Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia museum – originally built as the throne of Byzantine Roman empire – has been converted into a mosque again, after historic ruling on Friday. The first call-to prayers were conducted in the mosque and the former museum’s social media handles were pulled down.
Hagia Sophia in Turkey’s Istanbul is one of those architectures that straddle on the history of two world’s most influential cultures- the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
On Friday, President Tayyip Erdogan declared the world-famous museum, open for Muslim prayers, earning the great architecture the status of a mosque again, since it was declared a museum on February 1, 1935.
“Maybe it is beneficial,” President Tayyip Erdogan wrote on Twitter, disclosing a signed document that officially makes the museum a mosque. However, he stressed tourists could still visit the Hagia Sophia.
“The decision was taken to hand over the management of the Ayasofya Mosque. ..to the Religious Affairs Directorate and open it for worship,” the signed decision read.
President Erdogan’s announcement came within hours after the top administrative Turkish court ruled the decision to make it a museum was illegal, Reuters reports.
Reuters noted, the announcement came amid international warnings against turning the great monument into a mosque which is revered by the Christians and the Muslims alike. The United States and church leaders were among the critics calling against turning the UNESCO World Heritage site into a religious center.
Why Hagia Sophia is Significant?
Built-in in AD 537, the architecture was an icon of its time – both in terms of the world’s largest building and best architecture. Hagia Sophia was built as the Great Cathedral of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, the seat of the then archbishop of Constantinople, Byzantium’s capital.
In 1453, the Roman Empire (under capital Constantinople) fell under the Ottoman Empire, and the Church was converted into a mosque for the first time. In between 1204 and 1261, however, the mosque was again turned into a church, this time by the Latin Empire into a Roman Catholic cathedral.
On 29 May 1453, the great building was again converted into an Ottoman Mosque, and this time it remained so until 1931. Four years later, when The Republic of Turkey was found by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Hagia Sophia was secularized and declared a museum. When the monument was made into a mosque under the Ottoman empire, it was closed to the public for four years.
Now, until 2019, the Hagia Sophia remained Turkey’s most visited locations, attracting tourists in millions.
Reception of the recent conversion
According to media reports, the Turkish government under President Tayyip Erdogan has since the time in office, campaigned for setting Islam in Turkey’s mainstream. But the country’s opposition has dissented against the orthodox move. Hence, the conversion has drawn criticism from the nation’s political and religious groups.
In the ruling, Turkey’s apex court, The Council of State said “its (Hagia Sophia) use outside this character (of a mosque) is not possible legally,” referring to the original settlement deed by the Ottoman Empire which identified the monument as a mosque and stated Ataturk’s edict making it a Museum in 1934 ‘did not comply with laws,’ Reuters reports.
Greece and the Head of the Eastern Orthodox Church has condemned the move. Greek Cultural minister said the decision to make Hagia Sophia mosque again “takes his country back six centuries,” referring to the Turkish President’s ‘nationalism.’
UNESCO has also urged Turkey not to change the status of the monument without discussion, the BBC reports. One of the most famous authors of Turkey, Orhan Pamuk, author of bestsellers like ‘My Name is Red’ pointed out that this move will snatch the ‘pride’ of some Turks in being a Muslim secular nation.
“There are millions of secular Turks like me who are crying against this but their voices are not heard,” Pamuk told the BBC.