Turkey court approves turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque - columnist

Turkey’s top court approved a request to turn Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque, columnist Abdulkadir Selvi said on Thursday.

The court will publish its decision on Friday once all signatures are complete, Selvi, who is known for his close ties to the government and officials in Ankara, said in a column for Hürriyet, one of Turkey’s best-selling newspapers.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) has stepped up moves to open Hagia Sophia to worship as a regular mosque following a Quran recital inside the 6th-century monument in late May. Turkey’s top administrative court, the Council of State, said last week that it would make a ruling on the matter within 15 days.

Selvi said the decision carries historical consequences but has the widespread approval of the Turkish public. Some people will see the re-opening of the monument to Muslim worship as politically motivated, but it comes well ahead of nationwide elections in Turkey slated for 2023, he said.

Calls by Erdoğan to transform Hagia Sophia into a mosque have been opposed by Christian groups across the world as well as top politicians and government officials in the European Union, the United States and Russia, who say the move would threaten to stir up religious tensions. Neighbour Greece has been particularly vociferous in its opposition.

The building served as a Greek cathedral and the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church until the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, ordered it turned into a museum in 1934 as part of the country’s secular reforms.

Last week, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, said a conversion would fracture the Muslim and Christian worlds.