A Visit to Hagia Sophia: A Paradox of Wonder

It’s not unusual to see murals inside centuries-old structures like the one in this photo. But if you examine it closely, at the outset of what maybe surprisingly odd yet arresting is that the wall-painted image of Virgin Mary (the image at the center just below the dome on the half-moon concrete) was coalesced with Islamic calligraphy embossed on round panels.

And then my head gone into this mode: "?!...&?!...?!"

A dry vis-à-vis encounter with the Arabic text and mother of Jesus Christ teemed in one frame before the grandeur of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Istanbul made me think that this appears to be a supreme paradox as a layman Catholic. But what historical knowledge can do?

Empathy.

Like the flow of the river into the banks. The dry land is welled up with the richness of stories or even alone one story, later the land eroded with strong tide and reveals it is more than what meets the eye.

A frightening depth, or should it be not?

Now a museum, this was used to be, first, an Orthodox Christian Church and then later converted into a mosque.

According to our tour guide, there was no destruction that took place inside when the then church was renovated into a mosque because of one thing: Respect.

In this world, we always clamor for the universality of all things, most of all experiences that they should be applicable to all, shared by all, accessible to all, for all by all. Like a call for a universal language, universal currency, universal faith, universal healthcare and the list goes on. It is supposed to function as a bridge to close gaps and provide better understanding among groups, even among individuals and diminish differences. This we say after all what humanity is all about- that we are all in this together. Nobody will be left behind. It should be an inclusive society.

While this looks appealing on theory and all the more a crowd drawer in practice, but I would like to think that sometimes the things we share with all also all reduces us. The universality that supposed to protect and care to each individual dilutes humanity into a mere myriad of cookie cutter walking creatures. The society sums us up by picking the common convenient theme from each of us and this abbreviated human narrative is presumed to be for the greater good that “should be applied to all, for the good of all.” And we as we look at ourselves of being just members of the universe, we are left with this- anything outside the theme of sameness, the rest of ourselves is thrown at the back seat.

With this in mind, we tend to daily operate based on that small piece of our whole, that of what we have in common with other people. That if you don’t believe, you disagree, you have an unpopular opinion, you look odd or function different with the rest of the world or simply put just being yourself (your whole self); animosity and hatred arise subsequently from the majority and the powerful. These pull the strings to have more damaging and throbbing wounds to human soul up to this very day- injustice and inequality.

Why we end up with a fist fight with universality and majority?

We want to belong that is. For us, it is a simple need but we relentlessly chase on… up to this very day of supposedly smaller world and increased connectivity because of technology. Yet despite the desperate creation of an intimate world, is it belongingness somewhat elusive or is it otherwise? How come much effort we do put on the table to function frustratingly partly ourselves just to be welcomed and embraced?

And in our quest for acceptance, our exercise to express ourselves or just being ourselves is curtailed. This obsession for being wanted given birth by universality-for-the-greater-good slowly destroys us leading to our inevitable crypt.       

Is humanity supposed to be made up of individuals, is it not? I would like to think that humanity is way greater than the sum of its parts. We as individuals who are very different from one another, have specific needs that are ironically dissolved into the giant tightly compressed universal need, yet weak and feeble.

Treating each human complexes and solving it through universal dump alone for convenience for me is absurd. However, I can think of a universal truth that can transcend and breakthrough with all of these human complexes, injustices and inequalities- that is to be truly one for all, we must acknowledge and accept that we are and we will never be the same and empathize that differences among us is normal as breathing. This is a paradox we humans try hard to get out of our heads to put it in our hands, or do we really try?

And a powerful weapon in instances that we allow others to reduce us or even we do our own destruction and in these trying times of diversity-induced conflicts; a beacon we must search for, we must always (always) remember that YOU and I MATTER. Second, we are ALL EQUAL regardless our glaring differences (race, skin color, gender, religion or political affiliation).

Humanity is individuality and specificity even down to the last tip of our hair. Nevertheless, it does not diminish the fact that WE ALL MATTER, WE ARE ALL EQUAL.

In the story above, respect was given by the Muslims to the Christians. Hagia Sophia could have been destroyed and new occupants could have said that they are better than the former, their faith is greater than the Christians. But no.

If you recall that our local guide said it was out of respect. Much that I would want to say that respect thousands of years ago is the same as it is now, but it is grieving to observe that respect is viewed as something that can be earned by social status, type of job that you do, educational attainment etc or selectively given based on color of your skin, the country you are part of, your gender orientation, the religion you belong to among others.

What thing could untangle this seemed to be a spell that cripples us?

Love.

The unfathomable miracle of love.

Love can never be reduced, instead it multiplies.

Love does not say “I love you because you are white or we are the same.” It says “I love you.” Period.

It knows no boundaries. It’s the answer to even the supreme paradoxes.

The universal language of the world that gives justice to the denied, establishes an equal relationship within the layers and layers of diversity of the humankind and cures all destruction to the human soul.

That…

these things we could not understand suddenly make sense.

Like what I felt looking at the altar of Hagia Sophia…

Odd yet arresting…

I chose to surrender not in oddity but in the realm of marvel.

How beautiful, isn’t it?

If that isn’t love, then tell me what it is.

And what more can love do?

Trivia: The Christian Altar of the Hagia Sophia is nearly in same position with Islam’s Quibla (direction that should be faced when a Muslim prays)

Coincidence? No, I call this a miracle.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul Turkey

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul Turkey

Nico Dizon