Turkey takes advantage of coronavirus restrictions to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer in the Hagia Sophia

March 26, 2020

Persecution of Christians in Turkey: the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, notes this development with sorrow and dismay.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is known throughout the world as the Great Church of Christ. Built in the sixth century by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Hagia Sophia was for nearly a thousand years the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the center of the Orthodox Faith, and the world’s most magnificent cathedral. Following the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in 1453, it was converted to a mosque by Sultan Mehmet II, and became a museum in 1935.

On March 24, 2019, Erdogan was asked in an interview whether the Hagia Sophia would be converted to a mosque. He replied: “This is not unlikely. We might even change its name to Ayasofya Mosque.”

The Order once again urgently requests that the United Nations and the U.S. State Department and Commission on Religious Freedom act to prevent this, given the Hagia Sophia’s importance for Christians and the deleterious effect this change would have upon Turkey’s embattled Christian minority. Converting the Hagia Sophia to a mosque would further undermine the position of the Christians of that nation, making their situation all the more precarious. We ask instead that the government of Turkey affirm its commitment to religious freedom and discard all plans to change the status of the Hagia Sophia.

For previous coverage of the persecution of Christians in Turkey, see here.

“Islamic Prayer Heard in Hagia Sophia,” International Christian Concern, March 25, 2020:

03/25/2020 Turkey (International Christian Concern) – Turkey has taken advantage of social restrictions enacted by the coronavirus to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer in the Hagia Sophia, a church once the center of orthodoxy. The church was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire and then began operating as a museum shortly after the creation of the Turkish Republic.

Since 1931, the use of the museum as a space of worship has been prohibited. However, in recent years, the government has pushed back against this restriction. In July 2016, Muslim prayers were heard in the Hagia Sophia for the first time in 85 years. In both 2017 and 2018, programming related to the reading of the Quran and prayers were briefly held. Last year, President Erdogan pledged to change the status of the Hagia Sophia from museum back into mosque. The latest broadcast of Islamic prayer occurred as the Hagia Sophia was empty of tourists due to the impact of the coronavirus. The broadcast was made on IHA Broadcast Services.

It is worth noting that Turkey’s recent history shows a pattern of using emergency situations to reinforce the narrative that true Turks are Muslims and to make decisions which restrict the ability of non-Muslims to freely exercise their rights. Following the state of emergency post-coup, a number of directives were issued which disproportionately impacted the ability of religious minorities to freely practice their faith. In this latest case of the Hagia Sophia being used to broadcast Islam, it sends a message to local Christians that their historical churches are theirs no longer.