Hundreds of worshippers follow the service outside, whilst few were allowed inside due to COVID-19 restrictions. Diyanet leader Ali Erbaş led the prayer. During his sermon from the minbar, wielding a sword, he mentioned the Palestinian cause and spoke of “cries” from “aggrieved lands of Islamic geography”.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – For the first time in 87 years, Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, converted into a mosque by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last year, hosted the recitation of the Eid-al-Fitr prayers marking the end of Ramadan, the holy month of Islamic fasting and prayer.
Hundreds of worshippers gathered on the day of celebration in the square in front of the building, which is located in the historic Sultanahmet neighbourhood.
Most of those present followed the rite outside the mosque, due to the anti-gathering measures imposed by the authorities to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, whilst a small number were able to participate inside.
Leading the prayer on Tuesday was Ali Erbaş, the head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), Turkey's highest Sunni institution, who climbed the minbar – mosque pulpit – wielding a sword.
During the service, the faithful began chanting and shouting slogans against Israel and in favour of the Palestinian cause, in response to the escalating violence that has been going on for days between the Israeli army and Hamas forces.
Delivering the sermon and leading the prayer, Ali Erbaş said that religious feasts are days of happiness and enthusiasm for those who belong to the same faith, history, and civilisation.
He also expressed sadness at the “cries raised from the aggrieved lands of the Islamic geography,” from Yemen to Syria, via Palestine.
The events currently inflaming the Holy Land, in Jerusalem and al-Aqsa, the third holiest place in Islam after Makkah and Madinah, received special mention.
Ali Erbaş then said that “the symbolic city of religions, languages, cultures and civilisations is being plundered” and “our innocent Palestinian brothers and sisters are evicted from their houses by force, [. . .] subjected to massacres. Therefore, until Palestine and al-Aqsa are completely free, every Eid will be marked in sorrow.”
The conversion of ancient Christian basilicas – Hagia Sophia and Chora (which became museums in 1935 and 1945 respectively) into mosques is part of Erdoğan‘s policy of combining nationalism with Islam in order to hide Turkey’s economic crisis and keep his hold onto power.
Following the presidential decree that turned the two churches into mosques, Islamic authorities covered with a white curtain the images of Jesus, as well as the frescoes and icons that testify to their Christian past.
Last year’s transformation of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites sparked an international political-religious outcry.