Turkey illuminated Hagia Sophia, the historic Byzantine Church, now turned mosque, with a “There’s No God But Allah” sign on Saturday.
For the first time in 87 years, Hagia Sophia was adorned with traditional Ramadan mahya to mark one of the holiest nights in Islam Laylat al-Qadr.
The mahya is a string of illuminators hung between minarets and feature the Kalimat al-Tawhid, or “La Ilahe Illallah” (there’s no God but Allah).
Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque is illuminated with lights to mark Laylat al-Qadr, first time in 87 years pic.twitter.com/EIJaBPGScX
— TRT World (@trtworld) May 8, 2021
Mahyas, featuring religious verses or advice for good deeds, are a centuries-old Ramadan tradition from Ottoman times.
The Laylat al-Qadr, or the Night of Power, marks the night in which the first verses of the Holy Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims consider the 27th night of Ramadan to be the holiest night of the year and the faithful are encouraged to spend the time in prayer and devotion to God until dawn. The Quran says the night is better than 1,000 months, equivalent to more than 83 years.
The historic landmark Hagia Sophia was reverted to a mosque last July and reopened for prayers after an 86-year hiatus.
Earlier, this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called his controversial decision the “crown of 2020.”
International condemnation on Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia, protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, is one of the holiest sites in Orthodox Christianity.
Built where a fourth-century church once stood, the Hagia Sophia was constructed in the sixth century and is one of the best surviving examples of Byzantine architecture.
After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Hagia Sofia was converted into a mosque, and many precious mosaics were destroyed.
The rise of secularism in Turkey during the early twentieth century, spearheaded by President Kemal Ataturk, culminated in the transformation of the site from a mosque into a museum.
Turkey’s decision to change the site once again has faced overwhelming criticism internationally. Many view the act as a nod to Erdogan’s base of religious nationalists.
Joe Biden who was the Democratic Presidential candidate at the time expressed his “deep regret” over the decision by Turkey to turn Hagia Sophia to a mosque.
Antony Blinken, then foreign policy adviser to Biden, and now Secretary of State tweeted the statement: “The Hagia Sophia is an architectural marvel and a treasured holy site for people of many faiths.
“I deeply regret the Turkish government’s decision to convert it into a mosque and urge President Erdogan to reverse his decision.”
Also the leadership of the all-powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a statement “strongly denouncing” President Erdogan’s decision and saying that his move “is a deep affront to Christians around the world who look to Hagia Sophia as a shining light and deeply revered holy site.”
The Department of State also expressed “disappointment” at the move by Turkey.
Pope Francis said that he was “deeply pained” over the decision by Turkey to change the status of Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque.
Pope Francis had this to say about Turkey’s decision to turn the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque 👇 pic.twitter.com/evmI3lOhNk
— DW News (@dwnews) July 12, 2020
In a very brief, improvised remark, Francis, speaking from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, noted that the Catholic Church marked Sunday as the International Day of the Sea. “And the sea brings me a little far away with my thought: to Istanbul,” the pontiff said. “I am thinking of Hagia Sophia and I am deeply pained.”