Thousands gathered around Hagia Sophia to perform first Friday prayer

ISTANBUL — After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the conversion of the Hagia Sophia museum to a mosque, thousands of Turkish Muslims gathered early on Friday to perform the first Friday prayer at the site, which has had a special place among Christians and Muslims over the last 1,500 years.

Amid a heavy police presence, Erdoğan participated in the Friday prayer, with hundreds of invitees joining him inside the building, which dates back to the 6th century A.D. A large screen and loudspeakers were placed in the yard to broadcast the prayer for the thousands who gathered outside. No precautionary coronavirus measures appeared to be in place.

Muslims attend Friday prayers outside the Hagia Sophia. (Image: Reuters)

In a symbolic move, Erdoğan arranged for the first player to be held on the 97th anniversary of the Lausanne Agreement that drew the borders of modern Turkey.

Three imams were appointed to Hagia Sophia and five muezzins, men who recite the prayer from the minaret of a mosque, were called to pray.

The head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), Ali Erbaş delivered the Friday sermon at the Hagia Sophia with a sword in hand rather than the traditional staff, presenting an image of Ottoman conquest.

Head of Diyanet Ali Erbaş.

Without referencing its original construction or its millennia as the most important church in Christendom, Erdoğan, commenting on conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque while visiting the tomb of the Ottoman sultan who conquered Constantinople in 1453, said, “Now this place is back to its original status, it was a mosque and has become a mosque again. Inshallah, it will continue to serve all believers forever as a mosque.”

Supreme Head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, announced on Saturday the conversion of the Hagia Sophia Church to a mosque and the performance of the first prayer for Muslims there, as a day or mourning. He also expressed his solidarity and support for all the Orthodox Christian Churches in the world.

The Hagia Sophia is considered an architectural masterpiece that was built by the Byzantines in the 6th century. Serving as a religious and political center of the Empire, used as the location for the crowning ceremonies of their emperors.

The Hagia Sophia was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is considered one of the most important tourist destinations in Turkey.