There are about 350 thousand people who come to Hagia Sophia, there are 500 visitors who have so far tested positive for Covid-19.
Decision to open the Hagia Sophia, which is now used as a mosque, created new challenges. The historical building that was contested since the time of the Crusades became a new cluster for the spread of the Corona virus in Turkey. Reporting from Arab News, Thursday, August 13, 2020, around 350 thousand people came to Hagia Sophia when they first held congregational prayers. Of these, 500 visitors tested positive for Covid-19, including members of parliament and journalists. “After the opening of the Hagia Sophia, we heard a lot of cases among politicians,” said an unnamed doctor as reported by Arab News.
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The Turkish government’s daily Covid-19 case report has been criticized several times by professionals and the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) for being deemed inaccurate. Since the last Eid al-Adha holiday, there has been a surge in cases which has increased to 1,000 cases per day. TTB claims the actual figure could be around 3,000. Member of parliament, the opposition party, Murat Emir said officials should be more responsible in difficult times like today.
“Unfortunately, at the opening of the Hagia Sophia Mosque, thousands of residents gathered without paying attention to the protocol of guarding distance and wearing masks. Various cities from Anatolia held a tour for this opening, without anyone knowing whether these people got official permission to travel from the Ministry of Health, or kept their distance. during the transit, “said the man who has a medical background. To date, 5,858 people have died from the Covid-19 virus. Turkey is not yet on the EU’s regularly updated list of safe countries.
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Athenian Muslims Worried that the Mosque Will Be Opened Due to the Change in Function of Hagia Sophia
Reopening of the Hagia Sophia as a mosque in Turkey has sparked concern for Muslims in Athens, Greece. They fear mosques in their country will be closed again by the Greek government in reaction to Turkey’s decision. Within a few decades Athenian Muslims struggled to build a mosque in Athens. Their application was approved by the local government in 2007.
Athens is the only capital of the European Union member state that does not have such a Muslim house of worship. The approval to open the mosque was immediately rejected by the influential Greek Orthodox Church, as well as from nationalist groups. “I think after this incident (the function of the Hagia Sophia), it will probably be more difficult to open the official mosque that we have been waiting for 10 years,” said Imam Attaul Naseer, manager of the temporary mosque in an apartment in central Athens.
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Mosque is still a mosque
Naseer argued that a place of worship must remain a place of worship. Not converted into another building. “I think a mosque should remain a mosque. It shouldn’t be a church or anything. Just as Christians expect the Hagia Sophia to remain a church, Muslims expect the same,” said Naseer. The official mosque in Athens is likely to open in late autumn in the Elaionas district, northeast of Athens. The mosque was built without a minaret and under the supervision of the Greek Government.
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Hope Historical Mosque Activated Again
Before the mosque was opened, to accommodate the needs of Athenian Muslims, who number around 300 thousand people, many emergency mosques were built. The location is in apartments, basements, and even warehouses. Naseer believes historic mosques from the Ottoman dynasty in Athens, such as in the center of Monastiraki square, can be used again for prayer. The mosque has been converted into a museum by the local government.
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyib Erdogan, had proposed the matter to the Greek authorities several years ago. However, this is difficult to materialize in a country that was once a colony of the Ottoman dynasty and only gained its independence in the 19th century. Anti-Turkish sentiment in Greece is quite strong. In addition, tensions between the two countries related to energy migration and exploration in the East Mediterranean region strengthened this sentiment.
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Living in Greece for seven years, Pakistan-born Naseed experienced racist behavior himself. At times he was also the target of violence from militant neo-Nazi groups. “But in general, Christians and Muslims live together peacefully,” he said. To regulate the number of emergency mosques, Greece applies strict operational rules. Managers must register the names of religious representatives behind them, the number of congregations and the sources of funds.
Prayer rooms are required to meet safety standards. Including having fire alarms, sanitation facilities, and emergency exits. “This procedure is very complicated and takes time. Several mosques have received permission from the ministry,” said Naseer.
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In a Pakistani residential area of Athens, a green door stands out in a shopping strip. On it was written the entrance to the Al Jabbar Mosque. The imam from Bangladesh, Abu Bakar, proudly points to a ministry document pasted on the wall. “Since 2017, we have operated legally,” he said. “The official mosque that Greece wants to open is far from the center of Athens where many Muslim refugees live and can only accommodate 350 people anyway,” he said.
“An unofficial mosque that becomes legal, like ours, will still be necessary for Muslims who wish to practice their faith in Athens,” said Abu Bakr. The only mosque dating from the Ottoman era currently operating in Greece is located on the border with Turkey, in Thrace, home to a Turkish minority of 150,000 people.