By- Azra Rizvi
After a top court ruled that the building’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding statesman was illegal, the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia open to Muslim worship.
According to reports by Al Jazeera, the announcement was made by Erdogan on Friday an hour after the court ruling was revealed despite international warnings not to change the status of the nearly 1,500-year-old monument which is revered by Christians and Muslims alike.
It was stated in the decision signed by Erdogan: “The decision was taken to hand over the management of the Ayasofya Mosque … to the Religious Affairs Directorate and open it for worship.”
Previously, Turkish President Erdogan had suggested restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a focal point of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and now one of the most frequented monuments in Turkey.
Earlier, the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum was revoked by a top Turkish court. A 1934 cabinet decision that defined the sixth-century building as a museum was cancelled by the Council of State, which was debating a case brought by a Turkish religious organisation.
It was stated in the ruling of Turkey’s top administrative court: “It was concluded that the settlement deed allocated it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally.”
It stated that “The cabinet decision in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with laws.”
The BBC reported that President Erdogan told a press conference the first Muslim prayers would be held inside the building on 24 July.
The Turkish President added, “Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be wide open to locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims.”
The world-famous Hagia Sophia was built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral and was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453. It became a museum in 1934 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Islamists in Turkey long called for it to be transformed into a mosque, however, secular opposition members opposed the move and the proposal gave rise to criticism from religious and political leaders worldwide.
Defending the decision, President Erdogan emphasized that the country had exercised its sovereign right in turning it back into a mosque.