Turkish president joins hundreds of worshippers after iconic Istanbul landmark's controversial reconversion into mosque, Al Jazeera writes in the article Muslim prayers in Hagia Sophia for first time in 86 years. Muslim prayers have been held in the iconic Hagia Sophia for the first time in 86 years after the reconversion of the Istanbul landmark into a mosque earlier this month. The Friday prayers took place two weeks after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan controversially declared the nearly 1,500-year-old monument open to Muslim worship after a top court ruled the building's conversion to a museum by modern Turkey's founding statesman in the mid-1930s was illegal.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site was built as a cathedral during the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian I in 537 but converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. It was designated a museum in a key reform of the post-Ottoman authorities under the modern republic's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Erdogan said last year it had been a "very big mistake" to convert it into a museum. Critics however accuse Erdogan, who has been in power for 17 years, of playing to his nationalistic base, with support eroding amid a global economic downtown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Towering over Istanbul's skyline, its breathtaking domes seemingly afloat, it is also one of Turkey's most popular tourist attractions, with 3.7 million visitors in 2019.
Al Jazeera's Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said Friday was "a very big day" in the city of some 18 million. "The heart of the city, the historical peninsula, is under total lockdown since last night," she said. In the sprawling square outside Hagia Sophia, authorities set up separate areas for men and women to worship on Friday, while more than 700 health personnel, 101 ambulances and a helicopter ambulance were available.
Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya asked that people to bring four items - "masks, prayer mats, patience and understanding".
Turkey pledged to keep Hagia Sophia, whose floor has been covered with a turqoise carpet, open to tourists and welcome those of all faiths. Entry will now be free, while intricate mosaics of the Virgin Mary, baby Jesus and other Christian symbols will be veiled by curtains at prayer time. Recitation of the holy Quran will go on for the next 24 hours and the revered landmark will stay open overnight, according to state media reports. All five prayers will henceforth also be held daily at the mosque.
"We are ending our 86 years of longing today," said one man, Sait Colak, referring to the nearly nine decades since Hagia Sophia was declared a museum and ceased to be a place of worship. "Thanks to our president and the court decision, today we are going to have our Friday prayers in Hagia Sophia."
Aynur Saatci, another worshipper, said she was on holidays in the eastern city of Erzurum but decided to cut her holiday short in order to attend the service. "I immediately cut my holidays short and returned to Istanbul as soon as I knew we could pray in Hagia Sophia," Saatci said. "I'm deeply moved."
The United States, the European Union, Russia and various church leaders expressed concern at the change in status, while neighbouring Greece branded the move an "open provocation to the civilised world". The UN's cultural agency, UNESCO, said it deeply regretted Turkey's decision, which was "taken without prior dialogue".
Erdogan insisted, however, it was Turkey's "historical and sovereign right".
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy condemned the reaction of the Greek authorities to the first prayer in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia and the rally in Thessaloniki, the participants of which burned the Turkish flag. "Greece has reiterated its hostility towards Islam and Turkey under the pretext of a reaction to the opening of the Hagia Sophia mosque for prayer. We strongly condemn that the Greek government and parliament are provoking the public and publicly allowing our glorious flag to be burned in Thessaloniki," Aksoy stated.
The chairman of the Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of Russia, Mufti Albir Krganov, expressed the hope that the resumption of prayers by Muslims in the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia will be accepted with understanding by other religions. He told TASS that for many believers Hagia Sofia "did not actually stop being a mosque." "Near the main temple there are minarets with crescents, a crescent is on the dome, all the necessary decorations are inside. Here we can say that prayers inside were suspended for 86 years, but the building remained a mosque."
The Muslim community of the Russian Federation hopes that citizens will follow all the instructions given by the authorities due to the coronavirus. They urge the believers to spend next weekend and other days performing prayers and reading Koran at home, the chairman of the Muslim Spiritual Assembly of Russia Albir Krganov told RIA Novosti on Thursday.
There are not enough mosques where Muslims could make obligatory daily prayers in Moscow and other large cities, without embarrassing fellow citizens of a different faith. The way out is to open a network of prayer rooms, said RIA Novosti the Chairman of the Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of Russia Albir Hazrat Krganov.
On February 19, 2020, an extended meeting of the Presidium of the Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of Russia (SAMR) took place in Moscow.
Among the attendees of SAMR Presidium’s extended meeting were the leaders of centralized religious Muslim organizations of the regions of the Russian Federation, representatives of public authorities, prominent scientists, experts, and theologists, as well as religious and public figures. The meeting gathered together the delegations from Moscow and St Petersburg, and Kemerovo, Omsk, Tomsk, Penza, Irkutsk, Volgograd, Novosibirsk, Sverdlovsk, Rostov, Astrakhan, Murmansk, Vladimir, and Moscow regions, the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, Stavropol Territory, Republic of Dagestan, Republic of Mordovia, Republic of Tatarstan, Republic of Bashkortostan, Chuvash Republic, and Chechen Republic.
A panel discussion dedicated to “The First Sufi Sheikhs of Russia. Contribution of Islamic Heritage to the Spiritual Development of Russian Society” took place in the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation. The event was organized by the Commission for Interethnic and Interreligious Relations of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation and the Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of Russia.
Mufti of Moscow, the head of the Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of Russia, Albir-Khazrat Krganov received at his residence Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Provisional Government of the State of Libya, Dr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawij, Islam.ru reports. Albir-Hazrat told the guest about the activities of Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of Russia and the Russian experience of peaceful coexistence of various religions in the country.
In secondary school No. 5 in the village of Fedorovsky, a meeting was held with the deputy imam of the mosque in the village of Fedorovsky RDUM Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug with students in grades 1-4. During a conversation with schoolchildren, issues related to the topics of family, morality, a healthy lifestyle, excessive enthusiasm for computer games and the Internet, disobedience to parents and many others were discussed.
At first, the guys felt a little constrained, but the conversation about the deep important issues of life and faith continued in such an accessible and interesting form that the students quickly got involved in the conversation and began to ask their questions. Interesting facts and instructive stories - in this format, students were able to touch the seeds of truth. There is confidence that this will bring good results in the lives of the children, because as a result of the meeting they made a joint conclusion: “Wish others what you wish for yourself”!
The Kemerovo Cathedral Mosque “Munira” was visited by a group of residents of the villages Chik and Kochenyovo, Novosibirsk Region. The guests from the neighbouring region arrived in Kemerovo as part of a grand bus tour.
On December 2-9, 2019, a delegation of the Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of Russia, headed by Mufti Albir Hazrat Krganov, was on a working visit to the United States. During meetings with representatives of faiths, public organizations and academia, issues of preventing pseudo-religious extremism, combating international terrorism, strengthening inter-religious dialogue and implementing socially significant projects aimed at working with youth and migrants were discussed.
On November 14-15, the II Baku Summit of Religious Leaders of the World is being held in the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, in which influential religious and public figures from more than 70 countries from all five continents take part.