The date is symbolic. On 24 July 1923, Turkey and the Allied powers signed the Treaty of Lausanne, which marked the of the Ottoman Empire. Among the thousands of people who rushed to the first Islamic prayer in Hagia Sophia in 86 years, some carried the flags of the Empire. Others wore the fez, the Ottoman headdress that Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, had banned in 1925. As part of his drive to build a secular country, he turned Hagia Sophia into a museum.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – A plate at the entrance of the former museum says Ayasofya (hagia Sophia) Grand Mosque. Today the Adhan or Islamic call to prayer echoed in the building. From the four minarets built after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the muezzins called the faithful to prayer.
Inside the ancient basilica, about a thousand worshippers knelt on top of blue rugs covering the ancient Christian mosaics. Curtains concealed the walls and their Christian imagery. The faithful included Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ali Erbaş, head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs.[i]
Today’s date is highly symbolic. On 24 July 1923, Turkey and the Allied Powers signed the Treaty of Lausanne, which marked the end of the Ottoman Empire.
Among the thousands of people who rushed to the first Islamic prayer in Hagia Sophia in 86 years, some carried the flags of the Empire. Others wore the fez,[ii] the Ottoman headdress that Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, had banned in 1925. As part of his drive to build a secular country, he had turned Hagia Sophia into a museum.
At present, Erdoğan leads an Islamist party and has pursued policies deemed neo-Ottoman. But another reason for his decision to turn Hagia Sophia back into a mosque was concern over his loss of popular support because of Turkey’s economic woes.
Ultimately for the president, the reconversion was “a childhood dream come true”. Before the prayers, he recited two passages from the Qurʼān, the two chapters (surahs), Al-Fatiha and Al-Baqarah, that Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, apparently recited when he first prayed in the building.
To make his dream come true, Erdoğan dismissed the predictable reactions by Christians and others. After Pope Francis on 12 July said, “I think of Hagia Sophia and I am very pained," Erdoğan invited him to the ritual.
For his part, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I warned that the conversion would drive a wedge between Christians and Islam. For Orthodox Christians, today was "a day of mourning and suffering" with vigils, Masses and prayers. The World Council of Churches also warned that the decision would sow division. Last but not least, the non-denominational UNESCO said it regretted the move.
Among Muslims, Hagia Sophia’s “conversion” has not been unanimously welcomed. Whilst Qatar, Libya and Iran congratulated Erdoğan on his "courageous decision,” the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have accused the Turkish president of exploiting Islam to regain popular support. (FP)
[i] Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığ.
[ii] Also know as Tarboosh.