Monday, June 11, 2012

Cyprus Saint(s)

Hala Sultan Tekke
The Masjid of Umm Haram or the Hala Sultan Tekke, as it is known, is the chief Muslim shrine in Larnaca, on the island of Cyprus. 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’. This Masjid named after her, lies in a serene and picture perfect setting on the shores of the Larnaca Salt Lake.
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.
The Ottomans built the Masjid 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 Masjid was constructed and the complex assumed its present form around A.D 1816/17. Hala Sultan Tekke is composed of a Masjid, 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 Makkah, the Prophet Muhammad’s tomb in Medina and Mescid-i Aksa, the biggest Masjid in Jerusalem.

Description of the Tekke
When the Masjid, 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.
It 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 Masjid 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 “Gül?en-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.

The Masjid 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 Masjid can be found a wooden women’s section and a wishing well. The minaret is connected to the Masjid at its northwestern corner. It was repaired in A.D 1959.
Umm Haram’s tomb is located behind the qibla wall (in the direction of Makkah) of the Masjid. At the entrance of the tomb there is an inscription in Arabic 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 1929, is the most important tomb there. The tomb belongs to the Queen of Hashemite Adile Hüseyin Ali, the Turkish wife of the last Hashemite King Hüseyin ibn ?erif Ali, who was the grandson of the Ottoman vizier Mustafa Re?it 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 Masjid 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 1843); and ebu Bekir Nejib Efendi (died A.D 1855).
Opposite to the Masjid, there is an octagonal fountain, which was built around A.D 1796-1797 by the Cypriot governor Silahtar Kaptanba?? Mustafa A?a, 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 Abdül Hamit.
Opposite to the Masjid, there is an octagonal fountain, which was built around 1796-1797 by the Cypriot governor Silahtar Kaptanba?? Mustafa A?a, who was known to be an expert on the waters of Cyprus. This information is recorded on the marble epigraph located on the fountain. On an epigraph dating back to 1895, which was recently discovered in the Tekke’s garden, it is written that the water was brought by Abdül Hamit. According to the United Nations Development Programme, Islam’s third sacred holy site after the Kaaba in Makkah and the Masjid of the Prophet in Medina, is Hala Sultan Tekke, or Umm Haram in Cyprus, which has long been the destination of Muslim pilgrims.