Islam, July - Sept 2002, Spain

Islamic Education In Spain

By Khadija Mohiuddin

In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Kind

Recent developments of Islam in Spain merit attention. Specifically, the revival of Islamic education in Al-Andalus is a unique phenomenon with far-reaching potential for Spanish speaking peoples worldwide.

Post-1975 Spain

Many are surprised to learn that it was not until 1975 in the twentieth century-463 years since the Inquisition-that the legalization of Islam in Spain took place. The delayed passage of this law finally permitted the Spanish citizen to formally declare his or her Islam to the public without any threat to his or her safety and well-being.

During this time (the ’70s) there was a sizable Muslim immigrant population in Spain that was mainly from Morocco. This was also the period of the so-called “Hippie Era,” and as such, a great many Spaniards, desiring an alternative lifestyle and belief system turned to Islam. From the ’70s through the ’80s many Spaniards began learning more about Islam and accepting it as their faith. Indeed for many Spaniards, coming closer to Islam has meant a rediscovery of their lost heritage. As a result, many Spaniards felt (and may still feel) that rather than converting to Islam they were actually reverting or returning to Islam and reclaiming their buried roots.

Since the 1970s the fledgling Muslim community has considerably grown into a diverse group comprised of ethnic Spanish Muslims and immigrant Muslims. In general, the style (or perhaps, flavor) of Islam-in terms of fiqh and general cultural practices-observed by most Spaniards today is either a Maghrebi (Moroccan) style or a Turkish style. This may be attributed to the influence of the immigrant Moroccan Muslim population in Spain, the fact that current Muslim leaders/teachers received formal education in Maliki fiqh (most frequently observed in Morocco and Mauritania), as well as a result of the country’s relative cultural and geographical proximity to Turkey. In addition to the Moroccan immigrant community, however, there are also many Muslims of Syrian descent that are a component of the Spanish Muslim community. In total-Spaniards and immigrants-there are an estimated 400,000 Muslims in Spain. They are spread throughout the country with noticeable communities in the larger cities of Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, Madrid, etc.

The Spanish Muslims are a dynamic group. Individuals have exerted great efforts to study and implement Islam in their lives. One such member of the Spanish Muslim community, Don Antonio Romero-Román (Dr. Abdus Samad), is mayor of the town of Puebla de Don Fadrique and has been instrumental in establishing a Spanish madrasah or institute of learning in Southern Spain. He publicly reverted to Islam after the 1975 law was passed.

The Madrasah: Facultad de Los Estudios Andalusies

The idea of the madrasah was first conceived in the early ’80s in order to set up a community and foster the passage of classical Islamic teachings based on a live chain of narration tracing back to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and to give students a strong background in usool, fiqh, and the Arabic language.

After studying for almost a decade under traditional Maliki and Shafi’i scholars in the Middle East, Dr. Abdus Samad returned to his native Spain in 1993 and began working with his famiy to extend their family farm in order to make it a magnet for Muslim scholars, students, and visitors. The task has now been realized, Alhamdulillah, and the madrasah officially known in Spanish as La Facultad de Estudios Andalusies is located about 125 miles north of Granada and the Al-Hambra in the breathtaking Mountain Valley of Azzaghra (Segura Mountains of Southern Spain). The Azzaghra Mountain is holds special significance to the Muslim experience in Spain; it is symbolic of the Muslim struggle for existence as having been one of the last places where local Muslims retreated to during the days of the Inquisition and where they demonstrated great bravery in defending their Muslim lives.

There is also the Azzagra Cultural Center and restaurant on the premises that attracts local visitors. Students can also enjoy a nearby sports complex, swimming pool, and horseback riding. In addition, students at the madrasah are encouraged to help with the farm’s almond and olive cultivation alongside cultivation of plum, apricot, apple, and walnut trees, which happen to be irrigated by help of ancient Moorish or Muslim underground canals. Farming at the madrasah is done purely along organic lines as Dr. Abdus Samad is deputy president of the Andalusian Green Party.

As it may be observed, there are several extracurricular activities taking place at the madrasah. With no less intensity, in terms of its curriculum the madrasah offers two intensive Arabic programs through its Department of Arabic Language and Islamic Sciences. First, there is the two-year Arabic course, which has received accreditation from the University of Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt and the International University in Damascus, Syria. This two-year course also includes supplementary study of various Islamic sciences such as Tafsir (Qur’anic Exegesis), Fiqh-either Maliki or Hanafi, Hadith, History, and Akhlaaq. Students are usually busy with seven hours of instruction per day. The two-year program in the Department of Arabic language and Islamic sciences is designed to give students a strong enough base in the Arabic language to be able to pursue advanced studies in the Arabic language at universities in the Muslim world. The cost of the two-year program is $5600 Euros per year with the academic year beginning in October. Promising students are eligible for scholarships.

Currently there are 40 students enrolled in the program from various countries including Chile, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Argentina. The program in operation right now is witnessing promising student progress. Teachers in the program include the Chilean Yousef Olejado, a student of Shaykh Alawi Mekki, the Maliki fiqh scholar, and two other teachers from Syria. Instruction at the madrasah is ideal for the Spanish-speaking student, however, for the next year the madrasah will additionally accommodate English-speaking students.

In addition to its two-year Arabic program, the madrasah also offers month-long Summer Intensive Arabic programs during the months of July, August, and September. The intensive program offers two levels of Arabic: basic and advanced. Students participating in the summer program will also get to study Tajwid, Fiqh, ‘Aqidah, and History. The summer program is meant for both Spanish and English-speaking students.

For the year 2003 the Facultad de Estudios Andalusies is hoping to offer a four-year undergraduate degree in Arabic. Negotiations are underway with the Complutense University in Madrid for the program to recognized as a full-degree program. Also, interested students may take long-distance courses with the Facultad via the Internet.

In conclusion, the establishment of this Islamic university is a great milestone for Spanish Muslims, Spanish speaking Muslims of Latin America and the United States, Latinos in general, and Muslims all over the world. Its potential to build an educated indigenous Muslim leadership of the Spanish-speaking world has yet to be explored.

To learn more about the madrasah (Facultad de Estudios Andalusies), visit www.al-madrasa.com.