The Church of Hagia Sophia was built by Justinian I in the middle of the city of Nicaea in the 6th century (modelled after the larger Hagia Sophia in Constantinople), and it was there that the Second Council of Nicaea met in 787 to discuss the issues of iconography.
By Gamon McLellan
Several Turkish newspapers reported on Monday that the Hagia Sophia in İznik (Nicaea) is now open for regular worship as a mosque. The building was full to capacity with worshippers for the dawn prayers (namaz) of the Kurban Bayramı (Feast of Sacrifice/Eid al Adha) on Sunday morning – the first time the building has been used as a mosque for some 90 years.
The prayers were led by the Müftü of İznik, and were attended by the Mayor, several AK (Justice and Development) Party Members of Parliament for Bursa (the province in which İznik is located) and by Adnan Ertem, Director General of Religious Foundations.
A floor has been constructed on which carpets and prayer rugs have been placed, a minber (pulpit) has been installed, and a loudspeaker system attached to the minaret. The sign "Ayasofya Müzesi" (müze means museum) outside the building which has been there for some years has been removed. In its place a new sign was put up on Saturday: "T.C. Başbakanlık Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı: Ayasofya Camii (Orhan Camii)" or "Presidency of Religious Affairs, Prime Ministry of Turkish Republic: Ayasofya Mosque (Orhan Mosque)", with the date 1331 (when Orhan Gazi converted the building into a mosque and endowed it). An imam has also been appointed to the mosque.
Photographs of the opening prayers can be seen in the following two press reports:
Ayasofya Camii ibadete açıldı
İznik Ayasofya Camii'nde 90 yıl sonra ilk namaz
This development is not without its critics, who point out that the building has been operating as a museum under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and is described as such on the Ministry website and on the website of the Governorate of the Province of Bursa:
Bursa - İznik Müzesi Müdürlüğü
Ayasofya Müzesi (İznik)
However, Adnan Ertem said the building had been used as a mosque for 680 years and had never functioned as a museum, and he did not believe it would be right for it to become a museum and thereby be closed to worshippers. There were, he said, four Ayasofyas in Turkey: two in Istanbul, one in Trabzon and this one in İznik. The Küçük Ayasofya (SS Sergius & Bacchus) in İstanbul had been opened for worship. Now the İznik one had as well. However he said he could not say anything about the Ayasofya Museum in Istanbul, "which had become a museum as a result of a decision of the Council of Ministers in 1934". (In fact the decision was taken in 1935).
Read also: Nicea, A Church Transformed Into a Mosque