Spain: Growing Fight Over Cordoba Mosque

CordobaMosqueThere is a growing controversy centering around the Mezquita de Cordoba in Spain.  “Mezquita” means “Mosque” in Spanish.  The mosque was originally built when the Caliphate of Damascus ruled Spain.  In 1492  when Muslim ruled ended and Spain once again became a Spanish Kingdom the a Christian Cathedral was erected in the center of the mosque to symbolize Christian rule.  Muslims were forbidden to worship in the mosque as they still are even today.  This despite the fact that Christian Mass continues to be said in the Mezquita today.

The Mezquita has stood for centuries as a symbol of diversity and tolerance in the southern Spanish city of Cordoba.  It has long been one of Europe’s most treasured historical monuments and is considered public property.  However, the Roman Catholic Church is attempting to claim ownership of the entire structure and this is causing controversy and tension between Muslims and Christians in Spain. 

The Mezquita was actually constructed by the Caliph on top of an old Visigoth church in the 8th century.  The Muslim state (Emirate) of Cordoba launched a new golden age for Islam in that time.  Great advances in science and culture were made under the Emirate’s Muslim rulers and there was a high level of tolerance and cooperation at the time between Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

The archbishopric in Cordoba has filed papers claiming full ownership of the structure and that move will be irreversible by 2016 if it continues.  Growing numbers of people in Spain think it is an attempt by Catholic officials to suppress the monument’s Islamic heritage and history.  They claim that the Mezquita has long been a global symbol of the meeting of cultures and they say the world needs more such examples not less.  Reportedly a loophole in land ownership laws in Spain dating back to the days when General Francisco Franco ruled the country is being used in an effort by the Catholic church to secure ownership of the entire building and, thus, remove it from the public trust.

The Mezquita de Cordoba remains an important symbol for Muslims still today and the idea of the mosque becoming the private property of the Catholic Church upsets many Muslims especially in Spain.  The director of Islamic Junta which represents Muslims in Spain, Isabel Romero, says the Mezquita is an important historical heritage symbol that belongs to all Spaniards.  Romero says that this is just the latest attempt by the Catholic Church to eliminate the structures Islamic identity.

Demetrio Fernandez is the Catholic Archbishop of Cordoba and in 2010 he called for elimination of the term “mosque” from all tourist references to the structure.  That has been done.  The archbishop claimed this needed to be done in order not to confuse visitors to the cathedral in the center of the mosque.  Brochures now describe the structure as the Cordoba Cathedral as does the buildings website.  Romero says this is yet another attack on Muslims in Spain and any attempt to erase the historic identity of the building is one further attack on Spanish Muslims.

Spaniards supporting the Catholic takeover of ownership of the Mezquita say the rising controversy is just one more attempt by leftists to stir up conflict against the Catholic church.  They claim that the Catholic church is being “persecuted” in Spain today.

However the controversy ends and whoever ends up owning the building one thing is for certain.  The tolerance and cooperation that was seen in the centuries when Muslims ruled Spain is long gone and is today replaced by growing conflict and strife, sadly.  Spain is already dealing with massive economic problems and when times get hard people tend to look for scapegoats and blame one another for problems.  Many times this blaming erupts into violent conflict which benefits no one.  Hopefully ownership of the Mezquita can be worked out fairly and civily.

As a side note General Franco once considered dismantling the cathedral brick by brick and moving it to another city in Spain, thus, leaving the building a Mezquita but that plan was shot down by the then archbishop in Cordoba who opposed Franco’s plan.  Further, although today only Christians are allowed to pray and worship in the building there have been attemps by Spanish Muslims to lobby the church for permission for Muslims to pray in the Mezquita.  Those attempts have all been met with strong rejection by the bishopric and Vatican.

Personally I think the Mezquita should remain in public hands as a symbol of Spanish history and as a symbol of a time when there was tolerance between faiths instead of the growing intolerance we see today around the world.  I think such tolerance could be further served if not only Christians were allowed to pray and worship in the building but Muslims as well.  The three major religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have a history of tolerance and cooperation that is all but disappeared today.  It is interesting to note that the Damascus Mosque in Syria began as a Christian Cathedral in which not only Christians were allowed to worship and pray but also Jews and Muslims.  That building served as a worship center for all three faiths for a long while until the Christians built a new Cathedral and the Jews a new Synagogue.  That building was then given to the Muslims who then turned it into the Damascus Mosque we see today.



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