Duvar English

The head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) has urged the opening of an Islamic school in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia following its conversion into a mosque on July 10.

Diyanet head Ali Erbaş praised the decision to convert the sixth century site into a place of worship, wishing a high number of prayers.

“I think the decision is very meaningful. May it host a lot of worshippers. Praying in it is not enough, there should be a madrasah [Islamic school] in it,” Erbaş said on July 11 in the Black Sea province of Rize.

“Our years passed by chanting slogans for Hagia Sophia to be converted into a mosque. It’s a mosque with a symbolic meaning for all Islamic world,” he added.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared Hagia Sophia a mosque on July 10 with the first Muslim prayers to begin in two weeks, after a top court ruled the ancient building’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding statesman was illegal.

Erdoğan has sought to shift Islam into the mainstream of Turkish politics in his 17 years at the helm. He has long floated restoring the mosque status of the sixth-century building, which was converted into a museum in the early days of the modern Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

In its ruling, the Council of State, Turkey’s top administrative court, said: “It was concluded that the settlement deed allocated it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally.

“The cabinet decision in 1934 that… defined it as a museum did not comply with laws,” it said, referring to an edict signed by Atatürk.

Erbaş noted that the Diyanet is carrying out efforts on the issue of Islamic lessons.

He also said that they will visit the mosque during the preparations for its opening on July 24.

“We’re working on what’s needed there. We aim to complete our works by July 24,” Erbaş said.