Turkey Converts Hagia Sophia Back to Mosque

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a Presidential Decree, which envisaged the transfer of Hagia Sophia to the Presidency of Religious Affairs.
  • Turkey's Hagia Sophia decision to open for worship for Muslims has sparked outrage from around the world.
  • UNESCO has announced that they will review the status of Hagia Sophia, which has been on the World Heritage list since 1985.

The 10th Chamber of the Turkish Council of State annulled a decision of the Council of Ministers, dated 24 November 1934, regarding the conversion of Hagia Sophia from a mosque to a museum, with the decision published on Friday. With that, Hagia Sophia will open to Muslim worship on Friday, July 24.

Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”) is the former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, later an Ottoman imperial mosque and now a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi) in Istanbul, Turkey. Nominally, use of the complex as a place of worship (mosque or church) is strictly prohibited.

After this decision, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a Presidential Decree, which envisaged the transfer of Hagia Sophia to the Presidency of Religious Affairs, and opening it to worship.

After the announced decisions, those gathered in front of Hagia Sophia performed shows of joy. Erdogan announced on Friday evening that Hagia Sophia will be opened to worship for Muslims on Friday, July 24.

Hagia Sophia, which is considered as one of the most symbolic places by Muslims, is considered sacred for people of this faith, as it was built as a monastery for Orthodox Christians in the first place. Therefore, Turkey’s Hagia Sophia decision to open for worship for Muslims has sparked outrage from around the world.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has announced that they will review the status of Hagia Sophia, which has been on the World Heritage list since 1985.

Erdogan added that paid arrangements to Hagia Sophia will be terminated. “God willing, we will perform Friday prayers all together on July 24 and reopen Hagia Sophia to worship,” Erdogan said in an address to the nation. “Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be wide open to locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Erdogan in his speech quoting many poets and writers, the decision to convert the Hagia Sophia to the mosque is about the sovereignty of Turkey, he said:

“Hagia Sophia, the common heritage of the humanity, will continue to embrace everyone in a more sincere and more free spirit with its new status,” he said. “The issue of what purposes Hagia Sophia will be used for concerns Turkey’s sovereign rights,” he said, adding that his government would consider any criticism as a “violation of our independence.”

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a Turkish politician serving as the 12th and current President of Turkey since 2014. He previously served as Prime Minister from 2003 to 2014 and as Mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998. He founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2001, leading it to general election victories in 2002, 2007 and 2011 before standing down upon his election as President in 2014.

Erdogan said that Hagia Sophia is experiencing one of the resurrections that it has witnessed many times since it was built.” The resurrection of Hagia Sophia is the harbinger of the liberation of Masjid al-Aqsa.

The resurrection of Hagia Sophia is the voice of the will of Muslims from all over the world.  Not only the Muslims, he says, but the fire of hope of all the oppressed, victims, oppressed, and exploited with them.

The trial of the case opened in the 10th Chamber of the Council of State was held on 2 July. The Council of State announced the reason for the unanimous decision on Friday.

According to the decision, Hagia Sophia is the exclusive property of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Foundation and the foundation offered Hagia Sophia as a mosque to the community. The decision of the Council of Ministers, dated 1934, presented Hagia Sophia as a museum to the public, on the grounds that the state has a positive obligation to protect the will of the foundation.

As per the decision:

“Hagia Sophia is the property of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Han Foundation, which is protected by our legal order by maintaining its status, and which has the qualification of a private law legal entity.

As per the will of the foundation, Hagia Sophia is offered to the public for continuous use as a mosque, and it is an immovable property in terms of leaving it to the public’s benefit for free, and it is registered in the title deed document with the qualification of the mosque.

The foundation deed has the effect, value and power of the rule of law, and that the nature and purpose of use of the immovable property in the foundation deed cannot be changed.

There is no doubt that the state has a positive obligation to ensure that the assets of the foundation are used in accordance with the will of the foundation and a negative obligation not to intervene in a way that will eliminate the will of the foundation in relation to the foundation’s property and rights.”

Benedict Kasigara

I have been working as a freelance editor/writer since 2006. My specialist subject is film and television having worked for over 10 years from 2005 during which time I was the editor of the BFI Film and Television.

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