Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Sees First Koran Reading in 85 Years

hhhhA Muslim cleric has for the first time in 85 years recited the Koran in the Hagia Sophia, the world famous landmark of Istanbul which is now a museum after serving as a church and a mosque, reports said Saturday.

The Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum accessible to all by the secular founders of modern Turkey in the 1930s and secular Turks are wary of any moves to re-Islamise the building.

A passage from the Koran, the holy scripture of Islam, was recited late Friday at a ceremony in the Hagia Sophia to mark the opening of a new exhibition “Love of the Prophet.”

It was read by Ali Tel, imam at the Ahmet Hamdi Akseki Mosque in Ankara

The ceremony was attended by top Turkish officials including the head of the country’s religious affairs agency Diyanet, Mehmet Gormez.

The exhibition inside the Hagia Sophia is a show of calligraphic work in devotion to the Muslim Prophet Mohammed and runs until May 8.

The magnificent edifice was constructed in the sixth century as a church in the Christian Byzantine Empire and was the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the former name of Istanbul.

When Ottoman forces under Mehmet II conquered the city in 1453 he ordered the immediate conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Islamic minarets were built around its Byzantine dome.

It served as a mosque until after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when in the mid-1930s the authorities of the new Turkish state under secular leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ordered it to become a museum for all.

Greece reacted furiously at the time, saying such statements “are offending the religious feeling of millions of Christians.”

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