Islam in Cyprus

5 / 5 / 2011

Muslims were concentrated over whole area of Cyprus but after the 1974 events they are concentrated in Northern Cyprus. Until 1974, Turkish Cypriots (the Muslim community of Cyprus) were the 18% of the island population. There are estimated 264,172 Muslims in Cyprus over 18% of the population.

Muslims make up 99% of the population of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Most of its adherents are Sunnis of the Hanafi Sect. The religious head of the Muslim community was in the past known as the Mufti. The Office of the Evkaf serves the religious needs of the Muslims of the Republic.


Islam in Cyprus was introduced when Uthman the 3rd Caliph conquered Cyprus in 649 AH.

Over four centuries long existence on Cyprus of the religious and cultural heritage of the Turkish Cypriots stems from the Ottoman Empire which ruled the island between 1571 and 1878.

Unlike their predecessors, the Franks (1192-1489) and the Venetians (1489-1571), who had deprived the Greek Cypriots Orthodox Church of its religious freedom and sought to impose Latin Church rites, the Ottomans who took over the island in 1571 showed great respect and tolerance for all the diverse religions on the island.

Initially the Ottomans met their requirements of mosques by repairing and converting unused Latin churches and cathedrals. As a result, these historic buildings have been tended and preserved in good repair to this day. Examples of these monuments are the Selimiye and Haydar Pasha Mosques in Nicosia and the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque in Famagusta.

Historians, scholars, and authors interested in Cypriot history noted and praised the Turkish tolerance, magnanimity, and traditional generosity towards non-Moslems. During the Ottoman Period, religious foundations or pious endowments called `Vakif’ (plural Evkaf) were set up in the newly created areas of the empire to support religious, cultural, and social activities.

Islamic Monuments in Cyprus

Within this framework, Ottomans architects were called in from the centre of the empire to supplement the work of the locals in building new mosques, tekkes, inns, fountains, baths etc., thus putting their own individual stamp on the country which they ruled until 1878. Of those that were built, some are indeed of architectural interest such as the Arab Ahmet Mosque, the Sarayonu and Turunclu Mosque in Nicosia, the Cafer Pasha Mosque in Kyrenia, the Haydar Pashazade Mehmet Bey Mosque in Lapta, Piri Pasha Mosque in Lefke.

The unbroken four hundred year old Islamic tradition of the Turkish Cypriots is also reflected in the celebrations of Bayram (the religious holidays), the local customs and food.

The Period 1963-1974: Persecution of Islam in Cyprus

In 1963 the Greek/Greek Cypriot ambition to achieve Enosis (the union of Cyprus with Greece), culminated in a terrible onslaught, with much bloodshed, on the unarmed Turkish Cypriot people, depriving them of their fundamental human rights. It left thousands of them dead, wounded, missing and uprooted from their homes.

Part and parcel of this process was the deliberate destruction of over 100 mosques and other precious Ottoman and Islamic antiquities. This took place in the 103 towns and villages which the Turkish Cypriots were forced to abandon. The persecution of Muslim Turks of Cyprus between 1963-1974, was put to an end after the rightful intervention of Turkey on 20 July 1974, making use of its rights under the Treaty of Guarantee on Cyprus.

Islam today

After having won their freedom and independence the Turkish Cypriots have joined the Islamic Conference Organisation in observer status, thus taking their due place in the second biggest religious community of the world. Today the TRNC regularly participates in the activities of the Islamic Conference Organisation.

While the population of the Northern part of Cyprus is mostly comprised of Turkish Cypriots there is also a small Turkish Cypriot community that live in the Southern part of the island. As of last count there were about 500 Turkish Cypriots living in South Cyprus. Among all Turkish Cypriots the predominant religion is Islam and they are considered as Muslims.

While Turkish Cypriots as a whole are Muslims, they are not considered as the most orthodox of Muslims. Few if any fast during the holy month of Ramadan, and fewer than that observe daily player. Also while Muslims are forbidden from drinking alcoholic beverages this is not the case with Turkish Cypriots. Visitors to the Island are often surprised by the way they lead their lives since preconceptions of Islamic societies often lead to misconceptions of Cyprus and more specifically the North which is often referred to as an Islamic State. As in Turkey the secular nature of both societies has led to the separation of church from state (or in this case mosque from state). But it is worth noting that while Turkish Cypriots normally do not attend mosque or wear religious attire they observe religious holidays.

It has often been said that the Turkish Cypriots secular nature was derived from British rule and the reforms passed by Atatürk in Turkey. Both have helped mould the community into a secular society that is liberal in comparison to what the world thinks of when they think of Muslims.

Fortunately, there are groups who oppose this secularism in the TRNC and have actively campaigned to see it come to an end. Most of these groups in the past have originated in Saudi Arabia and Libya. Both countries wanted to see what they call an upsurge in Islamism, what is sometimes refereed to as fundamental Hz Alism. These countries have an abundance of cash by which to provide funding to groups that have likeminded objectives and in many cases to start said groups. In most cases these groups are opposed to Turkish Cypriot secularism and religious decadence. Their desire is to return to the Sharia which is the rule of religious law. In so doing they opposed the reforms established by Atatürk and want to make both Turkey and Turkish Cypriots more religious.

Thus far there plans have not come to fruition and Northern Cyprus remains secular. But efforts are still underway to change this.

the muslim weekly