(Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, 18 November 2004/Robert Raderschatt)

Thousands of devout Muslimshave prayed outside Turkey’s historic Hagia Sophia museum to protest a 1934 law that bars religious services at the former church and mosque.

Worshippers shouted, “Break the chains, let Hagia Sophia Mosque open,” and “God is great” before kneeling in prayer on Saturday as tourists looked on.

Turkey’s secular laws prevent Muslims and Christians from formal worship within the 6th-century monument, the world’s greatest cathedral for almost a millennium before invading Ottomans converted it into a mosque in the 15th century.

“Keeping Hagia Sophia Mosque closed is an insult to our mostly Muslim population of 75 million. It symbolises our ill-treatment by the West,” Salih Turhan, head of the Anatolian Youth Association, which organised the event, told the crowd, whose male and female worshippers prayed separately according to Islamic custom.

The government has rejected requests from both Christians and Muslims to hold formal prayers at the site, historically and spiritually significant to adherents of both religions.