Ali Erbas, at the center of the politico-religious choreography that takes place in Hagia Sophia


When the Turkish religious leader, Ali Erbas, leads the prayer in Hagia Sophia, he goes up to the minbar (platform) holding a sword in his hand. Not just any saber, an ornate yatagan whose blade is engraved with a verse from the Qur’an.

This is how the faithful saw it, Friday July 24, day of the reconversion of the “Great Church” of Istanbul (Turkey) into a mosque, and also Friday July 31, during the prayer of Eid el -Adha, the feast of sacrifice, pronounced for the first time under the imposing dome of the 6th buildinge century.

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Man is not kidding with tradition. “For 481 years, Friday sermons have always been delivered sword in hand. If Allah wills, we are renewing this tradition, the symbol of conquest ”, he justified.

With his white turban, his bright embroidered caftan, his ornate saber, his fiery sermons, Ali Erbas is the central character of the politico-religious choreography which is played at the Hagia Sophia mosque every Friday. Nothing abnormal since the old basilica has just been entrusted to him.

After serving as a church for 916 years, as a mosque for nearly 600 years, as a museum for 86 years, Hagia Sophia was reverted to a mosque on July 10 by decree of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It no longer depends on the Ministry of Tourism and Culture but on the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), headed since 2017 by Ali Erbas.

Shaping “a pious generation”

The 59-year-old French-speaking and Arabic-speaking theologian has ambitious plans for his new protégé. “We will try to restore the madrasa (religious school) Hagia Sophia (Hagia Sophia) so that it functions as it did during its glitzy years with Quran lessons given everywhere. “ Mosques “Are schools”, where Ali Erbas wishes “Educate young people and children”. A project that is in line with President Erdogan, determined to shape “A pious generation”.

Prayer at the Hagia Sophia Mosque on July 31 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Created in 1924 to control the Muslim religion, the Directorate of Religious Affairs has over the years become a real instrument for the re-Islamization of Turkish society. Placed under the orders of the presidency, it manages 84,684 mosques in Turkey, remunerates imams, theologians, muezzins and preachers. The 2,000 mosques responsible for promoting Turkish Islam abroad are under his control.

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