04/29/2004, 00.00
spain - islam
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Muslims seek to use Cathedral alongside Catholics

Cordoba (AsiaNews) - Mansur Escudero, Secretary General of the Spanish Islamic Council, has announced that the request to officially mark the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Cordoba as the first church in the world where Christians and Muslims can pray together was made to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. This most recent episode in the decades-long question over the Cathedral was announced April 11th to the Europe Press Agency.

   The magnificent and ancient mosque-now-cathedral of Cordoba is one of the world's finest jewels of art, begun in the eighth century and renovated on several occasions. After the conquest of Cordoba by Ferdinand III in 1236, the mosque was consecrated as a Cathedral. The most important part of the structure for Muslim worship is the mihrab, the recess in the southeastern wall which indicates the direction of Mecca for prayer. In the Cordoba mosque, the mihrab is outside of the cathedral itself, which would make it possible for Muslims to worship without disturbing the ceremonies inside. With the increase of Spanish converts to Islam, the present day mosque for Cordoba's 500 Muslims is too small for their growing community. It has been the object of repeated demands on the part of the Muslim community.

 The City Hall of Cordoba, in the hands of the IU (Left United) and the Spanish Socialist Party (Parted Socialist), support this initiative and have prepared a motion to back the demand that the Islamic Council presented to Bishop of the city, Juan Jose Asenjo Pelegrino. The polemics of the issue deepened when on the 15th the Mayor of Cordoba, Rose Aguilar, of the IU, who is believed to be in support of the plan, but voiced that now is not the right time for it to be disputed. She warned that a proposal of this type is to be done by the Muslim group only, and not with influence from neither the City Hall nor any municipal group, adding that her councilmen are "serious persons who know how to read the moment in which we are living." Nevertheless, in statements to the press, a number of title-bearing men of these parties have shown their sympathy toward the initiative as a possible step toward inter-religious and ecumenical dialogue. Antonio Hurtado, a spokesman for local Socialists stated: "We hope to see Cordoba become a place for the meeting of faiths."

This is not the first time that a proposal of this type has been submitted, being presented frequently as being of key historical importance to the Muslim community and as an opportunity for interreligious meetings, contact and dialogue.

 The Bishop of Cordoba thus far has kept silence.  The silence, or the explicit negative to the request of allowing specific acts of worship on the part of the Moslem community, is the habitual answer of the ecclesiastical authorities. He affirmed that the diocese "must be very prudent" about the petition of the Islamic Congress, and they should not hope for an immediate reply. Meanwhile, the security personnel of the cathedral watches attentively so that no Moslem displays himself in prayer inside the Cathedral, as has happened in verified episodes in the past. 

What is certain is that, among statements and contradictions, the debate on the ecumenical use of the Cathedral of Cordoba has returned to mark the month anniversary of the terrorist attack of Madrid on the 11th of March.  Interestingly, after several suspects of that bombing then blew themselves up to evade arrest, police found a video tape where one of the men plainly stated, " You know the Spanish crusade against the Muslims, the expulsion from Al-Andalus… that was not so long ago."

It is not indifferent that this debate takes place in a city with a strong Islamic cultural presence, (in Cordoba the one Islamic University of Spain is located, and in Almodóvar del Rio, a town 24 Kms away, the International Islamic Internet Center is found), a city that in the Moslem world evokes the remembrance for some of a splendor of the past. 

It is Spain's own 20,000 converts to Islam that make have made the Cathedral issue a top priority.  Immigrant Muslims are more concerned with "rebuilding relations with Spaniards and making sure our members can live as normally as possible," said Kamal Rahmouni, spokesman for a Moroccan community group and head of an association of Moroccan immigrant workers and spokesman. He called for a commission to supervise imams in Spain, and the country's 200 mosques and indicated that many of Spain's mosques are financed by Saudi Arabian funds, which tend to promote a radical Wahhabi form of Islam. "Ninety percent of Spain's 500,000 Muslims are from Morocco, not from Saudi Arabia. We need to teach a more moderate form of Islam that reflects that."

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