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AFP
&
ND
News Desk
July 25, 2020

Friday prayers held in Hagia Sophia after 86 years

Top Story

AFP
&
ND
News Desk
July 25, 2020


ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday led the first prayers attended by thousands of Muslim worshippers in Hagia Sophia since the reconversion of the Istanbul cathedral into a mosque.

The UNESCO World Heritage site in historic Istanbul was first built as a cathedral in the Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

The Council of State, the highest administrative court, on July 10 unanimously cancelled a 1934 decision by modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to turn it into a museum, saying it was registered as a mosque in its property deeds. The building was then reopened for Muslim worship. Erdogan recited a verse from the Quran on Friday after earlier recitations from the Holy Book in the morning inside Hagia Sophia. The sounds of the call to prayer from its four minarets reverberated around the area and on Turkish television screens.

The head of the state religious affairs agency, Ali Erbas, later delivered the Friday sermon inside Hagia Sophia. “The reopening of Hagia Sophia... is the return of a sacred place, which had embraced believers for five centuries, to its original function,” Erbas told the congregation.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, tight crowds formed on Friday morning around the landmark. Several people had spent the night in the area. One of those attending Friday’s prayer came especially from the Aegean region of Izmir.

Aynur Saatci, 49, said she was in Erzurum, eastern Turkey, but cut her holiday short to experience this “historic moment”. “May Allah bless Erdogan. He does such beautiful things,” she said. “I’m deeply moved.”

For many Muslims, the reconversion was a landmark event. “This is the moment when Turkey breaks its chains. Now it can do whatever it wants, without having to submit to the West,” Selahattin Aydas, from Germany, said.

But the Friday prayer is set against a backdrop of tense relations between Nato allies Ankara and Athens, particularly related to Turkish hydrocarbon exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. Greece has strongly denounced the reconversion of Hagia Sophia to a mosque, seeing it as a provocation to the “entire civilised world”.

Ankara rejects international criticism citing sovereignty and insists tourists will still be able to visit the mosque and see the mosaics. Around 3.8 million tourists visited Hagia Sophia last year.