Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently announced that the world famous Hagia Sophia museum will be turned into a mosque, and open to Muslims for worship very soon.

This decision was made just an hour after a top administrative court annulled the site’s “museum status.” The court has pointed out that the cabinet’s decision to convert it from a mosque to a museum in 1934 “did not comply with laws” and have subsequently overturned this decision. They also reviewed a petition which was fighting for the right to be able to pray in the building, which up until now was prohibited.

Erdogan has signed a presidential decree which hands over Hagia Sophia to Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs. 

The news of this transformation was met with overjoyed religious Muslim Turks outside the building and on the streets of Istanbul. It now means that people are no longer prohibited from praying inside the building, which has caused outrage over the years. The first prayer is set for July 24 2020.

Since it is one of Turkey’s most visited tourist attractions, with a staggering 3.8 million visitors last year in 2019, it will be open to visitors just like its neighbor the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed). 

This historic site, revered by both Christians and Muslims, marveled at by millions of tourists, and visited by world leaders has undergone many transformations throughout its lifetime. Where to begin?

The building was initially built as a church in Constantinople – modern day Istanbul – in the year 537 under the Byzantine emperor Constantius. 

It was then converted into a mosque in 1453 by the great conqueror of Constantinople and prominent leader of the Ottoman Empire: the young Mehmet II. 

Not too long ago it was converted into a museum in 1943 by the founder of Turkey: Ataturk, who adopted a more secular approach and believed the site would be better as a neutral monument without any religious affiliations. 

While the Muslims of Turkey rejoice over another beautiful mosque which will be used to worship Allah, Erdogan’s decision has also faced backlash from the international community. The Hagia Sophia is in fact a UNESCO World Heritage site, and hence the organization feels it should remain as a museum. 

Countries including the United States, Russia and Greece have publicly criticized Erdogan’s decision. However, in a recent public announcement, Erdogan said: “We of course welcome all ideas from the international community about this issue. However, the issue of deciding the purpose of the Hagia Sophia is about the sovereign rights of Turkey.”

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