Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Turkish president Erdogan recites Islamic prayer at Hagia Sophia despite historic link to secularism

Site once served as seat of Greek Orthodox Church before conversion to imperial mosque, as Greece continues to oppose religious use of venue

Saturday 31 March 2018 17:01 BST
The head of state described the centre as 'magnificent and holy'
The head of state described the centre as 'magnificent and holy' (EPA)

Turkey’s president has recited an Islamic prayer in the Hagia Sophia, a historic Istanbul landmark that has become a symbol of interfaith and diplomatic tensions.

Speaking for an art festival opening Saturday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recited the Quran’s first verse, dedicating the prayer to the “souls of all who left us this work as inheritance, especially Istanbul’s conqueror”.

The Hagia Sophia was built during the 6th century Christian Byzantine Empire and served as the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church. It was converted into an imperial mosque with the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453.

Turkey’s secular founder made the structure a museum in 1935, but there have been discussions by Mr Erdogan’s Islamic-leaning government about converting it back into a mosque.

Thousands of Muslim Turks have prayed outside the Hagia Sophia over the years to demand that it be restored as a place of worship.

In 2015, a cleric recited from the Quran inside the building, a Unesco World Heritage site, for the first time in 85 years.

The following year, Turkey’s religious authority began hosting and broadcasting religious readings during the holy month of Ramadan and the call to prayer was recited to mark the first revelation of the Quran to Prophet Mohammed.

Mr Erdogan said Saturday that it was “difficult and emotional” to be speaking at the Hagia Sophia, which he described as “magnificent and holy”.

Greece has protested the Turkish government’s religious use of the venue.


Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in