Spain Goes on Mosque-Building Spree: Churches Forced to Close
por Soeren Kern, 10 de enero de 2011
(Published in Hudson New York, December 30, 2010)
The city of Barcelona, widely known as a European Mecca of anti-clerical postmodernism, has agreed to build an official mega-mosque with a capacity for thousands of Muslim worshipers. The new structure would rival the massive Islamic Cultural Center in Madrid, currently the biggest mosque in Spain. An official in the office of the Mayor of Barcelona says the objective is to increase the visibility of Muslims in Spain, as well as to promote the "common values between Islam and Europe."
The Barcelona mosque project is just one of dozens of new mosques that are in various stages of construction across Spain. Overall, there are now thirteen mega-mosques in Spain, and more than 1000 smaller mosques and prayer centers scattered across the country, the majority of which are located in Catalonia in northeastern Spain.
The Muslim building spree reflects the rising influence of Islam in Spain, where the Muslim population has jumped to an estimated 1.5 million in 2010, up from just 100,000 in 1990, thanks to massive immigration. The construction of new mosques comes at a time when municipalities linked to the Socialist Party have closed dozens of Christian churches across Spain by way of new zoning laws that several courts have now ruled discriminatory and unconstitutional. It also comes at a time of growing anti-Semitism in Spain.
The Barcelona mosque project was announced during a weeklong seminar titled "Muslims and European Values," jointly sponsored by the European Council of Moroccan Ulemas [Muslim religious scholars], based in Brussels, and the Union of Islamic Cultural Centers in Catalonia, based in Barcelona. A representative of the Barcelona mayor's office who attended the conference told the Madrid-based El País newspaper that the municipality would get involved in the mosque project because "although religion pertains to the private realm, this does not mean it does not have a public role."
The idea to build a mega-mosque funded by Spanish taxpayers comes after Noureddine Ziani, a Barcelona-based Moroccan imam, said the construction of big mosques would be the best way to fight Islamic fundamentalism in Spain. "It is easier to disseminate fundamentalist ideas in small mosques set up in garages where only the members of the congregation attend, than in large mosques that are open to everyone, with prayer rooms, cafes and meeting areas," Ziani told the Spanish news agency EFE. He also said European governments should pay for the training of imams, which would be "a useful formula to avoid radical positions."
The Barcelona mosque would be that city's answer to the six-story, 12,000 square meter (130,000 square feet) Islamic Cultural Center in Madrid, which opened in 1992 and is one of the biggest mosques in Europe. It was paid for by the government of Saudi Arabia, as was the €22 million ($30 million) Islamic Cultural Center in Málaga, a small city in southern Spain that is home to almost 100,000 Muslims. (The center's website includes politically correct "news," with headlines such as "Christian Palestine under Zionist Occupation" and "Julian Assange Victim of the Empire of Evil.")
Saudi Arabia, which also built the "great mosques" in the Spanish cities of Marbella and Fuengirola, has been accused of using the mosques and Islamic cultural centers in Spain to promote the Wahhabi sect of Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism rejects all non-Wahhabi Islam, any dialogue with other religions and any opening up to other cultures. By definition, it also rejects the integration of Muslim immigrants into Spanish society.
Not surprisingly, the Saudi government officially supports the Alliance of Civilizations, an initiative sponsored by Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, which borrows heavily from the Dialogue of Civilizations concept promoted by Islamic radicals in Iran in the 1990s -- an the initiative calls for the West to negotiate a truce with Islamic terrorists on terms set by the terrorists.
In December 2000, the Islamic Cultural Center in Madrid was expelled from the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities (FEERI) to "frustrate the attempts of Saudi Arabia to control Islam in Spain." Most Muslim immigrants in Spain are from the Maghreb (especially Morocco and Algeria) or Pakistan; analysts say their low standards of living and low levels of education make them particularly susceptible to the Islamist propaganda promoted by Saudi Arabia.
Elsewhere in Spain, residents of the Basque city of Bilbao were recently surprised to find their mailboxes stuffed with flyers in Spanish and Arabic from the Islamic Community of Bilbao asking them for money to build a 650 square meter mosque costing €550,000 ($725,000). Their website says: "We were expelled [from Spain] as Moriscos in 1609, really not that long ago. … The echo of Al-Andalus still resonates in all the valley of the Ebro [ie Spain]. We are back to stay, Insha'Allah [if Allah wills it]."
Al-Andalus was the Arabic name given to the parts of Spain ruled by Muslim conquerors from 711 and 1492. Many Muslims believe that the territories they lost during the Spanish Reconquista still belong to them, and that they have a right to return and establish their rule there – a belief based on the Islamic precept that territories once occupied by Muslims must forever remain under Muslim domination.
The Moriscos, descendants of the Muslim population that converted to Christianity under threat of exile in 1502, were ultimately expelled from Spain by King Philip III in 1609. Muslim leaders say Spain could right the wrong by offering Spanish citizenship to the Muslim descendants of the Moriscos as an "apology and acknowledgement of mistakes" made during the Spanish Inquisition.
In Córdoba, Muslims are demanding that the Spanish government allow them to worship in the main cathedral, which had been a mosque during the medieval Islamic kingdom of Al-Andalus and is now a World Heritage Site. Muslims hope to recreate the ancient city of Córdoba as a pilgrimage site for Muslims throughout Europe. Funds for the project to turn "Córdoba into the Mecca of the West" are being sought from the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, and Muslim organizations in Morocco and Egypt.
In Granada, a city in southern Spain that was the last Muslim stronghold of Al-Andalus to capitulate to the Roman Catholic kings in 1492, a muezzin now calls Muslims to prayer at the first mosque to be opened in the city since the Spanish Reconquista. The Great Mosque of Granada "is a symbol of a return to Islam among the Spanish people and among indigenous Europeans," says Abdel Haqq Salaberria, a spokesman for the mosque. "It will act as a focal point for the Islamic revival in Europe," he says. It was paid for by Libya, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
In Lleida, a town in northeastern Spain where 29,000 Muslims make up 20% of the population, the local Islamic association Watani recently asked Moroccan King Mohammad VI for money to build a mosque in the center of town. Local Muslims are incensed that the municipality gave them land to build a mosque on the outskirts of town and not in the city center. Although the municipality gave the land more than three years ago, the local Muslim community has refused to apply for a formal license: it is demanding a more "dignified location for the Muslim community to worship."
In Zaragoza, the fifth-largest city in Spain, the 22,000-strong Islamic community has been negotiating the purchase of an abandoned Roman Catholic grade school for €3 million. In September, however, a group of 200 teenage anarchist squatters took over the property (a seemingly normal occurrence in Spain), but a local judge has refused to remove them for "security" reasons. The local imam is now demanding a "big and visible location" for a mosque: many Muslims view the city as "theirs" and they want a way to show it.
Meanwhile, the Madrid-based ABC newspaper reports that more than 100 mosques in Spain have radical imams preaching to the faithful each Friday. The newspaper says some imams have established religious police that harass and attack those who do not comply with Islamic law. ABC also reports that during 2010, more than 10 Salafist conferences were held in Spain, compared to only one in 2008.
Salafism is a branch of revivalist Islam that calls for restoring past Muslim glory by re-establishing an Islamic empire across the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Europe. Salafists view Spain as a Muslim state that must be reconquered for Islam.
At the same time, Noureddine Ziani, the Moroccan imam, says it is absolutely necessary to accept Islamic values as European values. He also says that from now on, Europeans should replace the term "Judeo-Christian" with term "Islamo-Christian" when describing Western Civilization.
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group