Turkey to appoint two imams, four muazzins to Hagia Sophia

Turkey’s official state institution regulating the role of Islam has announced that it will be apointing two imams and four muazzins (callers for prayer) to the newly transformed Hagia Sophia mosque, T24 news site reported on Sunday.

The announcement came from Ali Erbaş, head of the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) during a press conference in front of the Hagia Sophia following a tour of the 6th-century structure with the governor of Istanbul, Ali Yerlikaya, it said.

On Friday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a decree, handing over the Hagia Sophia’s administrative control to Diyanet after a court ruled a 1934 decree by the father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, to repurpose the building as a museum was illegal.

The transformation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, once a cathedral in the Byzantine era, has been a long-standing demand by Turkey’s Islamist circles.

"We are planning for two imams and four muazzins. Our imams will have qualifications that meet the needs of our people, in terms of their Quranic recitation, sermons and wealth of knowledge,” Erbaş said.

The head of Turkey’s top religious body also said the Hagia Sophia would open for five daily prayers following the Friday prayer on July 24, when the building is first expected to open its doors to Muslim worshippers.

Erbaş noted that Diyanet would take the "necessary steps” in dealing with the frescos and icons on Hagia Sophia’s walls during prayer, in reference to the Islamic requirement for no human images to be present in areas of worship. He did not specify what the steps would entail.