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Turkey holds Friday prayers in Hagia Sophia Mosque for first time in 86 years

After 86 years of operating as a museum, Istanbul's Hagia Sophia today reopened as a mosque

After 86 years of operating as a museum, Istanbul's Hagia Sophia today reopened as a mosque, a move that has become a cause of celebration for Muslims not only in Turkey but the world over.

The re-opening of the mosque began at 08:00 GMT with Quran recitations and remembrance of God.

Thousands from Turkey, Europe and the Middle East came together to pray at the 1,483-year-old Hagia Sophia Mosque for the first time in 86 years. They were joined by President Recep Tayyib Erdogan.

Erdogan recited verses of the Holy Quran before the start of the prayers.

Istanbul announced that separate areas had been set up for men and women to worship, while 736 health personnel, 101 ambulances and a helicopter ambulance were placed on alert at 17 health stations.

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Ahead of the historic event, Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya asked people to bring four items with them: "Masks, prayer mats, patience and understanding."

According to the statement of Turkey's Religious Affairs, entry to the mosque will now be free, while intricate mosaics of the Virgin Mary, baby Jesus and other Christian symbols will be covered with curtains at prayer times.

The decision to change the museum, an old church which was later turned into a mosque, back into an operational Muslim prayer hall has split global public opinion with church leaders expressing concern that acces to the site will be restricted.

While, UNESCO said it deeply regretted Turkey's decision, which was taken without prior dialogue.

Erdogan insisted, however, it was Turkey's historical and sovereign right to revert the building to its historical use, adding that everyone is welcome to visit.

Gli, Hagia Sophia's resident cat, however appears to be enjoying the mosque's newly laid carpet.

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