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First prayers to be held in recently-reverted Hagia Sophia mosque


First prayers to be held in recently-reverted Hagia Sophia mosque

Turkey NYT
Photo: NYT

For the first time since 1934, Friday prayers are scheduled to be held today in the Hagia Sophia following its re-conversion to a mosque earlier this month.

A July 11 ruling by Turkey’s Council of State overturned the decree that converted the Hagia Sophia—originally a historic, sixth-century Byzantine cathedral—into a museum in 1934. This was immediately followed by a declaration from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that reverted the structure to a mosque. The Hagia Sophia’s museum status had served as a highly significant symbol of Turkish secularism, long opposed by domestic Islamist elements.

International criticism has been swift, with Western nations bashing the move as an affront to Turkey’s secular constitution. Russia and Greece, both of which contain large Orthodox populations, vehemently condemned the move by Erdogan; furthermore, the UNESCO World Heritage Council announced a review of the structure’s classification as a World Heritage Site.

The move, which had been a long-sought goal for Erdogan, is likely an attempt to cater to his conservative base and shore up support following significant party losses in last year’s provincial elections, which included the loss of Istanbul’s mayoral seat. Turkey’s economic woes, enhanced by COVID-19, have cracked support for Erdogan across sectors, making it increasingly necessary to cultivate the backing of religious factions.

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