President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia open to Muslim prayer as a mosque on Friday after a top court ruled that the building’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding statesman was illegal.Erdogan made his announcement just an hour after the court ruling was revealed, brushing aside international warnings not to change the status of the nearly 1,500-year-old monument that is revered by Christians and Muslims alike.The United States and church leaders were among those to express concern about changing the status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a focal point of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
Muslims offer evening prayers outside the Hagia Sophia, in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, July 10, 2020.Erdogan, a pious Muslim, threw his weight behind the campaign before local elections last year that dealt a painful blow to his ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party.In parliament in Ankara, AK Party members stood and applauded after Erdogan’s decree was read aloud. The Ottomans built minarets alongside the vast domed structure, while inside they added huge calligraphic panels bearing the Arabic names of the early Muslim caliphs alongside the monument’s ancient Christian iconography.The Russian Orthodox Church said it regretted that the court did not take its concerns into account when making its ruling and said the decision could lead to even greater divisions, the Tass news agency reported.’Fracture’ fearedPreviously, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said converting it into a mosque would disappoint Christians and would “fracture” East and West.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had also urged Turkey to maintain the building as a museum.But Turkish groups have long campaigned for Hagia Sophia’s conversion, saying it would better reflect Turkey’s status as an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

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