President Tayyip Erdogan declared Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia open to Muslim worship 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, despite international warnings not to change the status of the nearly 1,500-year-old monument, revered by Christians and Muslims alike.
“The decision was taken to hand over the management of theAyasofya Mosque...to the Religious Affairs Directorate and open
it for worship,” the decision signed by Erdogan said.
Erdogan had earlier proposed restoring the mosque 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.
The United States, Greece and church leaders were among those to express concern about changing the status of the huge 6th Century building, converted into a museum in the early days of the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
“It was concluded that the settlement deed allocated it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally,” the Council of State, Turkey's top administrative court in Ankara, said in its ruling.
“The cabinet decision in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with laws,” it said, referring to an edict signed by Ataturk.
The sixth-century edifice -- whose stunning architecture is a magnet for tourists worldwide -- has been a museum since 1935, open to believers of all faiths. (Reuters)