Turkey turns Hagia Sophia into mosque
July 7, 2020 -
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to join hundreds of worshipers on Friday (July 24) for prayers inside the Hagia Sophia, after Turkey’s highest court annulled the museum status of the World Heritage site.
In its more than 1,400-year existence, the majestic domed structure of Hagia Sophia has served as the Byzantine Empire’s main cathedral, a mosque under the Ottoman Empire and a museum under modern Turkey, attracting millions of tourists each year.
The 6th-century building is now at the centre of a heated debate between nationalist, conservative and religious groups – who are pressing for it to be changed back into a mosque – and those who believe the UNESCO World Heritage site should remain a museum, underscoring Istanbul’s status as a bridge between continents and cultures.
For nearly 1,000 years, Hagia Sophia was the most important building in the Eastern Christian world: the seat of the Orthodox patriarch, counterpart to Roman Catholicism’s pope, as well as the central church of the Byzantine emperors.
When Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople in 1453, the city became part of the Islamic world and was later renamed Istanbul. With Mehmed's victory, the cathedral now became a mosque.
For centuries, Muslim worshippers from across the globe came to the Hagia Sophia for daily prayers at the architectural masterpiece, with its characteristic red stone.
With the founding of the modern Turkish republic under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the early 1930s, the mosque was closed and became a museum as part of a move toward secularisation.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called for restoring its mosque status during an election rally last year.
Analysts believe that Erdogan is using the Hagia Sophia debate to consolidate his conservative base and to distract attention from Turkey’s substantial economic woes.
Further kindling national sentiments, Erdogan has reportedly instructed his advisory council to hold the first prayers at the Hagia Sophia on July 15 to commemorate the four-year anniversary of the 2016 failed coup attempt against his own government.