Saturday 27 July 2019

Islam and life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Cyprus

Cyprus is an island state, tucked up in the north-eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, with a historically mixed population of Greeks and Turks, plus other smaller minorities. It passed from the Republic of Venice to the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the 1500s, came under British administration in 1878, and was annexed by Britain in 1914. The Republic of Cyprus became independent from Britain in 1960.

Islam was introduced to Cyprus when Uthman the 3rd Caliph conquered it in 649. Muslims lived over the whole area of Cyprus. Most of the Turks settled in Cyprus during the Ottoman rule in 1572-1878/1914. The Ottoman Empire gave timars (land grants) to soldiers under the condition that they and their families would stay there permanently. During the 17th century the Turkish population grew rapidly, partly because of Turkish immigrants but also due to Greek converts to Islam.
Area in brown is The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus [Map]

Until 1974, Turkish Cypriots (the Muslim community of Cyprus) made up 18% of the whole islands population. Since 1974, the Muslim population has been bolstered by settlers from Turkey who are almost exclusively Muslim.  Today there are an estimated 264,172 Muslims based in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, proclaimed  so in 1983, about 22.57% of the total Cypriot populations as per 2016 estimate. There is a United Nations buffer zone between the two main parts of the island, which are also separated by physical barriers, shown in yellow in the map above.
Hala Sultan Tekke [Photo: Dickelbers, Wikimedia Commons Wikipedia / Wikipedia]

A grave in the shrine Hala Sultan Tekkesi is attributed to Um Haram, an aunt of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). She is said to have accompanied a expedition  and had died here. Hala Sultan Tekke complex is composed of a mosque, mausoleum, minaret, cemetery, and living quarters for men and women. The term tekke (convent) applies to a building designed specifically for gatherings of a Sufi brotherhood, or tariqa, and may have referred to an earlier feature of the location. Umm Haram's tomb is located behind the mosque wall of the Qibla (in the direction of Mecca / Makkah).

The Cyprus landscape s dotted with shrines and landmarks dating back to 16th century and later. These include the famous 16th century Arabahmet Mosque in Lefkosia, tthe Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, Selimiye Mosque and the Haydarpasha Mosque; former Catholic cathedrals left from the Crusader era, which were meant to cater exclusively to the Catholic minority which ruled the island and were converted to mosques after the Muslim conquest in the Middle Ages.
16th century Arab Ahmet Mosque [Photo: Michal Klajban, Wikimedia Commons Wikipedia]

Northern Cyprus is home to a significant part of this Muslim population, and is therefore very Muslim-friendly and is frequented by Muslims from across the globe.  Though, Turkish Cypriot society is markedly secular though, at least formally; adherents to the faith subscribe mostly to the Sunni branch, with an influential stream of Sufism underlying their spiritual heritage and development. and was entombed at the present.
Flag of Turkish Cyprus from Shacolas Tower (Ledra Street Observatory) Nicosia by A. Savin, Wikimedia Commons, 2017.Copyleft Free Art Licence.

While there are not many Halal restaurants in the mainland Cyprus, it is possible to locate some eateries that serve Halal dishes. If unable to find any Halal restaurants in Southern Cyprus, Muslim visitors are sure to find numerous restaurants serving suitable vegetarian and seafood dishes, as both make up a huge part of Cypriot cuisine. However, Northern Cyprus is the best place for Muslims to find Halal food. Delicious Turkish dishes as well as Cypriot specialties are served at most restaurants. Must-tries include Halloumi cheese, kebabs and the famous Turkish Delight. 

The segregation of Cypriot Turks and Greeks has effected that most of the Muslims in the territory controlled by the Republic of Cyprus are Arab immigrants and refugees, unrelated to the Turks historically living in the area. But even in the Northern Cyprus, the Muslims are more secular than ordinary Muslims. The increasing influence of Turkish government to spread the Sunni Islam is not very welcomed. 

When it comes to Islam, there are many voices to b e heard. Majority of the Turks in the Northern Cyprus are generally secular, liberal and not much religious. As per one report: "Turkish Cypriots are seen as being among the most liberal Muslims in the western world. Most enjoy alcohol – attributing their penchant for whisky to colonial rule under the British. The majority also abhor the idea of women wearing headscarves and frequently joke they would only go to a mosque to attend a funeral. In such circumstances, Islamization has been met with trepidation.":
“The Turkish Cypriot community is secular. We are not a fundamentalist Islamist community.” Sener Elcil, head of the Turkish Cypriot Teachers Union, told AFP at his Nicosia office. “We don’t want Sunni Islam imposed on us but they are working systematically to radicalize the system and change the fate and culture of Turkish Cypriots,” he told the Guardian. “All this is alien because culturally, we are very close to the Greek Cypriots.” 
His comments came last year when the plans were afoot for the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to come and inaugurate a huge four pillared Hala Sultan mosque in Haspolat (called Mia Milia by Greek Cypriots), in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
The Hala sultan mosque in Haspolat , July 5, 2018. (Photo: Matthieu CLAVEL/AFP)

Last year, mass rallies have taken place outside the Turkish Cypriot parliament, attended mostly by young people deploring Ankara’s attempt to mould their culture into one more in tune with Islamic norms. Among points of grievance were the attempts by Turkey’s ruling neo-Islamist AKP party to impose single sex swimming pools at universities.

However, religious leaders brush off the criticism as left-wing dissent. Cyprus’s vice grand mufti, Imam Shakir Alemdar, who is based in the island’s south, says inter-faith dialogue has been so successful it has helped lay the foundation for future hope.
“Hala Sultan mosque and all matters of religion in the north has some criticism from leftist groups but they criticize anything and everything when it comes to religion, especially Islam,” he said. “There is not only criticism but also a lot of support.”
So the threat to Islam is not from without but from within - a tussle between secularism and real Islam. The older Turk generation is till trying their best to bring the younger generation back to the fold of Islam from its secular outlook. Watch the video below and see these efforts are underway:
Let us hope and pray Islam exists in Cyprus in its true form and does not get polluted merely due to resistance to the growing Turkish influence, which otherwise dolls out millions of euros each year for upkeep of mosques, Islamic schools and also for the well being of the Muslims in general.

Author's Note: The data for this post has been collected from the references as given below. If any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |
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