By Nathan Morley
TV pictures showed crowds forming at checkpoints surrounding old Istanbul before the main doors were opened. Over 20,000 policemen patrolled the area as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended Friday prayers along with several hundred special guests.
Erdogan issued a decree on 11 July ordering the historic Hagia Sophia to be opened for Muslim prayers on 24 July.
His order followed a ruling from Turkey’s top administrative court which revoked Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum.
The conversion sparked criticism from church and political leaders, who said the conversion for Muslim worship risks causing religious divisions.
At the Angelus address on 12 July, Pope Francis said he was “very saddened” when he thought about Hagia Sophia.
Example of religious harmony
Since 1934, the building has been a living example of religious harmony in the form of stone. In recent years it has become the most popular tourist attraction in Turkey, drawing over 3.5 million visitors during 2019.
Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO world heritage site in Istanbul.
Reacting to the news of the conversion in early July, the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople said Hagia Sophia belonged not only to those who own it at the moment but to all humanity.
For their part, UNESCO said that the building was inscribed on its world heritage list as a museum, which binds the Turkish state to ensure that “no modification is made to the outstanding universal value of the property.”