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Iconic museum reconverted to mosque

28th Aug 2020
Iconic museum reconverted to mosque

Thousands of Turkish citizens from across the country flocked to Istanbul to participate in the first Friday prayer in Hagia Sophia Mosque on July 24, in Istanbul, Turkey (Credit: Salih Zeki Fazlıoğlu/Anadolu Agency)

Nadine Osman

Istanbul’s iconic Hagía Sophía museum originally founded as a cathedral has been turned back into a mosque. Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, announced the decision after a court annulled the site’s museum status.

Built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral, Hagía Sophía was converted into Hagía Sophía Grand Mosque by Emperor Meḥmed-i sānī after the Ottoman conquest of then Constantinople in 1453. In 1934 Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of modern Turkey, decreed that it should be a museum.

Many in Turkey long called for the UNESCO World Heritage Site to be re-converted to a mosque but secular opposition members opposed the move. The proposal prompted criticism from some religious and political leaders worldwide.Defending the decision, President Erdoğan stressed that the country had exercised its sovereign right in converting it back to a mosque

The first prayers were held inside the building on July 24. “Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagía Sophía will be wide open to locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims,” he added.

Christian emblems, including mosaics of the Virgin Mary which adorn its soaring golden dome, will not be removed; Erdoğan is making no apologies for the change, arguing critics are attacking Turkey’s sovereignty.
Critics argue the move was to distract attention from the economic damage done by the Coronavirus pandemic.

But many in the international community argue that the monument belongs to humanity – not to Turkey – and should have remained unchanged. They say it was a bridge between two faiths and a symbol of co-existence.
Shortly after the announcement, the first call to prayer was recited at Hagía Sophía and was broadcast on all of Turkey’s main news channels.

The cultural site’s social media channels have now been taken down.
UNESCO said it “deeply regrets” the decision and called on the Turkish authorities to “open a dialogue without delay.”

The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church has condemned the move, as has Greece, home to millions of Orthodox followers.

But the Council of State, Turkey’s top administrative court, said in its ruling on July 10, “It was concluded that the settlement deed allocated it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally…The cabinet decision in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with laws,” it said.

This article was not published in the hard copy of The Muslim News newspaper.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

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