Turkey's top religious body head stands behind sworded sermon at Hagia Sophia reopening

The head of Turkey’s top religious body on Monday dismissed criticism over his donning of a sword during the reopening ceremony of the Hagia Sophia last month.

"The delivery of the sermon in this fashion was, in a way, a declaration that the Hagia Sophia had been reconverted into a mosque, and, in another way, a message regarding the conquest (of Istanbul),’’ Religious Affairs Directorate head Ali Erbaş said on Twitter.

Moreover, the first Muslim Friday sermon ever delivered at Hagia Sophia, when the site was first converted into a mosque following its 1453 conquest featured a sword and this is part of Turkey’s history and tradition, he added. 

Erbaş came under criticism from Turkey’s secular circles when he ascended unto the pulpit of the Hagia Sophia to deliver a sermon with a sword during the site’s controversial July 24 reconversion into a mosque.

 "I am amazed by those who find this odd, criticise it or try to misinterpret it,’’ Erbaş said.

Originally built as a Byzantine cathedral in 537, the Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul and then became a museum in 1935 under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s presidency.

Turkey’s decision last month to reconvert the UNESCO World Heritage site and former seat of the Greek Orthodox church into a mosque has been met with international condemnation.