The Right to Worship in Cyprus should not be a Victim of its Division
On the occasion of the Eid al-Adha - Kurban Bayram - a special pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke is taking place today, on the 5th of September, for 600 faithful of Turkish origin that cannot otherwise cross the buffer zone in the divided island of Cyprus.
“These special pilgrimages are the fruits of the religious leaders’ dialogue and cooperation for which we are both committed to and most grateful for. No matter what, as religious leaders of Cyprus we all agree and advocate for religious freedom and these pilgrimages are one concrete such example.“ said Mufti Talip Atalay. “The right to worship and freedom to access places of worship all over the island for everyone living in Cyprus should not be a victim of it’s division nor be dependant on politics. No matter what anyone says this is what I have promoted and advocated for since I took office and will never give up on this principle”
H.E. Ambassador of Sweden, Anna Olsson Vrang, was on site at Hala Sultan Tekke for the first time at a special pilgrimage and extended her best wishes for the Eid to Mufti Talip Atalay and to all Muslims living in Cyprus. “I’m happy that Sweden through the initiative of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process can contribute to the promotion of freedom of religion and the respect of basic human rights principles on this beautiful island”.
“Through our work over the years we have witnessed the concrete consequences when the right to worship, on both sides of the divide, is either violated or respected. We regret that religious freedom is still not fully understood by politicians or civil servants.” Said the Executive Coordinator of the Office of RTCYPP, Salpy Eskidjian. “Today we witness a small sign of hope and bridge-building at a time when trust among Cypriots has been broken again.”
The special pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke is the result of an unprecedented agreement between the religious leaders of Cyprus, namely H.B. Archbishop Chrysostomos II of the Church of Cyprus and the Mufti of Cyprus H.E. Dr Talip Atalay. The agreement was reached in 2014 within the framework of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden (RTCYPP) and has had the full support of the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus, H.E. Mr Kasoulides. The special pilgrimages are organised and led by the Mufti of Cyprus, coordinated by the Office of RTCYPP and the facilitated by UNFICYP and UN Police. Special pilgrimages to Hala Sultan Tekke have been taking place three times annually as per the request of the Mufti of Cyprus on the occasions of Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha and Mawlid-al Nabi. This was the 10th pilgrimage within this framework agreement since 2014.
Kurban Bayram or Eid al-Adha, is one of Islam's holiest festival celebrated annually around the world and an official holiday in Muslim-majority countries. It marks the end of the Hajj to Mecca. In Cyprus it is known as Kurban Bayram. For Muslims, Eid al-Adha commemorates the day when prophet Abraham or Ibrahim was going to sacrifice his son but was instructed by God to offer an animal instead. Eid al-Adha in Arabic literally means "festival of the sacrifice". One essential part of this holiday is to distribute meat amongst the needy. Families who can't provide meat may choose to make contributions to charities that will provide meat to those who are in need. The feast is welcomed with the greetings “Kurban Bayramınız Kutlu Olsun” or “Eid Mubarak”. In 2017, Eid al-Adha begins in the evening of August 31 and ends in the evening of September 4.
The Mosque of Umm Haram at Hala Sultan Tekke is considered the most significant Muslim place of worship in Cyprus. The Tekke is open daily at set hours by the Antiquities Department and used by Turkish Cypriot and other Muslim faithful freely. The Imam of Hala Sultan leads prayers every Friday. As a result of the religious leaders’ dialogue known as RTCYPP, the Archbishop of the Church of Cyprus and former Ministers of Interior of the Republic of Cyprus supported the Mufti’s request to set up an office for the Imam. Recently cooking and guest facilities have also been added to serve pilgrims on Fridays and feast days. During Ramadan and other special feasts special arrangements are made for Hala Sultan Tekke to be open longer hours day and night to accommodate the worshipping needs of the faithful.