News Revelations

Greece and Turkey spar over Ramadan prayers at Hagia Sophia

A tourist couple checks a map near the Byzantine-era monument of Hagia Sophia, at Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul, on Jan. 14, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Murad Sezer

(RNS) Turkish authorities have allowed Hagia Sophia, a World Heritage site, to be used for Ramadan prayers, an act that has enraged Orthodox Christians who say the famed former church and mosque is supposed to be off-limits for any religious ritual.

Prayers for the holy Muslim month were first read at the start of Ramadan on June 8, prompting a swift and pointed response.

“We condemn as regressive the Turkish authorities’ announcement of the scheduling of a Quran reading in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, on the occasion of Ramadan,” read a statement from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Turkish officials, in response, accused Greece of intolerance toward Muslims, but did not directly address the Hagia Sophia controversy.

“Greece has not given permission for the construction of a mosque in its capital for years, permanently intervenes in the freedoms of religion of the Turkish minority of Western Thrace and mistakes being against Islam for being modern,” read a statement from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Though neighboring Turkey and Greece are at peace, tensions persist. Orthodox Christianity is the predominant faith in Greece; Turkey is mostly Muslim.

Greece was once a part of the Ottoman Empire and Greeks and Turks have fought each other in four wars since the end of the 19th century.

Each culture has a claim on Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul’s most visited tourist attractions in a nation with both strong Muslim and secular traditions.

It was built in the sixth century as a cathedral of the Byzantine Empire, under the Christian Emperor Justinian I. In the 15th century, it became a mosque. Secular Turkish ruler Mustafa Kemal Attaturk transformed Hagia Sophia into a secular museum, and 50 years later UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site.

But Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wants his country to embrace Islam more closely: The climate there is warmer now for those who want to make Hagia Sophia a mosque again.

The Greek ministry complained the prayers reveal a “lack of respect for and connection with reality.”

“Such actions,” the statement continued, “are not compatible with modern, democratic and secular societies.”

According to the Turkish foreign ministry, Greece should be mindful that showing respect for other religions and their acts of worship is “among the values of modern, democratic and secular societies.”

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About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

8 Comments

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  • More of the same from the Muslim Jihadists in Turkey, to be expected…Erdogan is no different than Bakhari from ISIS, except he’s more powerful and has a veil of legitimacy granted to him by Nato and the US. I hope Putin cuts him down to size.

  • Actually quite sad to read this that Turkey needs to revert to this sort of action in the year 2016….

  • Another turkish attempt to distort the truth through propaganda lies. Greece respects other religions and never imposed the Christian Faith through violence to other faiths as is done in Turkey even today. Greece has infinite number of mosques in Northern Greece since the bulk of muslims live in that area. It is better for Turkey to leave behind practices of the 16th century and return to the real World of 21st century AD.

  • Hum… oddly reminicent of a different day and time when a little corporal from Germany cited outrages supposedly visited upon German minorities as justification for precipitating a the most destructive war the world has ever seen.

  • Actually Muslims in Western Thrace has been largely left alone. They are officially viewed as Muslim Greeks per the Treaty of Lausanne where 110,000 Muslims were allowed to stay in Greece and 150,000 Christians allowed to stay in Istanbul. We ALL know that the Turks have VIOLATED the treaty with anti-Greek laws and the 1958 Anti-Greek riots where 100s of Greek women and girls were raped. Dozens of Greek men/Priests had their genitals mutilated. Dozens where killed and 1000s of homes damaged. The Muslims in Western Thrace have never suffered anything remotely like that! That is why there are now over 250,000 Muslims in Western Thrace and there are less than 6000 Greeks in Istanbul!

    So tell me who is wrong here?!

  • Please wake up from dream. Hagia Sophia is no more a church.

    It belongs to Turks and it is a mosque since 1453.

    Also, Turkey allows chiristians to visit it. Do you want them to forbid it? They can. And you can not do anything about it.

  • By the way, Ottoman convert only one church to mosque as a symbol when they conquer a city. Just one. But Greece turned hundreds of mosques to churches.

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