The president of Turkey on July 10 formally converted Istanbul’s sixth-century Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and declared it open for Muslim worship, hours after a high court annulled a 1934 decision that had made the religious landmark a museum.
The decision sparked deep dismay among Orthodox Christians. Originally a cathedral, Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque after Istanbul’s conquest by the Ottoman Empire but had been a museum for the last 86 years, drawing millions of tourists annually.
There was jubilation outside the terracotta-hued structure with its domes and four minarets. Dozens of people chanted “Allah is great!” after news of the court ruling broke.
In the capital of Ankara, legislators stood and applauded as the decision was read in Parliament.
Turkey’s high administrative court threw its weight behind a petition brought by a religious group and annulled the 1934 Cabinet decision. Within hours, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree handing over Hagia Sophia to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Presidency.
In a televised address, Erdogan said the first prayers inside Hagia Sofia would be held on July 24, and he urged respect for the decision.
The move has drawn international criticism and concern, including from Greece, the United States and Russia, as well as UNESCO and Pope Francis. (AP, Reuters)