Erdogan says first Muslim prayers in Hagia Sophia will be on July 24

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said the first Muslim prayers at Istanbul’s famed Hagia Sophia would be performed on July 24 after a top court annulled its museum status. 

“God willing, we will perform Friday prayers all together on July 24 and reopen Hagia Sophia to worshipping,” Erdogan said in an address to the nation. 

“Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be wide open to locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims.”

The Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative court, on Friday unanimously revoked a 1934 cabinet decision making it a museum. 

Erdogan then swiftly handed over the administration of the “Hagia Sophia Mosque” to the religious affairs directorate to reopen it for Muslim worship. 

The stunning edifice was first built in the sixth century as a Christian cathedral under the Byzantine Empire as the centrepiece of Constantinople. 

After the Ottoman conquest in 1453, it was converted into a mosque before being turned into a museum during the rule of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the secularising founder of modern Turkey, in the 1930s. 

In a televised address to the nation, Erdogan assured that the Hagia Sophia would be open to non-Muslim visitors. 

“Hagia Sophia, the common heritage of the humanity, will continue to embrace everyone in a more sincere and more free spirit with its new status,” he said. 

The Turkish leader urged everyone to “respect” Turkey’s decision. 

“The issue of what purposes Hagia Sophia will be used for concerns Turkey’s sovereign rights,” he said, adding that his government would consider any criticism as a “violation of our independence”.