Shomporko Desk:-ISTANBUL – Fulfilling a dream of his Islamic-oriented youth, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined hundreds of worshipers Friday for the first Muslim petitions in quite a while inside Hagia Sophia, the Istanbul milestone that filled in as one of Christendom’s most huge houses of prayer, a mosque and a historical center before its transformation once again into a Muslim place of worship.
A huge number of other Muslim dependable originated from across Turkey and immediately filled uncommonly assigned territories outside of the Byzantine period landmark to participate in the debut petitions. Numerous others were dismissed, while Orthodox Christian church pioneers in Greece and the United States reported a “day of grieving” over Hagia Sophia’s arrival as a mosque.
The prayers began with Erdogan reciting from the Qur’an. The head of Turkey’s religious authority, Ali Erbas, led the ceremony and prayed that Muslims would never again be “denied” the right to worship at the internationally celebrated 6th-century structure.
As many as 350,000 people took part in Friday’s prayers, the president said.
Brushing aside international criticism, Erdogan issued a decree restoring the iconic building as a mosque earlier this month, shortly after a Turkish high court ruled that the Hagia Sophia had been illegally made into a museum more than eight decades ago. The structure, listed as UNESCO World Heritage site, has since been renamed “The Grand Hagia Sophia Mosque.”
The move sparked dismay in Greece, the United States and among Christian churches who had called on Erdogan to maintain it as a museum as a nod to Istanbul’s multi-religious heritage and the structure’s status as a symbol of Christian and Muslim unity. Pope Francis expressed his sadness.
Built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537, Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque with the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Istanbul. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding leader of the secular Turkish republic converted the structure into a museum in 1934.
Although an annex to the Hagia Sophia, the Sultan’s pavilion, has been open to prayers since the 1990s, religious and nationalists group in Turkey have long yearned for the nearly 1,500-year-old edifice, which they regard as the legacy of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conquerer, to be reverted into a mosque.
In Istanbul, hundreds had camped near the structure overnight. Dozens of worshipers broke through one police checkpoint to rush toward Hagia Sophia and social distancing practices, in place due to the coronavirus outbreak, were being ignored, Turkish media reported.
Turkey has vowed to protect Hagia Sophia’s artifacts and has said it will remain open to visits by Muslims and non-Muslims outside of prayer hours. The structure’s mosaics depicting Christian figures are being covered with sail-like white drapes during the prayers.
Photo credit: AP
News source: The Associated Press