Last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that Hagia Sophia, formerly the Church of the Holy Wisdom, which used to be an Orthodox Christian cathedral before becoming a mosque and then a museum, could become a mosque again, with free admission.
Turkey’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, has annulled the 1934 decree converting Hagia Sophia into a museum, meaning that it can now be used as a mosque, CNN Türk reported on Friday.
While the decision has been taken unanimously, it can be appealed within 30 days.
The State Council has confirmed the fund that owns Hagia Sophia has decided to hand over the building for public use as a mosque at no cost.
There’s no information so far about when worship services will start.
Ankara has repeatedly stressed that it considers the status of Hagia Sophia, located in Istanbul, its domestic affair and opposes any foreign interference in the decision.
Turkey’s plans for Hagia Sophia have been opposed by UNESCO, the EU, the US and Christians around the world, with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew warning that the move could turn Christians against Islam.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill also weighed into the debate, cautioning that “a threat to Hagia Sophia is a threat to the entire Christian civilization and, therefore, to our spirituality and history”.
History of the issue
The Church of the Holy Wisdom was completed in 537 AD during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, and became the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church until the conquest of Constantinople by the crusaders in 1204, after which the building was briefly turned into a Catholic cathedral.
In 1261, the Byzantines recaptured the city and the Church of the Holy Wisdom once again became the main Orthodox cathedral.
Nearly two centuries later, in 1453, the city was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and turned into a mosque. It remained a mosque until 1931 when it was closed to the public for four years. It was re-opened in 1935 as a museum by the Republic of Turkey.