Erdogan signs decree to make Hagia Sophia a Mosque

Turkey's hardline Islamist president has signed a decree to formally turn the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
The monument was built as a Greek Orthodox Cathedral in 537AD but was turned into a mosque after the city was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, Turkey's founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk turned Hagia Sophia into a museum in 1934; a sign of his commitment to a secular future for the country - separating state from religion.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan's decision to issue his decree comes after a landmark decision by Turkey's high court that the Hagia Sophia's conversion into a museum was unlawful.
The move to convert the ancient site into a mosque is an outrage to Christians around the world.
Greece described the ruling as an "open provocation to the civilised world", with the US and UNESCO also among those condemning the decision.

The move is not about creating more space for prayer as Istanbul has more than 3,000 mosques.

Rather, the decision reflects President Erdogan's devotion to Islam and its overall objective of a worldwide caliphate.

Historians have expressed concerns about the safety of the building's religious icons such as images of Madonna, mother of Christ, and other saints on the walls

Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim and this move to reclaim Hagia Sophia as a mosque is seen as a bid to boost Mr Erdogan's AK Party's sliding popularity polls.

The move may prove popular with Mr Erdogan's conservative supporters and nationalists but church leaders have argued Hagia Sophia was Christian for nearly 900 years and Muslim for only 500 years.

Its 30m (98ft) dome, framed by four minarets, dominates Istanbul's skyline.

During President Erdogan's time in office mosques have sprung up in some of Istanbul's most important sites.

A newly-constructed mosque now towers over the secular monument in Taksim square.

As the mosque was being built, the city's opera house was demolished - a symbol of the Ataturk era.

Hagia Sophia could be open for prayers as early as 15 July - the date of the attempted coup in Turkey four years ago and now a national holiday.

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