Istanbul, Hagia Sophia mosque: Praise from Muslims. Criticism from the West

The first prayer inside the former Byzantine basilica scheduled for July 24. During the rites Christian mosaics will be covered, including the icons of the Virgin and the archangel Gabriel. The Greek premier speaks of "a bad" choice. Criticism from the USA and the EU. Praise from Muslim scientists for whome the building returns "to its original nature".


Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Regardless of the reactions of the international community and religious leaders, including Pope Francis who said he was "greatly saddened" for the decision, the Turkish leadership claims the legitimacy of the decision to transform Ayasofya into a mosque.

In response to the controversy and attacks, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that the conversion of Hagia Sophia is definitive: "It is an "internal question" and "other countries are required to respect" the decision.

The first Islamic prayer inside what was born as a Christian basilica should be held on July 24th. To cover the original traces of the structure, among which some mosaics of immense artistic and cultural value, the Turkish authorities report that screens will be placed or unspecified laser beams will be used.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Ankara explains that the covers will be placed in front of the icons of the Virgin Mary and the archangel Gabriel. The Christian remains of what was born as a Byzantine temple, transformed into a mosque after the capture of Constantinople in 1453 and then made a museum in 1934 by Ataturk, father of modern and secular Turkey, will be uncovered during visiting hours and access to tourists it will be free.

Among the most critical of the move is Greece, which threatens in retaliation to transform the Ataturk museum (the house where the statesman was born) in Thessaloniki into a museum of the Pontine genocide, or Hellenic genocide.

The proposal made by the Greek Minister of Agriculture Makis Voridis  could find broad consensus among the various political sides of the country. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke of Ankara's "bad" decision regarding a "world heritage site"; he then expressed solidarity with the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I during a telephone conversation that took place yesterday afternoon.

Unesco has threatened to review the status of the world heritage site of Hagia Sophia, due to a change of intended use of which the international body has not been warned. The United States, through the State Department, expressed deep "disappointment" over Turkey's choice. The High Representative of the European Union's foreign policy, Joseph Borrell, speaks of Ankara's and Erdogan's "deplorable" choice, because Hagia Sophia is a "historical" place and an example of coexistence.

The World Council of Churches, which brings together 350 different realities around the world has sent a letter to the Turkish president asking him to annul the decision taken. Ioan Sauca, vice-president of the body, speaks of a change of course in the "positive signs regarding the opening of Turkey to the world", now transformed into "signs of division, separation and exclusion".

Praise and satisfaction are instead expressed by the World Association of Muslim Scientists, according to which "the opening of Saint Sophia to [Islamic] worship is functional to devotion" as well as the return "to its original nature". Finally, the Turkish deputy minister for culture and tourism, Özgül Özkan Yavuz, added that "the use of Hagia Sophia as a mosque" does not violate the contract stipulated with UNESCO and "does not undermine its universal value".

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