July - Sept 2002, Spain

Islamic Resurgence in Spain and Beyond

By Samantha Sanchez

The Spanish Inquisition spanned four centuries. Spanish Muslims attempting to escape it fled in two directions – North Africa and the Americas. Those that remained became nominal Catholics. Some practiced their religion n secret. If they were found out they were killed or exiled. In 1610 the last of the so-called nominal Catholics or Moriscos were exiled. The Inquisition practically wiped out the Muslim community in Spain. In fact the revival of Islam in al-Andalus as it was known, has been a cherished ideal since the fall of Grenada in 1492.

The first chance that the Andalusian people had to bring back Islam was when they had their freedom in 1975 with the advent of democracy, sine the Inquisition had legally continued until July 15, 1834. After which social pressures hindered Jews and Muslims from practicing their faiths until 1975.

In 1976, in the city of Cordoba, five brave young men became Muslims through the dawah of Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi. Shaykh as-Sufi is a convert himself and the founder of the Murabitun Movement. These were the first Spaniards to accept Islam since the time of al-Andalus. They were instructed to spread Islam to the people and their efforts drew a large number of new Muslims, and subsequently the establishment of a Muslim community in the city. Their efforts to build a mosque, the first since the Inquisition, were hindered by public and government opposition.

In 1980 Spain put forth The Organic Law of religious freedom. The real rebirth of Islam in Spain, thus, did not begin until 1980 with the formation of the Autonomous Community of Andalus. The Yamaa Islamica of Al-Andalus was established in Seville (capital of present-day Andalusia). This association and the association for the rebirth of Islam were the most important. The Grand Mosque of Cordoba under Muslim rule in Spain was open to Muslims, Jews and Christians. It was the center of academic and spiritual learning. Today, it is a cathedral. Muslim visitors to the former mosque are told by the guides/guards before entering that it is prohibited to pray there.

Islam has slowly but surely flourished in Spain. In 1983-4, the Yamaa Islamica al-Andalus opened centers in Granada, Malaga and Jerez. In 1984, it made its first public demonstration by celebrating the memory of Al-Motamid Ibn Abbad, the last Muslim king in Seville. The act included a public call to prayer. More than 4000 people took part in the demonstration. In 1985 a convention of all Andalucian Muslims was held in the province of Granada. In 1986, YIA opened its center in Cordoba and made it the center of the entire community. Between the years of 1987-88 new centers emerged in Almeria and Murcia. So far we have tracked thirteen years of progress among Muslims in Spain since the Inquisition. However in all of this time, the government of Spain did not recognize Muslims and the Islamic faith. It was not until 1989, that Islam was recognized in Spain and even today though Muslims have official status they enjoy fewer privileges.

Between 1989-1993 several celebrations took place to commemorate Muslim ancestors and erected mosques. In 1992, the Islamic commission of Spain signed an agreement of cooperation with the state. In 1993 a major historic event took place. It was led by Ali Kettani. That is a project was begun of establishing the first ever Islamic University in Spain since the fall of Grenada. It began with the purchase of a building in the vicinity of the grand Mosque. Construction was completed in 1994 and the University, Ibn Rushd, is now authorized to award bachelors degrees in Arabic Studies and Islamic Studies.

Thus, as we can see, although it took several centuries for Islam to resurface in Spain, Islam is now flourishing throughout Spain as more and more converts come to Islam each year. In 1998 there were more than 450,000 Muslims and 45 mosques. Still they suffer persecution. In 1999 30 Muslim girls in Grenada were required to remove their veils for ID card photos. Catholic nuns are not required to do this.

As you recall I stated that Muslims fleeing Spain went in two directions. Those who went to North Africa have, in places such as Morocco and Tunisia, maintained their language to some extent, and some have even returned to Spain. And, then there are those who fled with expeditions to the Americas in the 15th century. These Muslim slaves were obliged to abandon their beliefs under fear of being executed, as you know part of the reason for the expeditions was to conquer new lands for Christianity. Thus, the trace of Islam disappeared in the Americas. It was not until the 16th century when Indian and Pakistanis immigrated to the Americas and the slaves were liberated. A few hundred years later, in 1850-1860, massive immigration of Arabs to the Americas took place. Muslim communities erupted as a result of this. But what about Latino Muslims who live in the Americas? In general there are over 6 million Muslims in Latin America (including immigrant populations). IOLA or the Islamic Organization of Latin America in Argentina serves the purpose of providing information about Islam to Latin Americans. This is the largest organization with this purpose. In Caracas, Venezuela, the largest Mosque is Masjid Sheikh Ibrahim.

In the US, since the 1970s, there has been a resurgence of Islam amongst Latinos. Primarily this has taken place in NY in El Barrio and in Los Angeles. Some Latinos would say that they are reclaiming the Islamic heritage, which we learned about tonight. In 2002, it is estimated that there are 40,000 Latino Muslims in the US. Currently a census is being conducted. This number includes born and converted Latino Muslims. The largest concentrations are in Los Angeles, NY, Chicago, and Washington DC. In each of these places, organizations have emerged along with mosques. One of the first of these was Alianza Islamic in El Barrio, now located in the South Bronx. Now there are nearly ten of such organizations, LADO being the largest of them all with a growing membership. All these organizations have different agendas. Some are to promote Islam in Latin America, others are for prisoners, and again others are for Spanish speakers only. Whatever the current number of Latino Muslims in the US or globally, they are being recognized in the Muslim world and in the media. Over the last few years articles in the Washington Post and other well known newspapers have discussed the emergence of Muslims in Latino communities. This year was the third annual conference by ISNA, of Islam amongst Latino Americans. The Inquisition may have been 4 centuries ago, but today it is clear that Islam cannot be erased from the hearts of Latinos.