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Turkey’s Hagia Sophia holds ‘taraweeh’ prayers during Ramadan for first time in 88 years

This comes two years after Turkish President Erdogan made the controversial decision to redesignate the Byzantine-era monument, a former cathedral and museum, into a mosque.

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New Delhi: The Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in Turkey’s Istanbul Saturday held its first ‘taraweeh‘ prayers, a special evening prayer during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in 88 years. The prayers will continue to be performed at the iconic monument throughout the month, which is also known as Ramzan.

This comes two years after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally redesignated the sixth-century monument, which was a former cathedral and museum, into a mosque.

In July 2020, a high court in Turkey had annulled a 1934 decision that had turned it into a museum. The decision had angered Orthodox Christians worldwide and sparked widespread criticism from UNESCO, the World Council of Churches and many international leaders.

US President Joe Biden, a presidential candidate at the time, had expressed his “deep regret” over the decision.

On 24 July 2020, the Hagia Sophia was declared open to worship for Muslims. However, the mosque could not be used until now due to the Covid pandemic.

With a majority of the population now vaccinated, daily cases and fatalities declining and recoveries on the rise, Turkish authorities decided to reopen the mosque for Ramadan, reported Turkish state-run agency Anadolu.

Taraweeh‘ prayers

Taraweeh‘ prayers are performed after Isha (night prayer) during Ramadan, a month when faithful Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. The prayers involve reading long portions of the Qur’an, as well as performing many rakahs.

“Thanks be to God. For the first time in 88 years, the mosque… will welcome believers for tarawih prayers this Ramadan,” Ali Erbas, head of the Diyanet, the Turkish body responsible for overseeing religious worship, told AFP.

Hagia Sophia was built during the reign of Justinian I, the ruler of the Byzantine Empire, as a Christian cathedral. The construction began in the year 532 CE when Istanbul was known as Constantinople. The structure was the seat of the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly 900 years. 

In 1453, it was turned into a mosque after Istanbul’s conquest by the Ottoman Empire. In 1934, it became a museum and in 1985, it was designated a component of a UNESCO World Heritage site called the Historic Areas of Istanbul. As a museum, the monument attracted numerous tourists every year and also served as a symbol of Christian and Muslim solidarity.

Also read: Turkey plays again the role of the Evasive Neutral

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