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Hala Sultan Tekke, Cyprus: An Elusive Landscape of Sacredness in a Liminal Context


The funerary shrine of Umm Haram, a holy woman of Islam, at the mosque of Hala Sultan Tekke near Larnaca, Cyprus, is the most important pilgrimage site for Muslims on the mostly Christian island of Cyprus. Its location at the interstices of the Muslim and Christian worlds, and amidst an unusually charged landscape of holiness for both religions, has also determined its role as an outpost within a liminal cultural space. The aspect of sacredness at the shrine itself can be seen as a poetics of “resistance” to Western attempts at viewing, description, analysis, and “possession” through comprehension. Moreover, Western travelers adopted different strategies of presentation and representation for reporting on Hala Sultan Tekke and their accounts regarding the female saint at the shrine are impressively inconsistent. One associated the monument with the grave of Mina, mother of Mohammed, another with a Turkish princess, and others with the grandmother of Mohammed. Surprisingly, only one traveler mentioned the “exotic,” yet elusive megalithic configuration of the actual grave, whereas none referred to the foundation story and the rich local lore about the miraculous properties of the shrine. The idiosyncratic nature of travelers’ encounters with this site reflects both their implicit rhetorical aims and the limitations imposed on their attempts at understanding by pragmatic circumstances such as language, inability or unwillingness to visit, and control of information. Travelers’ accounts and other sources reveal the embeddedness of Hala Sultan Tekke within a complicated landscape of sacredness. This landscape also accommodated practices of cultic confluence and cross-cultural sharing, such as the veneration of the saints and holy sites common to Christians and Muslims of the Larnaca region.