Ali Erbaş, the head of the Diyanet, Turkey’s top religious authority, has defended delivering Friday sermons at the Hagia Sophia mosque while holding a sword, a custom that has been criticized by the secular opposition.
“I am bewildered by the comments from those who are critical of this custom,” Erbaş tweeted on Monday.
The Hagia Sophia was converted last month to a mosque after a court annulled a 1934 cabinet decision that changed its status to a museum.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been attending Friday prayers at the Hagia Sophia since the first prayers were said there on July 24.
The Friday service has been conducted by Erbaş, who gives sermons holding a sword, symbolizing that the building was conquered by Muslims, referring the conquest of İstanbul by the Ottomans in 1453.
The sixth century building had served as a mosque between 1453 and 1934.
“Giving sermons with a sword is inherent in our tradition and a common practice. The first Friday sermon was given by an imam holding a sword right after the conquest of İstanbul,” Erbaş said.
“This tradition has been seen in several other mosques located in İstanbul, Edirne, Kocaeli, Çanakkale, Kastamonu, Tokat, Balıkesir and Bartın,” he added.
For many observers, Erdoğan’s decision to convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque was an attempt to consolidate his power among Islamists.