Turkey Holds First Muslim Prayers in Hagia Sophia

  • Muslims were waiting for this moment: the opening of the doors of the cathedral, mosque, museum, and now again, a mosque. 
  • Erdogan inspected the mosque this Thursday and joined worshipers for Friday prayers.
  • The Turkish government has, however, confirmed that tourists will be able to continue to visit the building, outside of the five daily prayers.

Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, hosted the first Muslim prayer in 86 years on Friday. The prayer session was also graced by the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Since the dawn of this Friday, a crowd of faithful gathered at the door of the imposing Haghia Sofia.

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. In early July 2020, the Council of State annulled the Cabinet’s 1934 decision to establish the museum, revoking the monument’s status, and a subsequent decree by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered the reclassification of Hagia Sophia as a mosque.

Muslims were waiting for this moment: the opening of the doors of the cathedral, mosque, museum, and now again, a mosque. Hagia Sofia was built in the 6th century, in what was then Constantinople, and was for centuries the largest Christian temple on the planet. 

It symbolized the center of the Byzantine Empire, until its fall as part of the Ottoman conquest. Led by Sultan Mehmet II, the conqueror, he soon converted it into an imperial mosque.

The imposing building, considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, was later transformed into a museum by the secular regime of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of the modern Turkish Republic.

Now, after a court decision that annulled its classification as a museum, President Erdogan recently converted it back into a mosque. Erdogan fulfilled a long-standing promise, and restored in some way the Ottoman glory over Hagia Sofia.

Erdogan inspected the mosque this Thursday. The next day, he was among the thousands of worshipers who celebrated— inside and outside the building— what many consider a victory for Islam.

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.

The Turkish president himself chose the huge turquoise carpets, which were placed on the floor of the building, to receive the believers. Many said Friday prayers while some of the iconic Christian motifs— among them frescoes of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, as well as the angel Gabriel— were covered by removable curtains.

Faced with some stupefaction and criticism from the West over the decision, and a great deal of concern on the part of historians, who fear that some of the building’s treasures could be damaged, Erdogan clearly pointed out that he sees Turkey as the heir to the Ottoman Empire. By extension, Erdogan sees himself as one of the leaders of the Muslim ummah (congregation).

The opening date itself is not innocent either: exactly 97 years ago today, the Treaty of Lausanne was signed, which dictated the capitulation of the Ottoman Empire to the World War I allies, and provided the legal basis and modern borders for the founding of the secular Republic of Turkey.

The Turkish government has, however, confirmed that tourists will be able to continue to visit the building, outside of the five daily prayers. Perhaps more importantly, they will leave Gli, the famous cat of Haghia Sofia, made famous by a party given by Barrack Obama on a visit in 2009.

Gli has an Instagram account, followed by tens of thousands of people, and continues to live in the building.

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Vincent Ferdinand

News reporting is my thing. My view of what is happening in our world is colored by my love of history and how the past influences events taking place in the present time.  I like reading politics and writing articles. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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