04/01/2022, 10.28
TURKEY
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Istanbul, the Islamic prayer of Ramadan returns to Saint Sophia

Ali Erbas, head of the Diyanet, announces its return "for the first time in 88 years". The presence of the faithful is expected, after the restrictions of the last two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The rite of tarawih will take place every Friday, Saturday and every Sunday of the holy month of fasting and prayer that begins tomorrow. 

 

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - After almost a century, in the former Christian basilica - then museum - of Saint (Hagia) Sophia, which was converted into a mosque by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will once again hear the Islamic prayer for Ramadan. The tarawih, which every devout Muslim recites every night in the holy month of fasting and prayer, will be celebrated inside the building, as confirmed yesterday by the country's highest religious office. 

The powerful Ali Erbas, head of the Diyanet, already leading the first Islamic Eid prayer in the disputed place of worship, said that "thank God for the first time in 88 years, the mosque [...] will welcome the faithful for the tarawih prayers in this Ramadan."

He added that "inshallah [God willing], I will witness this beautiful moment by leading the first prayer myself." In a note, the Diyanet explained that the ritual will take place every Friday, Saturday and every Sunday of the holy month of fasting and prayer "starting this week."

The two ancient Christian basilicas, Hagia Sophia and Chora, were first converted into mosques during the Ottoman era and later secularised and turned into museums following the founding of the Turkish republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the first part of the 20th century.

Last year, the two churches were reconverted into mosques as part of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s nationalism and Islam policy, designed to hide the country’s economic crisis and maintain his hold on power. 

Following the decision that authorised the transformation, Islamic authorities ordered white drapes be placed to cover the images of Jesus, and other frescoes and icons that testify to the buildings’ Christian roots. The changes to the two UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2020 sparked a major international political-religious controversy.

However, the very restrictive measures imposed to contain Covid-19 and limits on access to places of worship had prevented massive participation in prayer during the holy month for Muslims. The first prayer of Ramadan, which begins tomorrow with the first new moon, is scheduled this evening in all mosques in the country, including "the Great Mosque of St. Sophia" as stated in the note of the religious institution. The rites also include the reading of large excerpts from the Koran and the recitation of the Rak'a, the constituent unit of prayer in Islam.

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