ISTANBUL: Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia hosted its first Ramadan prayers in 86 years, despite fierce criticism of the Turkish government’s campaign to revert the building to a mosque after being a museum for decades.
The head of the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, Ali Erbas, gave the Friday sermon with an Ottoman sword in hand. He talked about conquest from the holy Quran and gave a stirring, almost provocative speech about “the ones” who turned the Hagia Sophia into a museum being damned, an indirect reference perhaps to the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Supporters of the conversion campaign saw its successful outcome as a source of national and religious pride, while opponents were concerned about keeping modern Turkey’s secular legacy intact.
After 86years, the first Ramadan prayers were carried out in the famous Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, Turkey. Which is an event that will go down in history. #HagiaSofia#Istanbul#Turkey pic.twitter.com/oiclmRFniT
— FatimaShahid 🇵🇰 (@FateemaShahid) April 18, 2021
The monument is on the UNESCO World Heritage list and last year attracted 3.7 million visitors, making it one of the top tourist destinations in the country. UNESCO as well as authorities in Washington, Moscow, Brussels and Athens expressed their concerns about Turkey’s unilateral actions.
Hagia Sophia, Turkish Ayasofya, Latin Sancta Sophia, also called Church of the Holy Wisdom a cathedral built at Constantinople in the 6th century CE (532–537) under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. By general consensus, it is the most important Byzantine structure and one of the world’s great monuments.