As Christians feared and many expected, the Hagia Sophia is now—again—a mosque.
The Turkish Council of State ruled today that the original 1934 decision to convert the sixth-century Byzantine basilica into a museum was illegal.
When Ottoman sultan Mehmet II conquered then-Constantinople, he placed the iconic church in a waqf—an Islamic endowment administering personal property, usually designated for religious purpose. The original stipulations opened the building for Islamic prayers, and sharia law keeps waqf designations in perpetuity.
Shortly after the decision, President Recep Erdogan signed—and tweeted—a decree handing the building to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate.
In a televised address to the nation, Erdogan said the first prayers inside the Hagia Sophia would be held on July 24, and he urged respect for the decision.
“I underline that we will open Hagia Sophia to worship as a mosque by preserving its character of humanity’s common cultural heritage,” he said, adding: “It is Turkey’s sovereign right to decide for which purpose Hagia Sophia will be used.”
Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, considered the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, warned in late June that the building’s conversion into a mosque “will turn millions of Christians across the world against Islam.”
Greek Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II earlier stated that Erdogan “would not dare.”
And UNESCO reminded Turkey of its international obligations, as the Hagia Sophia is registered as a World Heritage site.
“A state must make sure that no modification undermines the outstanding universal value of a site listed on its territory,” the UN body stated.
In response to the Turkish decision, the Russian Orthodox Church expressed regret, stating it could lead to “greater divisions.”
The foreign minister of Cyprus called it a “flagrant violation” against “a universal symbol of the Orthodox faith.”
And in Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, protesters gathered outside a church that is modeled on the Hagia Sophia and bears the same name. They chanted, “We’ll light candles in Hagia Sophia!” and held Greek flags and Byzantine banners.
During his address, Erdogan rejected the idea that the decision ends the Hagia Sophia’s status as a structure that brings faiths together. “Like all of our other mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be…
This article was first published at Christianity Today, on July 10, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.