For the first time in 86 years, Muslims offered prayers in Turkey’s Hagia Sophia mosque two weeks after its reconversion in to the mosque. The Friday prayers were established in the recently-declared mosque after Recep Tayyip Erdogan controversially threw the 1500-year-old monument open for Muslim worshippers. He himself attended prayers in the mosque today.
This decision came after a top court declared that the conversion of the building into a museum by modern Turkey’s statesman was illegal. As far as the history of this iconic monument is considered, the UNESCO World Heritage Site was built as a cathedral during the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian I in 573. After the Ottoman Conquest of Constantinople, it was converted into a mosque in 1453.
President Erdogan said last year that it had been “a very big mistake” to convert it into a museum. However, he has been accused by critics of exercising his nationalist agendas amid the COVID pandemic which has caused an economic upheaval in the country, the Aljazeera reported.
Turkey pledged to keep Hagia Sophia, whose floor has been covered with a turqoise carpet, open to tourists and welcome those of all faiths. Entry will now be free, while intricate mosaics of the Virgin Mary, baby Jesus and other Christian symbols will be veiled by curtains at prayer time, the report read.
Since the prayer took place amid the fatal Pandemic, the authorities had made all adequate facilities with 700 health personnel, 101 ambulances and a helicopter ambulance available on spot.
The United States, the European Union, Russia and various leaders of the Church have expressed dismay at the conversion stating it to be an “open provocation to the civilized world.” To this open criticism, Erdogan claimed the decision to be Turkey’s “historical and sovereign right.”