Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan inaugurated a large mosque on Taksim Square in Istanbul on Friday, fulfilling his decades-long goal of building a Muslim place of worship in the heart of Turkey’s largest city.
The imposing mosque has a 30 meter high dome and combines the Ottoman and contemporary arches. It can seat 4,000 people and is visible from almost every point in the city.
“The Taksim Mosque now occupies a prominent place among the symbols of Istanbul,” said Erdogan after saying Friday prayers on site.
“If God wills, it will be until the end of time.”
Thousands of believers came to pray in the mosque. Many were seen praying in the square as the mosque filled quickly.
Why was the mosque built?
After Erdogan became mayor of Istanbul in 1994, he criticized the lack of a mosque in Taksim Square. He had emphasized that the only visible religious site in the area was an Orthodox church.
“There wasn’t even a prayer room and the faithful had to be content with praying in local newspapers,” said Erdogan at the inauguration on Friday. A video was shown at Erdogan’s event in 1994 indicating and promising that a mosque would be built exactly where it is now.
However, the project was embroiled in court battles and public debates for decades.
Opponents argued that the mosque was an attempt to impose a religious tone on the square and undermine the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular Turkish republic after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Critics also accuse Erdogan of trying to “Islamize” Turkey and ousting Ataturk’s legacy.
A cultural center on Taksim Square dedicated to Ataturk has been demolished and replaced with a new structure with an opera house.
Last year Erdogan converted Hagia Sophia, the largest church in the world for centuries, into a mosque and museum.
The inauguration also took place when the protests in Gezi Parkin began just 100 meters away in 2013, which then led to nationwide demonstrations against Erdogan’s government.
dvv / wmr (AP, AFP, Reuters)