Turkey’s Hagia Sophia holds ‘taraweeh’ prayers during Ramadan for the first time in 88 years


New Delhi: The Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in Istanbul, capital of Turkey, held its first ‘tarawih‘ Prayers, a special evening prayer during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in 88 years. Prayers will continue to be performed at the iconic monument throughout the month, also known as Ramzan.

It comes two years after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan officially renamed the 6th-century monument, which was a former cathedral and museum, to a mosque.

In July 2020, a high court in Turkey overturned a 1934 ruling that turned it into a museum. The move angered Orthodox Christians around the world and drew widespread criticism from UNESCO, the World Council of Churches and many international leaders.

US President Joe Biden, then presidential candidate, expressed his “deep regret” at the decision.

On July 24, 2020, Hagia Sophia was declared open for worship for Muslims. However, the mosque could not be used until now due to the Covid pandemic.

With a majority of the population now vaccinated, daily cases and deaths down and recoveries on the rise, Turkish authorities have decided to reopen the mosque for Ramadan, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Tarawih‘ prayers

Tarawih‘the prayers are performed after Isha (night prayer) during Ramadan, a month when Muslim worshipers fast from dawn to dusk. The prayers involve reading long portions of the Quran, as well as performing numerous rakahs.

“Thanks be to God. For the first time in 88 years, the mosque (…) will welcome believers for tarawih prayers this Ramadan,” Ali Erbas, head of Diyanet, the Turkish body in charge, told AFP. to oversee religious worship.

Hagia Sophia was built during the reign of Justinian I, the ruler of the Byzantine Empire, as a Christian cathedral. Construction began in the year 532 CE when Istanbul was known as Constantinople. The structure was the seat of the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church for almost 900 years.

In 1453, it was transformed into a mosque after the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman Empire. In 1934 it became a museum and in 1985 it was designated as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site called the Historic Areas of Istanbul. As a museum, the monument attracted many tourists every year and also served as a symbol of Christian and Muslim solidarity.

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