Turkey court rejects plea to open Hagia Sofia for Islamic prayer
Istanbul, Turkey – Turkey’s top court on Thursday turned down a plea to open the Hagia Sofia, an Istanbul landmark that is now a museum after serving as both a church and a mosque over its long history, for Muslim worshipping.
The Constitutional Court rejected an association’s demand that the Hagia Sofia be opened for Muslim prayers on “non-competence” grounds, indicating it was not the proper instance to allow any change, the official Anadolu news agency reported.
In its plea, the association had claimed that barring prayers at Hagia Sofia was breaching the right to freedom of expression and conscience.
The Haberturk website said the demand had come from an independent Turkish heritage association.
The Hagia Sofa was turned into a museum accessible to all by the secular founders of modern Turkey in the 1930s. Secular Turks are wary of any moves to re-Islamize the building or have it re-consecrated as a mosque.
In recent years under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, there has been an increase in Muslim activity inside the museum, with Koran readings taking place on occasion.
The Hagia Sofa was constructed in the sixth century as a church in the Christian Byzantine Empire and was the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Istanbul’s former name.
When Ottoman forces under Sultan Mehmet II conquered the city in 1453 he ordered the immediate conversion of the Hagia Sofia into a mosque. Islamic minarets were built around its Byzantine dome.
It served as a mosque until after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when in the mid-1930s the authorities of the new Turkish state under its secular founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ordered it to become a museum for all.
Neighboring Greece, which keeps a close eye on the state of Byzantine heritage in Istanbul, has occasionally expressed concern that the Hagia Sofia’s status as a secular museum could be under threat. /kga
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