Around 350,000 people have attended Friday prayers in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Mosque after a Turkish court annulled a 1934 decree that had turned the world famous building into a museum.
Friday’s historic prayers in Hagia Sophia marked the first acts of worship there in 86 years.
Hundreds of thousands of people took part in Friday prayers both inside and outside the historic mosque in Istanbul.
Before prayers, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recited from the Quran inside the reopened mosque, from both Surah Al Fatihah and Surah Al Baqarah. Later, four muezzins recited the adhan from the mosque’s four minarets.
After the historic prayer, President Erdogan and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli visited the tomb of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II who conquered Istanbul from the Byzantine Empire in 1453.
“As a cultural heritage of all humanity, it [Hagia Sophia mosque] is a place where people of all religions can come and visit,” Erdogan said. “Now, this place has returned to its roots, it was a mosque and became a mosque again. Now, I hope it will continue to serve all believers forever as a mosque.”
Erdogan added that specialists from the Culture and Tourism Ministry would conduct restoration efforts both inside the Hagia Sophia and in its surrounding area.
During the service, Ali Erbas, the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), read out a special khutbah before the collective prayer, titled “Hagia Sophia: Sign of conquest, our trust in Fatih [Sultan Mehmet].”
Erbas said, “In this blessed time, together, we are witnessing a historical moment in this holy place. Hagia Sophia Mosque regains its congregation today, the third day of the blessed Muslim month of Dhul Hijjah, in which the blessed Eid al Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, is approaching us.
“The longing that turned into an open wound for the heirs of Fatih has now ended. Eternal praise be upon God the Almighty. Today is the day when takbirs [proclamations of God’s greatness], prayers, and salawats [salutation upon the prophet of Islam] resonate in the domes of Hagia Sophia, and the adhan – call for prayer – rises from its minarets.
“Today is a day similar to one 70 years ago, when 16 muezzins from the 16 minarets of Sultan Ahmet Mosque, located just opposite Hagia Sophia, joyfully filled the air with the call to prayer, after an 18-year hiatus.”
Turkey’s top religious authority on Thursday appointed three imams and five muezzins for the mosque. Erbas said Mehmet Boynukalin, Ferruh Mustuer and Bunyamin Topcuoglu were appointed as the imams.