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The Mosque Umm Haram/Hala Sultan

Umm Haram/Hala Sultan mosque: The mosque (tekke) is located on the west bank of the salt lake at Larnaca (the smaller of the two salt lakes in Cyprus - the other one is located in Akrotiri), 3 km from the town and near the Larnaca International Airport.

The Mosque of Umm Haram is the chief Muslim shrine on the island and an important holy site for the entire Muslim world. It is also a listed Ancient Monument of B Schedule no.8 in the Larnaca District. The accounts regarding its existence have generally been dated from the first Arab raids on Cyprus (A.D 647 or A.D 649). The most likely account tells of the death of the wife of "Ubada bin al-Samit", Umm Haram, during a raid upon the island organized by Muawiyah. She fell from her mule and died after breaking her neck during the siege of Larnaca. She was buried near the salt lake and her grave became a sacred shrine. Hala Sultan (Umm Haram) was the Prophet Muhammad's 'wet-nurse'.

During the second half of the second millennium B.C, the area of the Hala Sultan Tekke was used as a cemetery by the people who lived in a large town a few hundred metres to the West. A part of this town was excavated by a Swedish archaeological mission and proved to be a major urban centre of Late Bronze Age Cyprus. More recent archaeological investigations conducted by the Department of Antiquities under the women's quarter of Hala Sultan Tekke have revealed building remains dated to the late Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods (6th - 1st c. B.C). Several finds indicate that the site might have been used as a sanctuary but the limited scale of the investigations precludes definite conclusions about its use.

Hala SultanThe Ottomans built the mosque complex itself in a series of stages in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A shrine was built by Sheikh Hassan in A.D 1760. Later the mosque was constructed and the complex assumed its present form around A.D 1816/17. Hala Sultan Tekke is composed of a mosque, mausoleum, minaret, cemetery, and living quarters for men and women.

Hala Sultan is the Turkish form of "Umm Haram". For Muslims, the Tekke is considered as one of the most important visiting sites after the Kaaba in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad's tomb in Medina and Mescid-i Aksa, the biggest mosque in Jerusalem.

Description of the Tekke

When the mosque, minaret and living quarters were constructed after A.D 1760, we get more accounts and descriptions about the shrine and the Tekke from Muslim as well as from Christian travellers and pilgrims. According to the stories told by the foreign travellers visiting Cyprus, there was a tomb which was known as the "old woman's tomb" between A.D 1683-1767. Both Muslims and Christians considered the tomb as a sacred place; therefore it attracted worshippers from both religions.

Hala SultanIt is said that the tomb was discovered by a dervish called Sheikh Hasan. It is highly probable that Sheikh Hasan travelled around Cyprus and spread the stories about Umm Haram. People hearing the stories started to visit the tomb. The myths suggest that the dolmen stones had healing powers and people coming with certain illnesses touched the stones and their diseases were cured, and crippled visitors started to walk. The dervish managed to convince some religious figures of the site's sacred nature in A.D 1760 and with the permission he received from the authorities he constructed a shrine around the tomb. He decorated the tomb and the shrine with the presents brought by the people. According to another story, Cyprus governor Mehmet Agha erected wooden fences around the tomb in order to protect it from the plague in A.D 1760. His successor Acem Ali Agha replaced the wooden fences with a bronze fence with two doors.

In another account, Giovanni Mariti, who visited Cyprus between A.D 1760-1767, wrote that the shrine was built by the Cyprus governor Ali Agha. According to Mariti until A.D 1760 they used the stones of the standing church in the ruined Meneou village as the construction materials. In another source, it is mentioned that construction of the mosque was initiated by the Cyprus governor Seyyid Mehmet Emin Efendi in a classical Ottoman style, and it was completed in November A.D 1817.

The entrance to the garden of the Tekke is through a gate, on which there is an Ottoman inscription dated 4.3.1813. Sultan Mahmud II' monogram appears on both sides of the inscription and reads, "Hala Sultan Tekke was built by God's beloved great Ottoman Cyprus governor". The garden at Tekke was designed by a pasha (a high ranking military officer), hence it was known as "Pasha garden" before 1760 A.D. The complex of buildings adjacent to the Tekke was known as "Gulsen-Feyz" (the rose garden of plenitude). To the north (left) of the Tekke entrance there used to be a guesthouse for men. On the right of the entrance, there was another guesthouse of which one block was reserved for men (Selaml?k) and the other for women (Haremlik). In the past, people used to promise to dedicate themselves to serve the Hala Sultan Tekke if their wish came true.

Hala SultanThe mosque was built with yellow stone 13 x 13 cm blocks. It is a square shaped construction and it is covered with a kubbe (dome-shaped top). A balcony lies in front. Within the mosque can be found a wooden women's section and a wishing well. The minaret is connected to the mosque at its northwestern corner. It was repaired in A.D 1959.

Umm Haram's tomb is located behind the kibble wall (in the direction of Mecca) of the mosque. At the entrance of the tomb there is an inscription in Arab script, which dates back to A.D 1760. On the eastern section of the tomb there are five separate tombs. In the past, former sheikhs of the tomb were buried next to Umm Haram's tomb. Thus, two former Sheikhs of the Tekke were buried at the eastern section of Umm Haram's tomb. A two-leveled marble sarcophagus, with the date 12 July A.D 1929, is the most important tomb there. The tomb belongs to the Queen of Hashemite Adile Huseyin Ali, the Turkish wife of the last Hashemite King Huseyin ibn Serif Ali, who was the grandson of the Ottoman vizier Mustafa Resit Pasha. Since the former king was the descendant of the Prophet Mohammad, after his death, he too was buried there.

At the eastern corner of the mosque and the Tekke, there is a cemetery, which was closed to burials around A.D 1899. The tombs in the cemetery belong to Mustafa Efendi (died in A.D 1821); Mustafa Agha who was believed to be the governor of Cyprus (died A.D 1813); Muhtar Efendi who was the tax collector of Cyprus (died on 5 October A.D 1843); and ebu Bekir Nejib Efendi (died A.D 1855).

Opposite to the mosque, there is an octagonal fountain, which was built around A.D 1796-1797 by the Cypriot governor Silahtar Kaptanbas? Mustafa Aga, who was known to be an expert on the waters of Cyprus. This information is recorded on the marble inscription located on the fountain. On an inscription dating back to A.D 1895, which was recently discovered in the Tekke's garden, it is written that the water was brought by Abdul Hamit.

Rituals

The Tekke offered accommodation to visiting Muslim pilgrims (hence the construction of the living quarters) but also served the needs of the Muslims on a day-to-day basis. It ministered the Friday congregational prayer and a muezzin administered the five-times-a day call to prayer from its minaret.

Hala SultanDuring the long period of Ottoman rule and, even today, the mosque is used in most of the major Islamic observances such as in the holy month of Ramadan "Id al-Fitr" (the festival of the breaking of the Fast of Ramadan) and "Kurban Bayram" "Id al-Adha" (the festival of sacrifice). It was customary to visit the Tekke on the third day of these holy months and to carry out those promises made for Hala Sultan. After British rule was established on the island in A.D 1878 the mosque continued to receive worshippers and pilgrims.

After A.D 1963 and A.D 1974 the number of worshippers to Umm Haram fell drastically. More recently with the easing of travel restrictions across the Green-Line, many more Turkish Cypriots have visited the Umm Haram site. Currently it is used by various Muslims who live on the island, various visitors from around the world and on special occasions important to the practice of the Muslim religion.

Presently, the mosque, minaret, and the mausoleum are being restored with funding from USAID and UNDP, and implemented through UNOPS in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus.

The Ottomans and Islam in Cyprus

Across the shores, the Ottomans were the new rising power in the region and as the Ottoman Empire expanded it could not afford to leave Cyprus in the hands of another power. However they had to wait until the 16th century to take control of the island. The attack began on 1 July A.D 1570 and the conquest was completed by 1 August A.D 1571. Ottoman rule lasted around 308 years. It was during this period that the Muslim (Turkish) community began to appear in Cyprus. Besides the soldiers who took part in the war, the island was populated by Muslim settlers from Anatolia with a Decree of Deportation issued by Sultan Selim II in September A.D 1572.

There followed a period of Ottoman rule during which the Muslim Turks increased in number and lived scattered in different parts of the island.

Hala SultanThere was concentration of Muslim Turks in Nicosia, Famagusta, Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos as well as in many other mixed or purely Turkish villages. These Muslims brought with them their way of life, customs, as well as their religion. In Cyprus the two major religions, Christianity and Islam, came into contact and co-existed as the two communities that lived on the island practiced one of the two religions.

In A.D 1878 as a result of the Russian-Turkish war and the Congress of Berlin, Cyprus was taken over by the British after it was sold to them by the Sultan.

The Ottomans left their mark in Cyprus in a number of ways, the Muslim religion being one of them. There were many monuments attesting the 308-year presence of the Ottomans in Cyprus; amongst these are the Mosques, Baths, Houses, Aqueducts and Fountains in different villages and towns. Right after the Ottomans conquered Cyprus a number of Latin cathedrals and churches were transformed into mosques and used for worship purposes. Amongst them are St.Sophia Cathedral and St. Catherine Church in Nicosia, St. Nicolas Cathedral in Famagusta , St. Aikaterini Church in Klavdia, St. Sophia in Paphos, St. Catherine in Limassol, St. Andronikos in Polis, St. Nicolas in Chrysochou, and St. Sophia in Timi.

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