Ankara: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday inaugrated the first mosque in Istanbul’s famous Taksim Square, after decades of court battles and public controversy over building a major religious symbol in the Turkish Republic.
President Erdogan said that,“Taksim Mosque now occupies a prominent place among the symbols of Istanbul,” expressing his thanks to everyone who contributed to the long struggle for the construction of the mosque.
“God willing, it will stay until the end of time.”
Reported by Al-Jazeera, “Fulfilling a decades-old goal (30-year dream) of his to build a Muslim house of worship in the heart of Turkey’s largest city,”said after performing Friday prayers at the site.
The majestic mosque features a dome 30 meters (98 feet) high and combines an Ottoman arch with a contemporary arch. It can seat 4,000 people and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.
The opening was met with the enthusiasm of many, as several thousand prayed in its outer courtyard as the mosque quickly filled up, the LED screens on the square showing congregants performing their first prayer at the mosque.
On Friday, officials posted a video on Twitter showing Erdogan in 1994, the year after becoming mayor of Istanbul, pointing from the top of a building toward the area where he said he would build the mosque, the exact place he now stands.
“There wasn’t even a prayer room and the faithful had to make do with praying on newspapers on the ground,” Erdogan said at Friday’s inauguration.
Supporters of the Taksim project said that there are not enough places of worship for Muslims near one of the city’s busiest centers.
Although Turkey is a Muslim-majority country, the mosque’s construction was criticised when it began in 2017, with some opponents accusing Erdogan of seeking to “Islamise” the country and displace the founder of the secular modern republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The mosque was initially scheduled to open during the holy month of Ramzan. But Erdogan, did not pay strict attention to the timing of the events, finally chose to reopen the mosque in memory of the day the anti-government protests began in 2013. The square was the center of the demonstrations known as the “Gezi movement” and was met with a harsh response from the police.
The opening also comes a day before the anniversary of the Ottoman occupation of Constantinople in 1453, and it is a special day for the president who feels nostalgic for past glories. During the inauguration, Erdogan said he saw the Taksim mosque as a “gift to celebrate the 568th anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul.”