Hagia Sophia imam resigns after outspoken remarks

Hagia Sophia imam Mehmet Boynukalın resigned on Wednesday following a series of outspoken remarks.

Boynukalın said he had asked to step down from the high-profile role to avoid “false comparisons in the comments regarding the declaration published recklessly against the national will”, according to pro-government daily Yeni Şafak.

Last week, more than 100 former admirals in the Turkish navy signed a declaration condemning the Islamification of the military, and calling on the government to respect a key international treaty they said was crucial to maintaining Turkey’s neutrality. 

The intervention caused controversy after government officials said it implied a possible coup attempt. “No public servant has the right to resort to such a thing en masse,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“I do not want to give way to delusions like ’why we should not speak while the Hagia Sophia Imam is talking’,” Boynukalın said.

The imam recently weighed into a public debate over economic policy after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sacked central bank governor Naci Ağbal in March.

Ağbal had repeatedly raised benchmark interest rates in an effort to rein in inflation and help stabilise the value of the Turkish lira. However, Erdoğan is a vocal critic of interest rates rises.  

“In strong economies, interest (hovers) around zero to one percent,’’ Boynukalın said on Twitter. “As such, struggling against userers is also a (religious) command.’’

The comments drew widespread criticism, including from the government. Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Deputy Chair Bülent Turan said the imams remarks were “saddening'' for casting a political shadow over his role.

Boynukalın was appointed as imam of Hagia Sophia after the former Greek Orthodox church was controversially reconverted to a mosque in July.

Earlier this month, he expressed support for “our brothers who are persecuted in China”, referring to the plight of the Uighur ethnic minority. 

Uighurs share close cultural and religious links to Turkey, which is home to a large diaspora community. However, Ankara has recently been accused of cracking down on Uighur activists at the behest of Beijing.