From ceremony to spectacle: changing perception of hagia Sophia Through the Night of Decree (Layla’t-ul Kadr) prayer ceremonies
CitationUğurlu, A. H. (2018). From ceremony to spectacle: changing perception of hagia Sophia Through the Night of Decree (Layla’t-ul Kadr) prayer ceremonies. Hagia Sophia in the Long Nineteenth Century.
Soon after the Hagia Sophia was converted into an imperial mosque by the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II (r.1451–81) in the mid-fifteenth century, it became one of the primary settings for imperial religious ceremonies. The waqfiyya of Mehmed II specifically stated that the imam was entrusted with leading the daily prayers and congregational night prayers, such as the prayers of the tarawih, the Night of Decree (ar: leyle’t-ül kadr) or the Night of Forgiveness (ar: leyle’t-ül berat). From the sixteenth century until the proclamation of the Gülhane Imperial Edict of 1839, besides occasional Friday or daily prayers, it was customary for sultans to perform the Night of Decree prayers at the Hagia Sophia. In 1840, for the first time, Abdulmecid I (r. 1839–61) performed the Night of Decree prayers in the Nusretiye Mosque. It became a new custom for sultans to perform their prayers in Nusretiye from then until the second half of the Hamidian era, when, in 1886, the Yıldız Hamidiye Mosque became the venue for all religious ceremonies and stately processions. Although the sultans were not attending the prayers held at the Hagia Sophia during this highly significant religious night anymore, it kept its prominence for the Istanbulites. However, after the 1880s the court began to considerably alter the ceremonial decorum of the Night of Decree prayers held at the Hagia Sophia. The Ottoman government began to issue passes or tickets for the foreign embassy staff and their guests, to watch the ritual from the mosque’s upper galleries. A specific seating arrangement was made for them and officials would give them explanations about the rituals during the ceremony. From 1880s to 1932, the number of non-Muslims that watched the ceremony increased from tens to thousands. In this paper, I argue that this atypical use of a mosque’s interior was very much connected with the changing perception of Hagia Sophia both by its Ottoman users as well as its European spectators. By focusing on the last fifty years of the life of the Hagia Sophia as a mosque, this paper deals with the transformation of a religious ceremony into a spectacle through Hagia Sophia’s conceptualization as a showpiece monument distinct in function from other imperial mosques.