Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan chose today, July 24, 2020, to reopen the ancient Byzantine Church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as a mosque for Muslim worship.
In a ceremony that included 500 guests for the inauguration of the church’s new statute, the Muslim President convoked the first Muslim prayer in 86 years. The exterior esplanade and adjacent square of the Blue Mosque will remain open from 10:00 am (local time) — three hours before the beginning of the prayer.
Hagia Sophia, which became a mosque in the 15th century after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, was turned into a museum in 1934 at the request of President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. A few weeks ago it was declared a mosque after the Turkish government received judicial authorization. The transformation has been the object of widespread criticism: from the Greek Executive, who considers the decision a “challenge to the civilized world,” from the Orthodox Church, from the Vatican, and from UNESCO. The decision has been backed by the Islamic organizations of Qatar, Pakistan, and Malaysia.
Among the numerous reproaches is that of Mohammed Abdel Salam, Secretary-General of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity and Special Adviser to the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad al Tayeb, who wrote a letter to the World Council of Churches calling to “avoid any initiative that might undermine inter-religious dialogue and inter-cultural communication and create tension and hatred between the followers of the different religions.”
The Higher Committed stated: “We recognize the cultural and spiritual value of Hagia Sophia for the whole of humanity; therefore, we support his appeal to avoid divisions and promote mutual respect and understanding among all religions.”
Committee of Human Fraternity
According to the Committee of Human Fraternity, places of worship must transmit “a message of peace and love for all” and not be used to “contribute to segregation and discrimination, in a moment when the world really needs to respond to the appeal of religions to seek solidarity and strengthen the values of coexistence and human fraternity.”
In this connection, it is necessary “to avoid any initiative that might undermine inter-religious dialogue and intercultural communication, and create tension and hatred among the followers of the different religions:” and, instead, give “priority to the values of coexistence,” stressed the letter.