparations took place: a mihrab and minbar were placed in Hagia Sophia, and a wooden minaret was erected. Fatih Sultan Mehmed Khan, who ordered the removal of movable statues and icons from within Hagia Sophia and the covering o mosaic paintings on the walls with a layer of lime, delivered a sermon to his army during this first Friday prayer.

Immediately after the conquest ofI stanbul, Fatih Sultan Mehmed Khan,deprived of good governance for a long time,embarked on an endeavor to rapidly reconstruct Istanbul, which had fallen into poverty and decay. This reconstruction effort was primarily conducted through endowments (waqf), which held a central place in the social structure of Turkish-Islamic civilization. In this context, following the conquest of Istanbul, Fatih Sultan Mehmed Khan, who assumed the title of Roman Emperor and claimed ownership of all properties registered under the Byzantine dynasty, endowed Hagia Sophia with the first prayer held there. He established the ‘Fatih Complex and Grand Hagia Sophia Foundation’, entrusted the perpetual preservation of Hagia Sophia, and stipulated the continuation of its identity as a mosque.

Foundations were established to meet all social services of Istanbul. Thus, Istanbul has become one of the most successful centers where the culture of endowments, which is considered a flawless system in fields such as science, education, art, and social assistance, has been implemented. Istanbul has taken on an appearance that represents the superior urban understanding of Turkish-Islamic civilization

Endowments (waqf) were established with a’waqfdeed’ recognized by the judge’s office. Waqf deeds contained legally binding provisions for all, including the sultan The waqf deed from 1462, which determined the legal status of the Fatih Complex and the Grand Hagia Sophia Foundation, is regarded as one of the most crucial documents in this context.

This waqf deed is registered under number 2202 (formerly666) in the Turkish and Islamic Works Museum. The duplicate record of the waqf deed created during the Ministry of Foundations period is registered in the Archive of the General Directorate of Foundations under number 46 in the 6th Waqf Register for Istanbul. The Latin translated version of the same waqf deed, made during the period of the Republic of Turkey, is also registered under number 82, starting from page 46, inregister number 575 of the General Directorate of Foundations Archive. This document provides a comprehensive description of the foundation’s benevolent institutions, conditions, properties, administration, and like every waqf deed, includes a ‘waqf prayer’ and a ‘waqf curse’.

When examining Fatih Sultan Mehmed Khan’s waqf deed for Hagia Sophia, it becomes clear that this foundation was one of the most important institutional structures of its time, particularly in terms of education, religion, and healthcare services. Additionally, numerous markets, bazaars, shops, and houses were endowed as real estate properties to ensure the continuity of these services.

Since the time of Fatih Sultan Mehmed Khan, the Ottomans showed great care for Hagia Sophia Mosque, which they considered a symbol of the conquest, and they consistently carried out maintenance and repair activities to strengthen the mosque’s structure. Particularly, the additions and arrangements made by Architect Sinan in Hagia Sophia played a crucial role in the preservation of this human heritage that still stands today.

Some of the curses included in the aforementioned endowment deed of Fatih Sultan Mehmed Khan are as follows:

"If these benevolent institutions were to be destroyed, they should be rebuilt again, not once, but twice, thrice, and continuously... All of the specifications and determinations that I have described in this endowment, as well as those written in the endowment deed, are endowed; their conditions cannot be altered; their laws cannot be changed; their original purposes cannot be transformed into something else; their established rules and principles cannot be diminished; any interference with the endowment is forbidden, just like any other of Allah's prohibitions.

Whoever changes any of the conditions of this endowment or alters any of its laws and rules with corrupt interpretations, baseless reasons, or rumors that amount to nothing more than falsehood; whoever makes efforts for the alteration or annulment of the endowment or aims to have it abolished; whoever intends for the endowment to disappear or be diverted from its purpose and goal to another aim; whoever seeks to replace one of the fundamental benevolent institutions of the endowment with another institution or raises an objection to one of the sections of the endowment or supports changes or objections of this nature or guides the way for them; or whoever firmly decides to act against the divine law and acts in the endowment with intent to, for example, write orders, charters, rolls, or annotations that are contrary to the Sharia and the endowment, or demands rights related to guardianship or endorsement rights or similar matters, and in short, whoever commits any unlawful acts or records these types of unlawful actions in written records and books that are completely invalid, attaching them to their tangled accounts, indeed commits a great sin, commits a sinful deed that requires punishment. May Allah's, the angels', and all humans' curses be upon them. May they remain in Hell forever, may their torment never be eased, and may mercy never be shown to them eternally. Whoever changes these after hearing and seeing them, the burden and sin shall be upon those who change them. There is no doubt that Allah hears and knows everything (Quran, Surah Al-Baqarah, 2/181)."