Erdogan ‘Inspects’ Hagia Sophia Ahead of Friday’s Muslim Prayers

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, listens to an official as he visits the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul's main tourist attractions in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, Sunday, July 19, 2020, days after he formally reconverted Hagia Sophia into a mosque and declared it open for Muslim …
Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the Hagia Sophia on Sunday shortly before the newly reconverted mosque opens to Muslim prayer on Friday, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

During a brief visit described as an “inspection,” Erdogan “took stock of the conversion work” currently underway to transition the former museum into a site of Islamic prayer, the president’s office said. The office provided “pictures showing scaffolding inside the building,” according to AFP.

Erdogan was “accompanied by ministers and head of the Presidency of Religious Affairs during his visit. Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy and Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya informed the president on the work inside Hagia Sophia which was being readied for worship,” Turkey’s pro-Erdogan Daily Sabah reported.

Following his visit, the president “greeted a crowd outside” the Hagia Sophia, then moved on to tour a “mosque under construction in Istanbul’s Taksim Square [located about three miles from the Hagia Sophia] and a culture center also under construction across from the mosque,” according to the report.

Authorities expect approximately 500 Muslim worshippers to attend the Friday prayers at the Hagia Sophia on July 24, the first since Turkey’s Islamist President Erdogan signed a decree on July 10 formally converting the secular museum into a mosque.

The site was originally built during the Christian Byzantine Empire as a cathedral. It was converted to a mosque for the first time upon the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, the site was made a secular museum in 1934, how it remained until last week.

On July 16, Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry revealed it would transfer the Hagia Sophia’s “portable icons and holy relics” to a “new museum,” suggesting that most Christian artifacts will be removed from the site now that it has been approved for Muslim worship. On July 14, Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) said it would “cover or obscure the Hagia Sophia’s Christian iconography — including images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary — during times of Muslim prayer.”

Islam largely prohibits the visual depiction of sentient beings in mosques and compels its followers to pray five times a day.

“Our goal is to avoid harming the frescoes, icons, and the historic architecture of the edifice,” Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said of the transition in a TV interview with Turkish broadcaster NTV on July 19, AFP reported.

In the same interview, Kalin said “some [Christian] mosaics of [the Virgin] Mary and [the archangel] Gabriel that are positioned in the direction of Qiblah, where Muslims face during prayer, would be covered with curtains,” Al Jazeera reported.

“He said other mosaics of Jesus and other Christian figures did not pose an obstacle for Muslim prayers because they are not located in the direction of Qiblah. But he did not say whether they would remain uncovered at all times,” Al Jazeera wrote.


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