In what The Times called an “international incident,” a Turkish muezzin has for the first time in 85 years sounded the morning Muslim call to prayer from inside Istanbul’s historic Haghia Sophia.
It was the first official Islamic use of the former cathedral and mosque since the ancient building was designated a museum in 1935 by the secular state of Turkey.
Built as an Orthodox Christian basilica in 537 A.D., the church was converted into a mosque nearly a thousand years later, when Sultan Mehmet II conquered the city in 1453 and the building became the Ottoman Empire’s imperial mosque for the next five centuries.
Although use of the building as a place of worship was strictly prohibited under the Republic of Turkey’s secular laws, for the past four years the call to prayer has been played twice daily from the minarets outside the monument. During this past Ramadan month of fasting which began June 6, for the first time prayers from the Quran were also recited every morning in front of Haghia Sophia and, broadcast live over state television.
Although Turkish government leaders and clerics have reiterated calls in recent years to open the building to Muslim worship, the Greek Foreign Ministry has registered a formal protest with UNESCO, criticizing the latest Turkish initiatives as “regressive” and “disrespect against Orthodox Christians across the world.”
Today, gigantic disks bearing the names of Allah, Mohammed, the first four caliphs and two of Mohammed’s grandsons dominate the building’s massive interior, with its massive dome and walls still retaining several of the original Christian mosaics.
Last year the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage monument was the most visited tourist site in Turkey.