The fate of one of the most famous and beautiful buildings in the Islamic world will be decided in the next 12 days.
Turkey’s highest administrative court completed a hearing on whether Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia should remain a museum or be turned into a mosque on July 2, and said it would deliver a written verdict by July 17.
The court case, brought by an NGO for preserving historic monuments, disputes the legality of a decision in 1934 to convert Hagia Sophia – known in Turkish as Ayasofya – from a mosque into a museum.
The building was originally a Christian church built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian before being converted into a mosque by Mehmed the Conqueror after Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453.
The building was then turned into a museum in 1934 after the secular Turkish Republic was established.
The Hagia Sophia is most famous for its large dome and when it was built in AD 537 it was the world’s largest building and an engineering marvel of its time. It is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have changed the history of architecture.
Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew I, considered the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, urged Turkey earlier this week to keep Hagia Sophia as a museum. Bartholomew argued that its conversion into a mosque “will turn millions of Christians across the world against Islam.”
Meanwhile, Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations, said on on Saturday: “We can’t go back to the Middle Ages now. We live in a multipolar world, we live in a multi-confessional world, and we need to respect the feelings of believers.”
He said the Russian Orthodox Church did not understand the motive for Hagia Sophia’s conversion and that it believed domestic politics was behind the move.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Greek government have also urged Turkey to keep the building as a museum.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described foreign criticism over the proposal as an attack on Turkey’s sovereignty.
Erdogan said Turkey will always protect the rights of Muslims and the minorities living in the country. He added that there are 435 churches and synagogues in Turkey where Christian and Jews can pray.