Thousands gathered at Hagia Sophia for first Muslim worship in 86 years

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan joined thousands of worshippers at Hagia Sophia on Friday for the first prayers there since he declared the monument, revered by Christians and Muslims for almost 1,500 years, a mosque once again. Erdogan and his top ministers knelt on blue carpets at the start of a ceremony which marks the return of Muslim worship to the ancient structure, Reuters reported.

Earlier, crowds formed at checkpoints around the historic heart of Istanbul where massed police maintained security. Once through the checks, worshippers sat apart on prayer mats in secured areas outside the building in Sultanahmet Square. “We are ending our 86 years of longing today,” said a man. “Thanks to our president and the court decision, today we are going to have our Friday prayers in Hagia Sophia.”

Several hundred invitees joined Erdogan for the ceremony inside the sixth-century building. Some, including his son-in-law and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, could be seen recording images of the historic occasion on their mobiles phones. A large screen and speakers were set up in the square to broadcast proceedings to the thousands gathered outside. As crowds grew Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya said authorities had stopped people entering the area due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

A top Turkish court announced this month it had annulled Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum. Erdogan immediately decreed that the building, a Christian Byzantine cathedral for 900 years before being seized by Ottoman conquerors and serving as a mosque until 1934, had been converted once again to a mosque.

Similar articles