The Imam of the Hala Sultan Tekke mosque complex in Larnaca on Tuesday urged visitors to respect the sanctity of the place and dress accordingly when visiting.
Following media reports that there have been reactions from visitors who have been asked to wear robes before entering the grounds of the complex, Iman Shakir Alemdar said that this is common sense and not an attempt to impose Islamic regulations on anyone.
During the summer months, Imam Shakir told the Cyprus Mail, many visitors go to the mosque complex in bikinis, miniskirts and shorts.
“Basically, we have been suffering from this situation for a long time, visitors are completely ignoring the written notice urging them to enter the worship place decently dressed,” the imam said.
He added that they have been asking visitors to wear robes before entering the complex for the past couple of months. Until then, visitors were asked to cover up only before entering the mosque.
“If not asked, they enter the mosque without even removing their shoes and in beach clothes, very inappropriate clothing. They are not aware that they are coming to the holiest Muslim place of worship in Cyprus,” he said.
On why visitors are now asked to wear robes at the entrance of the complex instead of just the mosque, the imam said that the entire complex – the tekke – is a convent.
He said that some walk around the grounds of the complex half-naked and pass outside the windows of the mosque where people are praying inside.
“When people visit convents, aren’t they asked to dress decently? Why don’t they do the same here?” the imam asked. He said that the same applies for visitors to the Vatican or churches and monasteries in Cyprus.
“It is common sense. This is a universal application. We just want them to be dressed suitably to show due respect to Hala Sultan and not like they are going to the funfair,” he said.
The imam said that he has asked the antiquities department, under whose authority the mosque complex is, to install more signs on site explaining exactly what decent attire means.
He also sent a letter to the Cyprus Tourism Organisation asking them to inform travel agents and tourist guides to ask visitors to the Hala Sultan tekke to be decently dressed.
“We need to make people understand. I am a very open-minded person. We have never, ever asked anyone to cover their heads, it’s not an attempt of imposing Islamic regulations, not at all,” he said.
On reports that there have been complaints by visitors, he said: “It is us who are complaining. We are fed up with this. It’s not about visitors being happy or not, it is about a matter of entering the holiest Muslim shrine in Cyprus. It is offensive and heart breaking seeing them walking into the mosque without showing any respect.”
He added that perhaps only one per cent of the thousands of visitors at the mosque complex complain.
“We have good social relations with our visitors, but that one per cent should understand what a tekke is,” he said, adding that many visitors also join in Friday prayers.
Imam Shakir said that every Friday they cook and serve food before and after the Friday prayer which is very well received by visitors.
“We cook each week for around 150 people. Syrian refugees also come and eat, some even take food that is left with them.”
He said that authorities have responded positively to his request to better informing visitors on being dressed more decently.
The CTO replied to the imam in a letter that they would ask both the travel agents’ and tourist guides’ associations, but also the CTO’s tourist information offices in Cyprus and abroad calling for firm adherence of visitors to the dress code.
The Antiquities Department told the Cyprus Mail on Tuesday that they are taking action to address the issue.
The Hala Sultan mosque is the main Muslim pilgrimage site of Cyprus and among the most important holy places of Islam.
According to the Antiquities Department, it was built over a tomb, which, according to tradition, belongs to Umm Haram, foster-mother of the Prophet Mohammed and wife of one of the most high-ranking officers of Caliph Moawia, who led two raids against Cyprus in 649 and 650 AD. Umm Haram died as soon as she arrived on the island, after falling from her mule. The mosque was built much later, just before 1787, along with dwellings and water-cisterns. The mosque’s present plan was completed in 1816.