BY DAILY SABAH WITH AA
ISTANBUL JUL 24, 2022 – DAILY SABAH
The Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque continues to be one of Istanbul’s most visited monuments as it marked Sunday the second anniversary of its reopening as a mosque after an 86-year hiatus
Istanbul’s historical Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque welcomed over 6.5 million visitors in its second year of reopening as a mosque, according to Istanbul Deputy Mufti Ahmet Aktürkoğlu.
The iconic monument served as a church for 916 years until the conquest of Istanbul in 1453. It then served as a mosque from 1453 to 1934 – nearly 500 years – and most recently as a museum for 86 years.
One of the most visited historic buildings in Turkey by domestic and international tourists, Hagia Sophia was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985.
On July 10, 2020, a Turkish court annulled a 1934 Cabinet decree that had turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, paving the way for its use again as a mosque after the 86-year hiatus.
The monument was restored to its former glory as the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque on July 24, 2020, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joining hundreds of worshipers for the first Muslim prayer in 86 years inside Hagia Sophia.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA) on the second anniversary of the reopening, Aktürkoğlu said the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque after the conquest was one of the most important events in the history of Islam.
He added that Hagia Sophia, like many other important places of worship around the world, draws a huge number of tourists and the faithful.
“Like many other holy places in the world, Hagia Sophia is flooded with visitors. It attracts great attention from local and foreign tourists, especially after it was opened to worship again. In the second year since its opening, the mosque has hosted over 6.5 million visitors,” he said.
Aktürkoğlu underlined that there was a lot of interest in Hagia Sophia, particularly during the Qurban Bayram (Eid al-Adha).
“The Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque received over 120,000 people every day during the nine-day bayram holiday. The interest of our people and visitors from around the world on Hagia Sophia is increasing every day.”
“We also see an increasing number of visitors, especially on weekends. People from all over Turkey come here to attend the morning prayer. Many social and cultural organizations also arrange various events and tours of the monument. This makes us extremely happy.”
Muslim worshippers talk after prayer during the first day of Qurban Bayram at the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey, July 9, 2022. (AP Photo)
Hagia Sophia has also been a destination for new converts and people wanting to convert to Islam, according to Aktürkoğlu.
“We oversee many conversion events at the mosque every day. Many people who want to convert to Islam decide to do so with our help at the Hagia Sophia and make it a memorable occasion.
“On average we hold three or five such ceremonies in Hagia Sophia every day. People from all over the world come here to become Muslims. This makes us very happy.”
He noted that there the coronavirus pandemic was in full swing when the mosque was reopened for worship, thus visitors were hosted as per health and social-distancing rules for COVID-19.
The authorities continue to pay a lot of attention to the health rules as they prepare to accommodate over 120,000 daily visitors.
Aktürkoğlu added that Hagia Sophia is managed by the administrative board and a scientific committee was formed to carry out research activities at the Hagia Sophia Madrassa.
“Teachers are currently teaching tafsir and hadith. The online and face-to-face lessons will resume in September after the summer break,” he said.
He stressed that the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque has symbolic meaning beyond the place of worship. “Muslims must play a leading role in protecting and preserving the physical space and its spiritual representation in the best way possible,” said Aktürkoğlu.