Turkey rejects Greek criticism of Hagia Sophia prayers
ANKARATurkey on June 23 condemned a Greek Foreign Ministry statement critical of a Quran recital and call to prayer held at the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) in Istanbul earlier this week.
“The Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of Greece, instead of extending its congratulations to the Turkish people on the holy month of Ramadan and the Laylat ul-Qadr, opted for distorting the recital of Quran and call for prayer in Hagia Sophia,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
Laylat ul-Qadr, also known as the “Night of Power,” is one of the most important dates in the Muslim religious calendar. According to the Islamic belief, it marks the night when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed in 610 AD.
“The record of Greece in the field of freedom of religion, which is among the fundamental human rights, is well-known,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry added.
Hagia Sophia served as a Christian church until it was converted into a mosque when the Ottomans conquered Istanbul in 1453. It was turned into a museum in 1935 upon the orders of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first president of the Turkey Republic.
Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) organized a special program, which included the recitation of the Quran and prayers, at Hagia Sophia on June 21 to mark the Laylat al-Qadr.
Diyanet head Mehmet Görmez attended the program, which was broadcast live by state-run television TRT.
A Greek statement on June 22 read: “Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO world heritage site. The attempt to convert it into a mosque - through reading of the Quran, holding of prayers, and a number of other actions - is an affront to the international community, which needs to be duly mobilized and to react.”
However, Ankara rejected the criticism, accusing Athens of failing to uphold the rights of its Muslim minority.
It said elected imams from the Turkish Muslim community had faced lawsuits. It also said the Greek authorities had rejected requests for Muslims in the northern city of Thessaloniki to use a historic mosque for Ramadan prayers.
“Therefore, one can question what Greece, which still does not have a mosque open for worshipping in its capital either, understands from the interfaith dialogue that it has referred to in [the June 22] statement,” the ministry added.