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Hagia Sophia, an Eastern Orthodox church converted into a mosque on the day of the Fall of Constantinople

Conversion of non-Muslim houses of worship into mosques began during the life of Muhammad and continued during subsequent Islamic conquests and under the Muslim rule. As a result, numerous temples, churches, synagogues, the Parthenon, Zoroastrian and Hindu temples became mosques.

Islamic law

The word "masjid" is found throughout the Qur'an, most frequently with the reference to the sanctuary of Kaaba in the city of Mecca. The Qur'an applies the term "masjid" to places of worship of different religions, including Judaism and Christianity; in the same general meaning of a place of worship, the word is used in the hadith, collections of Muslim traditions about the deeds and saying of Muhammad and his companions.[1]

It is related of the Arab commander Amr ibn al-As that he performed the salat (prayer) in a church and Zayd ibn Ali says regarding churches and synagogues, "Perform thy salat in them; it will not harm thee", meaning that churches and synagogues can safely be used as mosques.[1]


According to The Encyclopaedia Britannica, "before the rise of Islam it was revered as a sacred sanctuary and was a site of pilgrimage."[2]. According to Tabarī's account, the pre- islamic deites included Allāt, al-'Uzzā and Manāt, three goddesses worshiped by the Meccans. The Black Stone (al-Hajar-ul-Aswad), still present at the Kaaba was an object of veneration even before Muhammad. A number of poems Mu'allaqat used to be hung around the Kaaba, because it was a major cultural center. Majnun was taken by his parents to visit the shrine after he had become mad with love for Layla. The pagan pantheon of Ka'aba, located in Mecca, was the first non-Muslim sanctuary to be converted into a mosque; this was done by Muhammad himself after he conquered Makkah in January 630.

According to the Islamic beliefs, Muhammad's actions were not a conversion, but a restoration of a mosque established on that site by Abraham, who is considered to be a prophet in Islam. Ka'aba thus became known as the Masjid al-Haram, or Sacred Mosque, the holiest site in Islam.[1]


Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, one of the first churches converted into mosques

Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque in Cyprus was formerly St. Nicholas Cathedral - it is one of the very few surviving churches in gothic designs that had been converted into a mosque.

According to the early Muslim historians, the towns that surrendered without resistance and made treaties with the Muslims received permission to retain their churches and synagogues, while in the towns taken by conquest Jewish and Christian places of worship were seized by the Muslims. Modern historians do not consider the process of transformation of churches into mosques to be as regular as the Muslim historians describe it, but in the course of time, the Muslims appropriated many churches to themselves.[1]

From the beginning of the Muslim conquests, the Christians had ceded to the Muslims half of their churches, which were turned into mosques.[3] One of the earliest examples of this kind was in Damascus, where in 705 Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik took the church of St. John from the Christians and had it rebuilt as a mosque, which is now known as Umayyad Mosque; overall, Abd al-Malik is said to have transformed ten churches in Damascus into mosques.

The process of turning churches into mosques was especially intensive in the villages, with the gradual conversion of the people to Islam. During his persecution of the Copts, Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun turned many churches into mosques, both in Cairo and in Egyptian villages, which had no mosques in the earlier generations of Islam. Fatimid caliph al-Hakim converted numerous churches and synagogues into mosques.

During the Reconquista, Christian warriors would just as often appropriate and convert mosques to churches as the Muslims would convert them to their capture.[4] Some of them had been earlier Visigothic churches and even built on the location of Roman temples. The chief mosque in Palermo was previously a church. The Great Mosque of Córdoba began life as a church, was converted to a mosque at the time of the Muslim conquest, and reconverted to a church at the time of the Christian reconquest of Spain.

After the Crusades, several churches were turned into mosques in Palestine, including the Great Mosque of Gaza.[1] Ottoman Turks converted into mosques nearly all churches, monasteries, and chapels in Constantinople, including the famous St. Sophia cathedral, immediately after capturing the city in 1453. To make the buildings fit for the mosques, the Turks destroyed the icons, plundering their precious plating in the process, and defaced the frescoes.[5]

The Ottoman sultan Mehmet II was the first to perform a Muslim prayer in what had previously been the St. Sophia cathedral.[6] In the winter of 1543-1544 the Toulon Cathedral was transformed into a mosque for the 30,000 crew of the Turkish-Barbary admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa, who were wintered in this Mediterranean port as allies of Francis I of France.

Biblical holy sites

In many instances mosques were established on the places of Jewish or Christian sanctuaries associated with Biblical personalities who were also recognized by Islam; the practice was particularly common in Palestine. Caliph Umar laid the foundation of Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism; Dome of the Rock, another Muslim mosque, was also built on the Temple Mount which was an abandoned and disused area for more than 600 years. Upon the capture of Jerusalem, it is commonly reported that Umar refused to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre[7] for fear that later Muslims would then convert it into a mosque in spite of a treaty guaranteeing its safety.[8]

The mosque of Job in Ash Shaykh Sa'd, Syria, which previously was a church of Job.[1] Cave of the Patriarchs, the second most holy site in Judaism, was converted into a church during the Crusades before being turned into a mosque in 1266 and henceforth banned to Jews and Christians. In October 2000, during the Al-Aqsa intifada, the tomb of the Hebrew patriarch Joseph, and the yeshiva inside Od Yosef Chai, located in Nablus, was destroyed by a Palestinian mob and immediately rebuilt as a mosque with a dome painted green.[9]

Hindu temples

The destruction of Hindu temples in India during the Islamic conquest of India had occurred from the beginning of Muslim conquest until the end the Mughal Empire throughout the Indian subcontinent[10].

Ram Janmabhoomi

Ram Janmabhoomi refers to a tract of land in the North Indian city of Ayodhya which is claimed by Hindus as the birthplace of Lord Rama. It is claimed that prior to 1528, a temple stood at this site but with the arrival (invasion) of Mughals many temples including the Ram Mandir was demolished and replaced with mosques (e.g. Babri Mosque).

From 1528 to 1992 this was the site of the Babri Mosque. The mosque was later razed by a politically motivated movement of Kar Sevaks (Honorary Service Offerers)involving 300,000 men and women, from all parts of India on the morning of December 6, 1992. This movement was launched in 1984 by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

The Sangh Parivaar, along with Vishwa Hindu Parishad (V.H.P.) and Bharatiya Janata Party (the largest opposition party, politically), with the support of a large number Hindus (the majority community which constitute 82% of the population) wants to erect a temple dedicated to Lord Rama at this spot. Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul has praised Hindu nationalists for "reclaiming India's Hindu heritage". He further added that the destruction of Babri structure was an act of historical balancing and the repatriation of the Ramjanmabhoomi was a "welcome sign that Hindu pride was re-asserting itself".

References such as the 1986 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica reported that "Rama’s birthplace is marked by a mosque, erected by the Moghul emperor Babar in 1528 on the site of an earlier temple".[11] According to the Hindu view, the ancient temple could have been destroyed on the orders of Mughal emperor Babur. This view has been supported by findings of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which carried out an excavation in Ayodhya.[12]

Archaeological excavations at the site by the Archeological Survey of India reported the existence of a massive structure, presumably the foundations of a former Rama temple, lying beneath.[13] This Hindu temple was demolished or dramatically modified on the orders of the Mughal Emperor Babur and the mosque was built in its place. A movement was launched in 1984 by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP party) to reclaim the site for Hindus, and wants to erect a temple dedicated to Ram, the infant Rama at this spot. Many Muslim organizations have continued to express outrage at the destruction of the mosque and strongly oppose the building of the temple.

The latest archeological evidence comes from examination of the site after the destruction of the Babri Mosque. The Archaeological Survey of India under BB Lal, although initially published as finding no significant structures, subsequently put forward evidence of a pre-existing temple predating the mosque by hundreds of years.

Some texts dispute the existence of a large Hindu temple at the site. In his Communal History and Rama's Ayodhya, Professor Ram Sharan Sharma writes, "Ayodhya seems to have emerged as a place of religious pilgrimage in medieval times. Although chapter 85 of the Vishnu Smriti lists as many as fifty-two places of pilgrimage, including towns, lakes, rivers, mountains, etc., it does not include Ayodhya in this list.

Hindus believe that a temple, which was demolished on the orders of Mughal invader Babur and a mosque was built on its ruins proved out to be the most controversial structure in post-Independence India. A key report by Indian archaeologists on the disputed Ayodhya religious site has split not only Hindus and Muslims but experts too. The report said there was indeed evidence of an earlier temple built beneath a 16th-century mosque that was destroyed by Hindu activists in the northern city in 1992.[14]

Zoroastrian temples

After the Islamic conquest of Persia, Zoroastrian fire temples, with their four axial arch openings, were usually turned into mosques simply by setting a mihrab (prayer niche) on the place of the arch nearest to qibla (the direction of Mecca). This practice is described by numerous Muslim sources; however, the archeological evidence confirming it is still scarce. Zoroastrian temples converted into mosques in such a manner could be found in Bukhara, as well as in and near Istakhr and other Iranian cities.[1]


the Great Synagogue of Oran was confiscated and turned into a mosque

The ancient synagogue of Katzrin was converted to a mosque in the Mamluk period.[15]

After the expulsion of all Jews from Algeria, the Great Synagogue of Oran was confiscated for use as a mosque.[16]

The practice today

The Aksa mosque in The Hague, Netherlands, was formerly a synagogue.

The conversion of non-Islamic places of worship into mosques has abated in modern times, as no major territorial acquisitions have been made by Islam in recent times. However, some of the Greek Orthodox churches in Turkey that were left behind by expelled Greeks in 1923 were converted into mosques, and a number of synagogues were confiscated and converted to mosques after the expulsions of the Jews from Arab lands in the 1950s and 60's.

A relatively significant surge in church-mosque conversion followed the 1974 Turkish Invasion of Cyprus. Many of the Orthodox churches in Northern Cyprus have been converted, and many are still in the process of becoming mosques.[1][2] This practice has sparked considerable contempt in the Greek Cypriot community, and is likely to complicate reconciliation with the Turkish Cypriots.

During World War II, the authorities of the Nazi puppet Independent State of Croatia tried to ally with the Bosniaks, whom they considered to be "Muslim Croats". As a token, the Artists' Gallery museum (by Ivan Meštrović) in Zagreb was furnished with minarets and ceded to be used as a mosque.

In many areas with surges in a new Islamic population (e.g. the United States and the United Kingdom),[17] buildings once housing churches and other religious congregations have been converted into mosques due to a decrease in Christian religiosity. However, most of those churches are converted into mosques after purchasing the property legally, unlike ancient times.

Other religions

  • Mithraism: Conversion of Mithra temples into churches

Conversion of Hellenic temples into Churches:

  • Temple of Artemis Using destroyed temple to build Hagia Sophia
  • Pantheon, Rome converted to a Church
  • Parthenon converted to Church of the Parthenos Maria (Virgin Mary) in 13th century

Conversion of Churches into Mosques and converted back into Churches:

  • Mezquita at Córdoba (Visigothic cathedral of St. Vincent-Aljama Mosque-Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin)

Conversion of Hindu temples into Mosques and converted back into Hindu temples:

  • Ram Janmabhoomi at Ayodhya, India.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Hillenbrand, R. "Masdjid. I. In the central Islamic lands". in P.J. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912. 
  2. Britannica 2002 Deluxe Edition CD-ROM, "Ka'bah."
  3. Bat Ye'or (1996). The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam. From Jihad to Dhimmitude. Seventh-Twentieth Century. Madison/Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press/Associated University Presses. pp. 83–84. ISBN 0-8386-3688-8. 
  4. Barbara H. (EDT) Rosenwein, Sharon (EDT) Farmer, Lester K. Little, Monks & Nuns, Saints & Outcasts, Cornell University Press, Apr 1, 2000 pg. 190 ISBN 0-8014-8656-4
  5. Runciman, Steven (1965). The Fall of Constantinople 1453. Cambridge University Press. p. 146. 
  6. Davies, Norman (1996). Europe:A History. Oxford University press. p. 450. ISBN 0-19-820171-0. 
  7. He was touring the Church and prayer time came around and he requested to be shown to a place where he may pray and the Patriarch said "Here".
  8. Adrian Fortescue, "The Orthodox Eastern Church", Gorgias Press LLC, Dec 1, 2001, pg. 28 ISBN 0-9715986-1-4
  9. Bat Ye'or (2002), p. 83
  10. Andrews, P.A. "Masdjid. II. in Muslim India". in P.J. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912. 
  11. 15th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1986, entry "Ayodhya", Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.
  12. "Evidence of temple found: ASI". August 25, 2003. 
  15. Ann Killebrew Reflections on a Reconstruction of Ancient Qasrin Village,The reconstructed past: reconstructions in the public interpretation of archaeology and history, John H. Jameson, Rowman Altamira, 2004, pp. 127-146
  17. Old Church Becomes Mosque in Uneasy Britain - New York Times