Muslim mosques in Turkey will be reopening from tomorrow, Friday, the day of the fall of Constantinople (Istanbul), with the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate declaring that he will make the morning Muslim prayer in the square between Hagia Sophia and the Sultanahmet Mosque, protothema.gr reports.
“The time has come for May 29, the day that symbolizes the conquest, with Allah’s will for us to conquer those Muslim mosques that are symbols of conquest,” said Ali Erbas, head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, referring to the anniversary of the fall of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453 which is on Friday 29 May. This date is celebrated as the day of “Conquest” (Fethiye) for Muslim Turks.
The Friday prayer planned for May 29 was to be a celebration of the defeat not only of the pandemic but also the Byzantines.There are other signs that the Erdogan government has its crosshairs on Hagia Sophia. Erbas pointed to the public square next to Hagia Sophia as the location for the first Friday prayer celebrating the opening of the mosques. This is precisely the area where thousands gather annually for morning prayers to demand the reconversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque on the anniversary of Istanbul’s conquest.
A few weeks prior to Erbas’ statement, Erdogan’s communications chief, Fahrettin Altun, tweeted alarming comments alongside a photo of Hagia Sophia: “We miss her! But a bit more patience. We will accomplish this together…” Turkish Twitter timeline went haywire following this posting. Many users interpreted it to be an announcement that Hagia Sophia would be open to Islamic worship soon
There is a deeper significance to the Turkish government’s juxtaposing of Hagia Sophia and the post-pandemic opening of mosques. Amongst those who demand Hagia Sophia’s conversion, there is a belief that all the hardships Turkey is facing, from the economic downturn to terrorist attacks, is caused by Hagia Sophia’s current status. They believe that these problems exist because the founding president of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, converted Hagia Sophia into a museum, breaking the stipulation in Mehmet II’s 1453 endowment deed that forbids the building to serve any other purpose than a mosque. For them, reconverting Hagia Sophia into a mosque would provide the magical solution to all of Turkey’s problems, even those caused by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.