One of Istanbul’s greatest monuments and tourist attractions, Hagia Sophia is being eyed by religious clerics and Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc for re-conversion into a mosque.
The former Byzantine cathedral from the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire, served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral. It then was converted into a mosque and remained as one for 482 years, only to become a museum, in 1935 during the leadership of Attaturk who secularised the Turkish nation.
The idea of restoring the former cathedral as a mosque, has highlighted the current AKP government’s moves to bring more religious emphasis to secular Turkey.
Recent bans on the sale of alcohol within certain distances of schools and mosques raised concerns by more liberal minded Turks.
In the last few years, Prime Minister Erdogan has spoken of his desire to “raise a more religious generation”, and has reintroduced state-run religious schools for younger children. This month, he suggested that unmarried male and female students should be outlawed from living together, even off campus.
The imam of the neighbouring Blue Mosque has called for the reinstatement of Hagia Sophia as a mosque to cope with the overflow of worshippers during Bayram.
Interestingly, the Prime Minister has said that he would prefer that the former Cathedral and mosque, remains as a museum.