New Delhi: “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all,” American poet H. W. Longfellow once wrote famously.
This is what is happening in contemporary India, Israel, and Turkey. They are all fighting ancient and medieval battles with modern weapons.
They are all reclaiming their holy shrines, converted to other faiths by the victors of the day. Ancient and medieval invaders often destroyed the defeated people’s holy places to enslave them physically and psychologically; but, then, tides turned and the rulers became ruled and reclaimed their lost heritage.
In August 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation for the reconstruction of a magnificent Lord Ram Temple in Ayodhya on the same place where a medieval mosque was built by Babar, founder of the Mughal Empire in 1528. It was razed to the ground by the resurgent Hindus in 1992.
This was not achieved in a day or a decade. For 492 long years, the Hindus tried to reclaim the ancient temple and sacrificed thousands of lives in a hundred different agitations through the Mughal and British regimes. Goswami Tulsidas, the founder of the modern Hindi language who penned the Ramayana, had refused to meet Mughal Emperor Akbar because of this.
The embers lay dormant under several layers of ash. After Independence, a long court battle culminated in the Supreme Court returning the holy land back to the Hindus in November 2019, paving the way for the reconstruction of the great Temple. On September 30, 2020, a court acquitted all Hindu leaders accused of removing Islamic encroachment.
Nearly 5,000-km-away, in the same September 2020, Turkey reconverted the Hagia Sophia Museum into a mosque. It was originally built as a Church in the old capital Constantinople in 537 AD, which was converted by the Ottoman Sultanate into a mosque in 1453.
When Turkey became ‘secular’ a century ago, it was converted into a museum in 1935, later recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
Now that its militant President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to resurrect the dead Ottoman Empire, the first important thing he did was to ‘reclaim’ the mosque. He is also supporting different militant and terrorist Islamic groups—and has raked up the Kashmir issue in support of Pakistan. But he is unaware of Longfellow’s phrase—the ongoing war between Muslim-dominated Azerbaijan he is supporting, and a Christian Armenia—is inching closer to Turkey, with support from Russia!
Israel is also following the same path to reclaiming its heritage. Its Solomon Temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 AD, leaving only the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall—the only ancient Jewish place of worship in the world. It is located in Old Jerusalem, Israel’s Eternal Capital, also recognized as such by US President Donald Trump in December 2017.
Islam’s Second Caliph Umar had built the Al Aqsa Mosque on the same Temple site during his reign (634-644). Later, the Dome of the Rock was added to the shrine in what is now known as al-Haram al-Sharif, the third holiest Islamic place after Mecca and Medina.
History is now turning a full circle in the Semitic world, whose two branches, the Jews and the Arabs, are coming together in a reunion effort after more than 14 centuries.
While the 20th century witnessed reconciliation between the Christians and the Jews and the re-establishment of Israel in 1949, the 21st century is bringing the Jews and the Arabs closer. In fact, they had begun to reconcile when the then US President Jimmy Carter brought the Egyptian and Israeli leaders together to sign the historic Camp David Accords in 1978. Many Arabs, who at that time opposed it and supported the Palestinian cause, have now come around and inching closer to Israel.
After the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty (1994), other Arab states are also diluting their ancient hostility towards Israel. In September 2020, Trump hosted leaders from Israel, the UAE and Bahrain to sign another historic document, known as the “Abraham Accords”, to bring peace to the volatile Middle East. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states are also cautiously getting closer to Israel.
The Muslim Ummah (Brotherhood) is currently facing a severe crisis of identity due to this turn of events. In 2019, Turkey, Pakistan, and Malaysia—all non-Arab Muslims—tried to create a separate bloc within the Saudi Arabia-controlled 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in a bid to displace Riyadh from the community’s global leadership.
The Saudis, who saw through the Turkish game-plan, immediately scuttled the move by twisting a broke Pakistan’s fragile arms. Malaysia also came around, leaving Turkey high-and-dry.
But Ankara is forging ahead to snatch the Islamic leadership from the Saudis and re-establish the Ottoman Empire-cum-Sultanate-cum-Caliphate, with Erdogan slipping into the shoes of Abu al-Bakr al-Baghdadi of the terror group ISIS. Erdogan is also trying to trigger anti-monarchical disturbances in the Arab world and topple their regimes. The Arabs know that if he succeeds, their nations would be forcibly assimilated by the Ottomanized Turkey, as they were until the 19th century.
There are other dormant embers, under the modern hotspots, which are bracing for a similar grind. They include The Vatican in Italy and the Krishnajanmabhoomi in Mathura and the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, both in India, which are headed from freedom from Islamic encroachments.