CONSTANTINOPLE – For the first time in 85 years, a Muslim cleric recited the Koran in the Hagia Sophia, which had been one of the most famous Orthodox churches and remains a world class tourist attraction.
The Aghia Sophia is a museum after serving as a church and a mosque, although reports persist that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to make it a mosque again at the same time he wants Greece to pay for building a mosque for Muslims in Athens, which the Greek government is doing.
The Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum accessible to all by the secular founders of modern Turkey in the 1930s and secular Turks are anxious that any attempts to make it a Muslim worship house will set off international tensions.
A passage from the Koran, the holy scripture of Islam, was recited late April 10 at a ceremony in the Hagia Sophia to mark the opening of a new exhibition Love of the Prophet, Agence France Press reported.
It was read by Ali Tel, imam at the Ahmet Hamdi Akseki Mosque in Ankara, the official Anatolia news agency said.
The ceremony was attended by top Turkish officials including the head of the country’s religious affairs agency Diyanet, Mehmet Gormez.
Aghia Sophia was built in the Sixth Century as a church in the Christian Byzantine Empire and was the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the former name of Istanbul. Greece still refers to the city as Constantinople.
When Ottoman forces under Mehmet II conquered the city in 1453 he ordered the immediate conversion of the Hagia Sophia 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 secular leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ordered it to become a museum for all.