The Telegraph (England), July 7, 2003
By Isambard Wilkinson in Granada
After a wait of more than 500 years, Spanish Muslims have finally succeeded in building a mosque of their own in the shadow of the Alhambra, once the symbol of Islamic power in Europe.
The opening, by Muslim and Spanish officials on Thursday, will be rich in symbolism.
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As Al-Jazeera television broadcasts the event live, a muezzin will climb the minaret of Granada’s Great Mosque and call the faithful to prayer for the first time in half a millennium.
It is, say its builders, the symbol of the revival of Islam in Europe and Spain’s “glorious Islamic heritage”.
For that reason, though, many Spaniards are quietly unhappy. “Everybody is opposed to it, but they know it’s politically impossible to voice their objections,” said one local journalist.
It is more than 500 years since the Spaniards reconquered the southern districts of the country, bringing to an end almost eight centuries of Moorish rule.
Ignoring their promises to tolerate the Muslim faith, the Spaniards indulged in a wave of forced conversions, expulsions and killings. Mosques were demolished and churches built, often on the same spot.
The memory of that bloody time and the wars that for hundreds of years raged across Andalucia are still alive in popular Christian memory.
Even today in the hills around Granada, they use the old baptism blessing, “Here is your child: you gave him to me a Moor, I hand him back a Christian”.
And history is alive in the memories of Muslims. The yearning for a return to Islam’s cherished province of Al-Andalus is often the subject of Islamic poetry.
Osama bin Laden has frequently mentioned the Muslim claim on the territory that for many symbolises the apex of Islamic learning and culture.
Although widespread Spanish opposition to the project has subsided recently, nonetheless it took 22 years for the Granada city authorities to grant permission for the building, the first mosque built for native Spanish Muslims rather than immigrants since the reconquista.
Looking out across the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Alhambra, Abdul Haqq, 42, a Basque who converted to Islam 12 years ago, said: “Granada has historically been the capital of European Islam. Some people convert because of their search for their roots – others like me joined as a matter of faith.”
At first, locals fiercely opposed the project. Proposals for an elegant building at the heart of Granada’s oldest district, the old Muslim quarter, resulted in graffiti such as “Moros fuera” (“Moors out!”).
The mosque’s planners were forced to alter their designs after the town hall objected to the height and style of its 45ft minaret.
“I have noticed there has been a change in the past few weeks – the fact we have opened to the public has dispelled some of the fears,” said Mr Haqq. “We have made clear this is not a return to Al-Andalus for the likes of bin Laden, but a statement of Spain’s heritage.”
The mosque and the country’s Islamic revival will be an acid test of Spain’s much-vaunted convivencia (peaceful co-existence).
But so far the mosque’s neighbours have been unimpressed. The trial calls to prayer have caused surprise.
“We expect more complaints. The nuns in the convent next door have already built the adjoining wall higher and added broken glass to their defences,” said Mr Haqq.
The mosque will be the spiritual home of 500 Muslims, mostly Spanish converts. Mr Haqq points out that the majority of Muslims in Spain during Moorish rule were Spaniards.
“The Moors took over more with the Koran than with the sword. The mosque is to show it is not so strange to have Muslims in Spain. We do not want to reconquer the country. We want to say we are as much Spanish as you are,” he said.
But there has been friction. Last year Muslims claimed the right to hold salat, Friday prayers, in Cordoba’s Mezquita-Cathedral, once one of Islam’s finest mosques. That caused uproar.
And in Granada Muslim Left-wing groups have demanded that the city no longer celebrates its riotous fiesta, La Toma, The Capture, commemorating victory over the Moorish citadel.