MADRID — As Spain’s Muslim community prepared for evening prayers last Friday, a 15-month jail sentence that a Spanish court gave a Muslim cleric earlier in the week for inciting violence against women was the hot topic of conversation. The media, many Muslims said, were giving the Spanish public a distorted view of the values of their religion.
“This case and [the cleric’s] opinions go against Islam,” said Ikram Oulad Zemouri, a 21-year-old Muslim woman, outside Madrid’s main mosque. “It’s an image that comes from a couple of generations ago. Now we’re very modern and completely Spanish.”
Nearly 500,000 Muslims live in Spain, most of them immigrants from North Africa. Tensions with the majority Roman Catholic population are common, and many Muslims say that the Spanish establishment is constantly looking for ways to discredit them.
Consequently, many Muslims in Spain were apprehensive in July 2000 when women’s rights groups filed a complaint against Mohamed Kamal Mustafa, the imam in the city of Fuengirola, on Spain’s southern Mediterranean coast. His book, “Women in Islam,” incited violence against women, complainants said, by advising men on how to beat women without leaving marks.
Prosecutors took up the case, and Mustafa’s trial was closely covered by the Spanish media.
The cleric claimed he had merely interpreted the teachings of Muslim texts. But other Muslims who testified denied that holy writings encouraged wife beating. In its verdict, the court rejected the argument that the texts represented Islamic religion or culture. It concluded that the treatment of women advocated in the book was a personal opinion of Mustafa that broke Spanish and European Union human rights laws.
The writings of Mustafa, “are foreign to the religion and doctrine of Islam, which condemns any type of mistreatment or discrimination against women,” the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities said in a statement.
“Fortunately, that slander against Islam and its prophet has not been tolerated” by the court, said Jadicha Candela, president of the Muslim women’s association An-Nisa and a witness during the trial. “The mistreatment of any living being goes against the very roots of Islam.”
But even as Muslims applauded the decision, some expressed concern about how news organizations had covered the case. “For me, more important than this individual case is the image it has presented to the public in the media and the media’s complete willingness to perpetuate negative images,” said Mohamed Elafifi, a spokesman for Madrid’s Muslim community.
“I don’t think it is a conflict of cultures,” Elafifi said, “as much as people’s readiness to believe stereotypes.”
Community leaders say that most Muslims are happy in Spain, having found jobs and schooling for their children. Girls are allowed to wear head scarves to school, and many do; in neighboring France, the government is planning a ban on head scarves in public schools, calling them unacceptable religious symbols in a secular institution.
At the Marrakesh Bar, a small magnet for Madrid’s working-class Moroccan community, the buzz on Friday was entirely focused on why the trial was such big news.
“I was wondering why they’re giving this guy so much attention in the news,” said a 36-year-old who declined to give his name. “The reason is because he’s Arab. Spaniards have no problem with Islam or Muslims. It’s the Moors that bother them. It’s pure racism.”
A dozen men at the bar concurred that younger Spaniards are more open and tolerant than their parents but that the media continue to use racism to make news. “This guy [Mustafa] should rot in jail. Nobody doubts that. But it should also be a crime to make a big deal out of something just because he’s a Moor,” the 36-year-old said.
But a Muslim woman leaving the Madrid mosque disagreed, pointing to reports of 70 deaths attributed to domestic violence in Spain in 2003.
“Domestic violence is an important subject. It’s in the papers all the time,” said the woman, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Just because it happens in the Muslim community doesn’t mean it shouldn’t make the papers.”
Mustafa’s lawyer said he would appeal the case, calling the sentence “unfair and a result of the media pressure.”
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