Finally, Spanish Schools Teach Islam
By Al-Amin Andalusi
MADRID, January 12 (IslamOnline.net) – Teaching Islam in Spanish schools has finally found its way to implementation after almost a decade of delays and obstacles.
Since coming to power in the European country, Spain’s new Socialist government under Jose Rodriguez Zapatero has made a host of good gestures toward the Muslim community in the country, the most remarkable of which was a decision to allow the teaching of Islamic subjects at public schools of major cities with significant Muslim presence.
The long-awaited development saw the light early January, 2005.
The government decision on teaching Islam only stipulates giving definition lessons on Islam. But Spanish rightist parties lashed out at the decision, launching a severe campaign against the Muslim community in the country, seeking to put strains that would make the decision void of its meaning.
Teaching Islam was part of an agreement reached in the early 1990s between the former Socialist government and a number of the Islamic bodies in Spain.
However, the agreement was shelved for eight years after former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar’s People’s Party assumed power.
Spain has a Muslim community of about 600,000 people out of a total population of 40 million. Some 94 percent of its population are Christian Catholics.
The country has recognized Islam through the law of religious freedom, issued in July 1967.
The Spanish decision stipulates teaching the Islamic subjects in the Spanish schools in a number of Spanish cities that have high Muslim population such as Barcelona, Madrid and Andalusia.
The Spanish official for religious affairs had said Islamic subjects would be taught in a number of major Spanish cities by early January, 2005.
Teaching Islamic subjects was only allowed since 2000 in the cities of Ceuta and Melilla in which Muslims of Moroccan origin make up the majority of population.
Ceuta and Melilla are located in northern Morocco under the Spanish control.
Teachers of the Islamic subjects in the two cities were only seven, teaching some 1,900 students in the preliminary education, however, the experience was seen as an encouraging step to be copied in other Spanish cities.
Visiting a number of schools in the city of Melilla, the Spanish official for religious affairs said the experience of teaching Islamic subjects in the city was driving factor for the Spanish government to follow suit in other Spanish cities.
The decision to teach Islam stipulates giving simple definition lessons on the Islamic pillars to students at Spanish schools.
The Spanish socialist government and the Union of the Islamic Associations have agreed that the Islamic subjects would be limited to teaching introductory lessons on the pillars of Islam to Spanish students.
The association has been intensifying efforts to correct misconceptions on Islam among the Spanish people.
The association secretary general urged to extend the teaching of the Islamic subjects to other Spanish cities in light of the increasing numbers of Muslim immigrants in the European country.
Neighboring Morocco is expected to play a role in the issue as the Moroccan education ministry will prepare the curricula of the Islamic subjects, similarly to the situation in the cities of Ceuta and Melilla.
But the government’s decision to teach Islam drew ire from rightist and pro-Catholic church parties which oppose the rising numbers of Muslim immigrants in Spain.
The rightist opposition campaign led by the People’s Party and pro-church parties resulted in imposing more restrictions on implementing the law.
These included the Islamic subjects to be taught only in areas that have high Muslim population, to have at least ten students or parents presenting a request and that the Islamic subjects don’t contradict with the by-laws of the government and private schools in Spain.
The Spanish rightist parties, however, failed to place other restrictions, such as allowing only Spanish teachers to teach the Islamic subjects. The proposal was rebuffed by the Spanish government as unrealistic and similar to the idea of Muslim teachers teaching Catholicism.
The Spanish rightist parties believe the government decision to teach Islam is doomed to failure due to the poor number of the Islamic subject teachers, even in the cities of Ceuta and Melilla which have only 20 teachers.
However, the Spanish government is attempting to solve the problem by reaching an agreement with Morocco on seeking Spanish-speaking teachers from the neighboring Arab country, similarly to a deal between Morocco and Italy under which Morocco sent 30 teachers to teach Arabic to the Moroccan immigrants in the European country.
The Spanish move on teaching Islamic subjects, however, has stirred anti-Islam parties and their media mouthpieces to launch a scathing attack on Islam and Muslims.
The rightist La Razon daily, known for its links with the church and army circles, launched vile campaigns against the Muslim community, accusing them of inability to integrate into the western societies.
The Spanish daily also claimed that the Noble Qur’an forbids Muslims from easily integrating into the western societies.
The anti-Muslim campaigns in the European country reflected differences between the rightist parties and the Catholic church on one hand, and the leftist parties led by the ruling Socialist party on the other, according to observers.
Since he assumed power, Zapatero has cancelled a host of privileges enjoyed by the Catholic church during the rule of the People’s Party, including a halt of finances to the church-sponsored schools and religious centers.
Such a decision, naturally, drew criticism campaigns from the Catholic circles, accusing the Socialist Party of adopting a policy of “secular extremism”.
The Zapatero government, however, stressed it only applies secular policies that stipulate equality among the different faiths in the country.
It also noted that the decision on teaching Islam was a part of the secular polices adopted by the government.
Observers also believe the decision to teach Islam aims to control the widespread Islamic private schools in the country to avoid any future “terrorist” acts similar to the Madrid bombings.