Spanish bishops fear rebirth of Islamic kingdom
Villagers dressed up as moors perform during a traditional festival in Crevillente, in the Valencia region, October 8, 2006. Villages all over Spain hold annual festivals to commemorate the “Reconquista”, the reconquest of Spain by Christians from the Moors, which was completed in 1492 after more than 700 years of Muslim rule in much of the country. Spanish villages are toning down traditional fiestas in response to Muslim backlashes against other caricatures of Islam.
By Elizabeth Nash in Madrid
Spainâ€™s bishops are alarmed by ambitious plans to recreate the city of Cordoba – once the heart of the ancient Islamic kingdom of al-Andalus – as a pilgrimage site for Muslims throughout Europe.
Plans include the construction of a half-size replica of Cordobaâ€™s eighth century great mosque, according to the head of Cordobaâ€™s Muslim Association.
Funds for the project are being sought from the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, and Muslim organisations in Morocco and Egypt.
Other big mosques are reportedly planned for Medina Azahara near Cordoba, Seville and Granada.
The bishops of those cities are alarmed at the construction of ostentatious mosques, fearing that the churchâ€™s waning influence may be further eclipsed by resurgent Islam financed from abroad. Up to one million Muslims are estimated to live in Spain. Many are drawn by a romantic nostalgia for the lost paradise of Al-Andalus, the caliphate that ruled Spain for more than five centuries.
Last month, Spanish Muslims reasserted their right to pray in Cordobaâ€™s great mosque. The mosque houses within its arches a cathedral built to consolidate Catholic rule after Muslims were expelled from Spain in 1492.
Muslims are forbidden to pray in the building.
Mansur Escudero, president of Spainâ€™s Islamic Council, has challenged the current head of Spainâ€™s Episcopal Conference, Bishop Ricardo Blazquez of Bilbao, to explain why Muslims could not pray in Cordobaâ€™s mosque. Mr. Escudero said he had been encouraged by the Popeâ€™s act of prayer in Istanbulâ€™s Blue Mosque on his recent visit to Turkey. â€œIt showed that mosques are open to Christian worshippers,â€ he said. â€œCould not Muslims pray in Cordobaâ€™s mosque?â€
Bishop Blazquez replied that public collective praying was prohibited, but he supposed private or individual prayer was acceptable. Mr Escudero then announced that Muslims would henceforth return to Cordobaâ€™s mosque to pray â€œin a respectful, private and individual capacityâ€. The bishops hit back, insisting that â€œMuslims cannot in any way pray in Cordoba cathedral.â€
Spainâ€™s Muslims have been long respectful towards civil and ecclesiastical authorities, but as numbers have grown they have turned to more radical leaders. An alliance of Spanish converts, pro-Moroccan and pro-Saudi leaders took control of one of Spainâ€™s two main Islamic federations last year. Half of the new leaders are imams from Saudi-funded mosques in Madrid and Fuengirola.
Mr Escudero, an ousted moderate who nonetheless remains head of Spainâ€™s umbrella Islamic Council, said he did not favour the construction of flamboyant mosques with foreign money. â€œI prefer more modest, decent buildings that are backed by Spanish local authorities,â€ he said, but added: â€œMuslims have the right to build mosques big and small wherever they like.â€
Hundreds of mosques have popped up all over Spain. But churches, and many residents, complain that big, shiny mosques are more than just centres for culture and worship, and say they are funded by undemocratic countries promoting Islamic radicalism.