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Hagia Sophia to Hold First Ramadan Prayer in 88 Years

Hagia Sophia prayer
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Credit: Arild Vagen/cc3/wikipedia

Hagia Sophia, the symbolic center of the Greek Orthodox faith that was converted by Turkey into a mosque in 2020, will hold its first tarawih prayer in 88 years, a special evening prayer during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

These special prayers involve reading long portions of the Qur’an, as well as performing many rakahs (cycles of movement involved in Islamic prayer).

They begin from the first Moon-sighted evening (start) to the second Moon-sighted evening (last day of Ramadan). A number of events for Ramadan will also be held at Hagia Sophia.

The UNESCO World Heritage monument was built in the year 532 C.E.. It served as a church for 916 years. Until 1453, the “Great Church”, as the Byzantines called it, was the eastern heart of Christianity.

The massive temple held a total of 23,000 worshipers, and 525 priests, deacons, and chanters served its liturgies.

It was turned into a mosque in 1453 after the conquest of Istanbul. In 1934, it was converted into a museum.

World blasts Turkey’s decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque

In early July 2020, the Turkish Council of State annulled the Cabinet’s 1934 decision to establish the museum, revoking the monument’s status, and a subsequent decree by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the reclassification of Hagia Sophia as a mosque.

The 1934 decree was ruled to be unlawful under both Ottoman and Turkish law as Hagia Sophia’s waqf, endowed by Sultan Mehmed, had designated the site a mosque; proponents of the decision argued the Hagia Sophia was the personal property of the sultan.

This redesignation is controversial, invoking condemnation from the Turkish opposition, UNESCO, the World Council of Churches, and many international leaders.

Joe Biden, who was the Democratic Presidential candidate at the time, expressed his “deep regret” over the decision by Turkey to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

Antony Blinken, foreign policy adviser to Biden, tweeted the statement: “The Hagia Sophia is an architectural marvel and a treasured holy site for people of many faiths.”

Blinken goes on to say that he “deeply regret[s] the Turkish government’s decision to convert it into a mosque and urge[s] President Erdogan to reverse his decision.”

Pope Francis had said he was “deeply pained” over the decision by Turkey to alter the status of Hagia Sophia.

In a very brief, improvised remark, Francis spoke from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square as the Catholic Church marked the International Day of the Sea. “And the sea brings me a little far away with my thought: to Istanbul,” the pontiff said, and “I am thinking of Hagia Sophia and I am deeply pained.”

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