Erdogan Invites World Leaders to Friday’s Muslim Prayer Service at Hagia Sophia

Mosaics and frescoes cover the interior if Hagia Sophia, the building which served as the center of Eastern Christianity for almost one thousand years. File Photo

According to information published in the Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet today, government officials there have sent out invitations to a number of officials to hear the prayers which will be said on the first Friday after the reconversion of the hallowed building of Hagia Sophia to a mosque.

The Turkish daily estimates that there may be as many as 1,500 individuals who will attend Friday prayers in the building, with the service led by Ali Erbas, who is the head of the country’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet.

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who pushed for the reconversion of the Byzantine monument, along with other officials from both the Nationalist Movement and Justice and Development parties are expected to be in attendance on Friday.

Turkish media reports that leaders from a number of countries have been invited to the service but so far only the presidents of Azerbaijan and Qatar are anticipated to be on hand.

Long a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site, which served for almost one thousand years as the seat of all Eastern Christianity, Hagia Sophia’s frescoes are the ultimate expression of Byzantine art.

The many priceless mosaics and frescoes which still decorate the building will be completely covered by heavy, movable curtains which, according to reports, have intricate mechanisms similar to those used in the film industry.

The gigantic 6.5-meter (21-foot) Theotokos and even more imposing 7.5-meter (24-foot) Gabriel mosaics will be covered up completely by the fabric but will not be touched in any way.

Hurriyet reports that “not even a nail” will be pounded as a result of the usage of the new curtain system. Scaffolding which had been put in place for ongoing restoration efforts will also be shielded from view by the curtains.

The large “Omphalion opus” floor mosaic, which is supposed to represent the navel, or the center, of the entire world, will accordingly also be covered up by a large rug during the Friday prayers and tow layers of felt will be placed between the tiles and the rug for extra protection.

Erdogan pushed for the reconversion of the hallowed space, which had served since 1935 as a secular museum, and the legal decision allowing the move was accordingly made by the country’s highest administrative court on July 10.

The Turkish leader toured Hagia Sofia on Sunday, in what was referred to as an inspection of the edifice prior to the the upcoming prayer service. According to the president’s office, Erdoğan observed the work that had been done since the official conversion was announced.

The reconversion of the building was seen by the vast majority of world leaders as a slap in the face of religious freedom, with some saying that it was even tantamount to a “cultural cleansing” of the great city which had for so long been the capital of Greek Byzantium.