Eid prayer held at Turkey's Hagia Sophia Mosque after 87 years

The Nation  |  May 13, 2021

Eid prayer was held at Istanbul's iconic Hagia Sophia Mosque on Thursday after an 87-year hiatus.

Thousands of worshippers joined the prayer led by Ali Erbas, head of Turkey's top religious body Diyanet.

Erbas delivered the Eid sermon holding a sword in his hand, an age-old Ottoman tradition which signifies conquest.

"These holidays are being held during exceptional times that define us, unite our hearts, and reinforce our brotherhood," he said.

He offered special prayers for Palestinians who are facing the onslaught of Israeli forces.

"The attempt of Israel, which does not give up its aggressive attitude even during Ramadan, to occupy the holy city of Jerusalem and our first Qibla, Masjid Al-Aqsa, brings great sorrow and pain to all believers," Erbas said.

He added that attacking Muslim worshippers "barbarically" violated the sanctity of the holy mosque and the memory of the prophets.

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"Our innocent Palestinian brothers and sisters are being forcibly evicted from their homes and subjected to massacres," he said, noting that every holiday will pass with a heavy heart until Palestine and the Al-Aqsa are liberated.

Israel continues to target Gaza with heavy bombardment so far killing at least 83 Palestinians, including 17 children and seven women, according to health officials. At least 487 others have been injured, in addition to heavy damages to residential buildings across Gaza.

Tensions have been running high across the Palestinian territories after Israeli soldiers attacked last week Palestinians offering prayers inside Al-Aqsa during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Palestinians have been protesting against a recent Israeli court ruling ordering the eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem -- despite attacks by Israeli soldiers.

In the past, Hagia Sophia served as a church for 916 years and 86 years as a museum, but most of its existence – 1453 to 1934, nearly 500 years – it spent as a mosque, a status it resumed last year.

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In 1985, Hagia Sophia was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Besides being a mosque, the Hagia Sophia is also among Turkey's top tourism destinations and remains open for domestic and foreign visitors.

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