Brushing aside fears that holding religious ceremonies in churches would undermine Turkey’s Islamic character, the country’s top religious official has expressed openness about allowing such rites in Istanbul’s famous Hagia Sophia.
“Turkey will not become a Christian country by allowing three to five churches to hold religious ceremonies,” Ali Bardakoglu, the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, told journalists at a fast-breaking meal, or iftar.
Earlier this week, Bardakoglu called for the reopening of the Saint Paul Church in Tarsus, a district of the southern province of Mersin, comments he reiterated at the iftar. “I find it more correct if the Saint Paul Church in Tarsus serves as a church than in its current role as a museum,” he said, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
“This is not a decision we can make. The Religious Affairs Directorate expresses its opinion when it is asked,” the top religious official said, adding that the body is supporting freedom not only for Christians in Turkey but also for Muslims in Western Thrace, Albania and Macedonia and Christians who live in other places.
The Hagia Sophia, originally a church, was transformed into a mosque after Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror laid siege to Istanbul in 1453 as part of the Ottomans’ attempt to convert the city to Islam. It was opened as a museum in 1935.