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

  • Turkey has restarted drilling in eastern Mediterranean

    Turkey has restarted drilling in eastern Mediterranean

    President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey had resumed drilling operations in the eastern Mediterranean as Greece had not kept its promises regarding energy exploration in the region. “There’s no need for discussion with those who have no rights, especially in maritime zones,” he said.

    11
  • North Macedonia in search of new government

    North Macedonia in search of new government

    Zoran Zaev began power-sharing talks with two parties representing the ethnic Albanian minority

    North Macedonia’s newly elected lawmakers took their seats Tuesday for the first time after the country’s 15 July elections, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The formal first session of parliament starts a 10-day countdown for the leader of the party that came first in the elections to conclude complicated power-sharing negotiations with smaller parties in search of a coalition, news wires reported.

    24
  • Western Balkans leaders discuss virus crisis, EU future

    Western Balkans leaders discuss virus crisis, EU future

    Government leaders and officials from six Western Balkan nations met on Wednesday for a virtual summit to discuss how to prevent and address economic stagnation and social impacts from the coronavirus pandemic that could derail or delay national efforts to join the EU, news wires reported. The summit “gathered” presidents, prime ministers and government ministers from Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.

    22