Former Istanbul museum, now a mosque is set to host its First Friday prayers after it was turned into a mosque by Turkish government. The preparations were finalized on Thursday.
“Muslims are excited, everyone wants to be at the opening,” Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya said on Thursday. The mosque was converted into museum honoring all previous Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic history by Kemal Ataturk in 1934. However, earlier this month, a Turkish court repealed Hagia Sophia’s museum status ruling that that the use of 1500 year-old UNESCO World Heritage site as anything other than mosque was note legitimate. Following the verdict, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the museum would be reconverted into a mosque and Friday prayer will be held at the site on July 24. The move sparked criticism from religious and political leaders across the globe.
Addressing the public through a televised speech on Thursday, Governor Ali Yerlikaya requested the people to use face coverings and prayer rug with them and be patient and considering to the social distancing measures that would be necessary to stem the spread of novel coronavirus. He also informed that healthcare workers would be deployed at the site. Turkey’s religious affairs minister Ali Erbas announced that 1,000 people will offer prayer at the site at any one time as the mosque would remain open overnight. He also added that modifications including a garden setup were made at the site. Mr. Erdogan will join the worshipers on Friday.
The museum which was a symbol of co-existence no more bears the that identity and the move has pacified Islamist groups and devout Muslims who had long campaigned for the Santa Sophia to become a mosque again but those advocating for secular Turkey have strongly opposed the decision. When Erdogan announced the move on July 10 it attracted widespread criticism from both political and religious leadership around the world.
Pope Francis responding to the change said that his “thoughts go to Istanbul,” adding: “I think of Santa Sophia and I am very pained.”
The head of Eastern Orthodox Church, Patriarch Bartholomew I, cautioned that the conversion of the site would “disappoint millions of Christians” and deteriorate the harmony between the two worlds. The World Council of Churches also called for the move to reversed saying it would cause division.
Meanwhile, President Erdogan defended the decision stressing that the country has used its sovereign right.
“After 86 years, Hagia Sophia will serve as a mosque again, in the way Fatih the conqueror of Istanbul had indicated in his deed,” he said. He added that the museum turned mosque will be open to both Muslims, non-Muslims and foreign visitors.