On the eve of the Muslim conquest, Spanish society was reeling under the oppressive Visigoth kingdom and political instability and social fragmentation were at their height. Little surprise, then, that the collapse of the Visigoth kingdom was welcomed by the Spanish people. Muslim rule over the Iberian Peninsula lasted, intermittently, for nearly eight centuries, from 711 to the fall of Granada in 1492. During this long period, much of Spain was under the control of four main ruling dynasties: the Umayyad caliphate (711-1023); autonomous small kingdoms known as muluk al-tawaif (1031-1085); two Berber dynasties, Almovarids and Almohads (1091-1269), and Banu Ahmar (1232-1492). For nearly two hundred years, the Umayyad rulers of Andalusia acknowledged the suzerainty of the caliphate of Baghdad. In 929, Abd al-Rahman III declared independence from Baghdad and assumed the title of Commander of the Faithful and Caliph of the Islamic world.
In European historiography and in common discourse, the Middle Ages are generally looked upon as an age of darkness and barbarism. This is only partially true. While large parts of Europe were steeped in superstition and cultural backwardness, some regions like the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily and Venice were at the height of cultural progress and development.
Muslim rule in Andalusia brought about a positive transformation of Spanish society. It resulted in political stability and economic revival through the introduction of new irrigation methods, new crops, plants and fruits. These included cotton, sugarcane, rice, grapes, figs, apricots, saffron, peaches, cumin, coriander, bananas, pomegranates, lemons and oranges. Trade routes were substantially expanded, which facilitated extensive trading across the Mediterranean as well as the Far East. Canals, streams and windmills were extensively used for supplying water to cities as well as for irrigation. Andalusia’s silk fabrics, jewellery, leather articles, lustre pottery and paper became famous throughout Europe. The first paper factory in Europe was established in the Spanish city of Jativa (Shatiba) in 1150, whence the technology of papermaking passed into Italy and subsequently into other parts of Europe.
Three distinct factors contributed to the efflorescence of Andalusia during the medieval period. In the first place, the Muslim ruling elite did not behave like aliens or foreign conquerors but identified themselves with the region and the local population. They had no hesitation in adopting local dialects, architectural styles and cultural patterns. Many of them married Spanish women and their progeny came to develop a mixed, hybrid identity. Second, Muslim rulers nurtured and sustained an ethos of harmonious coexistence, tolerance and accommodation. Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together and shared substantial social and cultural spaces despite their religious and cultural differences. The celebrated Spanish-American historian, Americo Castro, famously described this as convivencia (harmoniously living together).
It is noteworthy that the evolution of this composite, hybrid cultural tradition in the Iberian Peninsula did not lead to a collapse of religious or ethnic boundaries and distinctions. Muslims, Jews and Christians scrupulously maintained their respective religious and ethnic identities and, at the same time, participated in a shared cultural universe. Third, the active interest evinced by the Muslim ruling elite in the economic and cultural development of Andalusia endeared them to large masses of people. A combination of these factors brought about a remarkable and unprecedented development of science, philosophy, literature and arts and crafts and made the Iberian Peninsula the envy of Europe.
In the beginning of the 10th century, Cordoba was perhaps the most beautiful and splendid place on earth, with 900 public baths, thousands of shops selling a variety of merchandise, and hundreds of mosques. Well-lit streets and running water from aqueducts made Cordoba look like a fairy-tale city. In addition to its material prosperity, Cordoba was also a city of learning and scholarship, with more than 70 public libraries. There were some four hundred thousand volumes in the caliph’s library. During this time, the largest library in Latin Europe probably had no more than four hundred manuscripts. The catalogue of Cordoba’s main library ran into 44 volumes. There were 70 copyists in the book market, who worked exclusively on making copies of the Holy Quran.
Madinat al-Zahra, 8 kilometres west of Cordoba, was built in the 10th century and was the largest city ever built from scratch in Western Europe, covering an area of nearly 280 acres.
The culture of harmonious living and accommodation that flourished in medieval Spain was essentially a reflection of Islamic principles and legal provisions and precedents related to the protection of non-Muslims in the Islamic state. Islamic law explicitly enjoins that Jews and Christians who are described as People of the Book in the Quran and in the Prophetic Traditions are to be protected by the Islamic state in respect of their life and property, beliefs and rituals, and religious and legal institutions. They are granted religious and cultural freedom and cannot be forced to convert to Islam. The religiously-mandated protection of Jews and Christians in Islamic Spain greatly contributed to their material and cultural prosperity.
Shortly after the Islamic conquest, an agreement was signed by the new ruler, Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa ibn Nusayr, and Theodomir, the last of the Visigothic kings of the Iberian Peninsula, whereby the Islamic stated guaranteed the protection of life, property, beliefs and rituals, and religious institutions of the local people.
Islamic influences on Jews and Christians and on Spanish society in general were far-reaching and extensive and encompassed popular culture, language and literature, architecture, science and philosophy, and every-day life. Christians and Jews enthusiastically took to Arabic as a vibrant language of poetry and elegance and soon lost touch with Latin. All the Christian texts and liturgy were translated from Latin into Arabic and became a part of the community’s religious life. Christians who lived in an Islamic polity and imbibed a great deal of Arabic influences in their language, culture and literature came to be known as Mozarabs. They spoke a language called Mozarabic, a Romance dialect full of Arabic vocabulary. From the 9th to the 11th century, Mozarabs celebrated the Eucharist, not in Latin, the liturgical language of Western Christendom, but in Arabic.
In November 1982, when Pope John Paul II had made a brief stopover in the Spanish city of Toledo, he was greeted by representatives of the city’s Christian Mozarabic community. They presented to the Pope a tenth-century Christian prayer book written in Arabic, which began with the Islamic invocation Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim.
By the middle of the 13th century, Cordoba, Valencia and Seville were reconquered by Christian rulers, following which Muslims living there began to face persecution. They were forbidden to announce calls to prayers from minarets and from going on pilgrimage to Mecca. Many mosques, including the one located in the Alhambra palace complex, were converted into churches. Arabic inscriptions at the Alhambra palace were erased and replaced by figures of Christian saints and monks. The reading of Arabic books was prohibited and many of them were burned. Muslims were forced to convert to Christianity and those who refused were expelled from the country. Granada, the last of the Islamic kingdoms of Andalusia, fell in 1492. Muhammad XI, the last of the Nasirid rulers, handed the keys of the royal palace to Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon. Following the fall of Granada, Muslims, Jews and Gypsies were expelled from the country. Moriscos, descendants of Muslims who were forcibly converted to Christianity in 1502, were prohibited from speaking Arabic and from marrying according to Islamic rites. Finally, in 1609, King Philip III decreed the expulsion of all Moriscos because they were suspected of being only nominal Catholics who continued to secretly practice their faith. An estimated 350,000 Moriscos were driven out of the country. They migrated to North Africa, Turkey and Egypt.
The Cordova Mosque
The Cordoba Mosque represents one of the most magnificent and astounding architectural monuments of the Islamic world. The construction of the mosque began in 784 at the instance of the first Muslim ruler of Spain, Abd al-Rahman I. The construction as well as additions continued over the next two centuries. The area of the mosque measures 570 feet in length and 425 feet in width. The ceiling is 30 feet high. King Abd al-Rahman III constructed a large square minaret atop the mosque in 951. The minaret was destroyed in an earthquake, following which King Al-Nasir built another square minaret with a height of 72 metres.
The grandeur of the Cordoba Mosque is simply breath-taking. The conspicuous features of the mosque are its colossal and grandiose scale, its magnificent double-arched colonnade, its marvelous symmetry, its exquisite ornamentation and its inimitable calligraphy. The mosque’s large structure is supported by nearly 1000 columns made from jasper, onyx, marble and granite. The high ceiling of the mosque, made from pine wood, is richly decorated and beautifully painted. The mihrab (prayer niche) is decorated with geometric and flowing designs of plants and embellished with Quranic calligraphy in Kufi and Maghrebi styles.
When Cordoba was sacked by King Ferdinand III of Castile in 1236, the Cordoba Mosque was converted into a church. Alphonso X oversaw the construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel in the precincts of the mosque. Carlos V, king of United Spain, constructed a cathedral in the centre of the mosque, which came to be known as the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin. Bishop Juan Jose Asenjo forbade Muslims to offer prayers in the mosque.
The Democratic Transition
Following the Reconquest, Spain came to be constructed as a monocultural, monolingual and exclusively Catholic country. Muslims (pejoratively described as the Moor (el moro) came to be perceived as the Other, as cruel, barbarous and cowardly. Spain became a republic in 1931. The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) ended in victory for the nationalists under General Fracisco Franco, who ruled as a dictator until his death in 1975. Juan Carlos succeeded him as head of state and restored the monarchy. A new constitution was promulgated in 1978 whereby Spain was declared a constitutional monarchy. With the transition to democracy, Spain came to be transformed from a mono-confessional Catholic state to a non-confessional secular state. The Spanish constitution guarantees religious freedom, freedom of worship and equality for individuals and groups and declares that no faith shall have the character of state religion.
According to the citizenship laws and procedures laid down in 1985, which combine birth and descent, those born in Spain with at least one parent who was born in the country are automatically eligible for citizenship. Generally, foreigners can acquire Spanish citizenship after ten years of residence in the country. However, this period is reduced to only two years for those with a preferred nationality or for those who have some historical links with Spain. These preferred groups include Latin Americans, Portuguese, Philippinos, Guineans and Sephardic Jews. Ironically, Muslims, who have ruled the country for nearly eight centuries, are not included among preferred groups.
Though the Catholic kings expelled Muslims from Spain in 1492, Islamic and Arabic influences continued even to this day--to reverberate in Spanish society. The deep and pervasive influence of Islamic civilization on Spanish society continues to be reflected in the Spanish language, in agriculture and water harvesting systems, in architectural styles and ornamentation, in arts and crafts, and in everyday life. Castilian or modern Spanish language was literally born out of Arabic. A large number of words of Arabic origin estimated at around 4,000 continue to be used in modern Spanish. These words include the names of fruits, vegetables, animals and musical instruments and the technical vocabulary in mathematics, astronomy, law, architecture and carpentry. The Spanish language was taken to the Americas as well as to Africa and Asia Pacific in the wake of Spanish colonial expansion. The speakers of Spanish language today are estimated to number around 500 million, making it the third most spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese and English. Even today most of the family names in Spain betray their Islamic origins. The regional division of the country into 17 communities, which is still followed, goes back to the Islamic period. One can notice Andalusia’s famous double arches, which adorn the Cordoba Mosque, on the doors and windows of public buildings as well as residential houses. Iman Travieso, a Muslim convert, says that even today Spanish children are taught by their mothers to wash their hands, face and feet much the same way as Muslims do while performing ablutions.
The water harvesting and irrigation systems introduced by the Muslim rulers in Valencia and other regions of Islamic Spain filled them with orchards and rice fields. These systems are still followed in Valencia, and several words of Arabic origin relating to irrigation and water harvesting are used even today. A celebration in commemoration of the Millennium of the Waters was held in Valencia in 1960. The celebrations marked the public recognition of the establishment of the irrigation system, and especially the Tribunal of Waters (Tribunal de las AquasI), introduced during the reign of Abd al-Rahman III in the 10th century, for the purpose of regulating the irrigation infrastructure in the fields. The Tribunal of Waters continues to be in use for settling local disputes relating to irrigation. It meets every Thursday at noon outside the Valencia cathedral for the purpose. The Tribunal is perhaps Europe’s oldest democratic institution which has been continually functioning for the past one thousand years. It has been recognised by UNESCO as a cultural heritage. Islamic and Arabic influences left an enduring influence on Spanish cuisine, dress and daily life. Muslims introduced rice, saffron, almonds and spices in local cuisines, which are still widely used in Spanish cuisine. Paella, the most important dish of Valencia, had an Arabic origin.
Many Arabic words which found their way into the Spanish language during Muslim rule continue to be used in everyday conversation. Such commonly used words include almirante (al-amir), arroz (al-ruz), guitarra (al-qintara) and alceituna (al-zaytuna), among hundreds of other words. The oft-used proclamation “Ole! Ole!” during the Flamenco dances and Spanish bullfights is derived from the Arabic “Wallah!”. Similarly, the commonly used expression in Spanish and Portuguese “Ojala” (God willing) is derived from the Arabic “Insha-Allah”.
There is no doubt that Muslims left an indelible mark on Spanish culture. However, today there is considerable ambivalence and equivocation about Spain’s Islamic legacy. In fact, there are two contested and competing visions and narrative about Spain’s national identity. In the 1940s, the celebrated Spanish historian Americo Castro argued that Spaniards should take pride in their mixed, composite history, which reflects a synthesis – convivencia, as he called it – between Christian, Islamic and Jewish cultures. On the other hand, another eminent Spanish historian, Claudio Sanchez-Albornoz, contends that the Moorish invasion of 711 was a disaster for Spain and that relations between Christians and Muslims during the Muslim period were largely characterised by mistrust and antipathy.
Muslims in Spain
In 2016 the population of Muslims in Spain was estimated at 1,919,000, which accounted for a little over 4% of the country’s population of 46.43 million. About 42% of Muslims are Spanish citizens and 38% have Moroccan passports. Other Muslims of foreign origin include Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Algerians, Senegalese and Nigerians.
Muslims are largely concentrated in Catalonia, Andalusia and Valencia. Catalonia, a semi-autonomous region with a population of 7.5 million, has a distinct history, traditions and identity, which go back to almost a thousand years. It has a distinct language – Catalan – parliament, flag, anthem and police force. In a referendum held in Catalonia on 1 October 2017, about 90% of voters backed independence for Catalonia. But the vote was declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court. Madrid called snap elections in Catalonia in December 2017, in which supporters for Catalonia’s independence won by a narrow majority. Shortly after the election the Catalan parliament unilaterally declared independence. Invoking emergency constitutional powers, Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed the Catalan government and imposed direct rule on Catalonia. The Catalan parliament was dissolved and ministers of the Catalan government were taken into custody. Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium.
The population of Muslims in Catalonia is over 515,000, comprising about 7.3% of the region’s population of 7.5 million. In some of Catalonia’s towns and cities Muslims constitute about 40% of the population. There are 256 mosques in Catalonia and five Islamic organisations, including an umbrella organisation known as Junta Islamica.
Najat Driouech is Catalonia’s first female Muslim MP. She arrived in Catalonia with her parents in 1990, when she was 9 years old. She successfully contested the election on a ticket from the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC).
Islam was decreed a firmly rooted religion in Spain in 1989, five years after that privilege was accorded to Protestantism and Judaism. In 1992 a Cooperation Agreement was signed between the state and the Islamic Commission of Spain (Comision Islamica de Espana) whereby Muslims in the country were given several legal, political and cultural rights, including the right to establish Islamic schools and to receive Islamic instruction in public schools, the right to celebrate Islamic feasts, the right to have Islamic marriages recognized under civil law, the legal protection of mosques, prescriptions for halal food and tax relief for religious charity. In 2004 the socialist government launched an extensive naturalization drive for foreign workers in the country, which prompted half a million Muslim women to come to Spain to join their spouses.
Since 1980s Catalonia has witnessed a large-scale immigration of Muslims from Morocco, Pakistan, Tunisia, Algeria and Southeast Asia. Immigration to Catalonia in the 1980s was prompted by the growing need for farm labour in the rich vineyards and other farming enterprises.
Muslims from Morocco form the largest group among Spanish Muslims. They played a significant role in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), fighting on the side of the nationalists. A Moroccan Muslim, Lieutenant General Mohamed Meziane, who was a close friend of General Franco, was appointed Captain General of Ceuta, Galicia and the Canary Islands.
In the past couple of decades thousands of Spaniards have embraced Islam. The number of converts, including women, is estimated to be around 50,000. Muslim converts have exercised a significant mediating influence on social and political institutions as well as on public discourse. Muslim converts are largely concentrated in the southern Andalusian region. Many of them have been inspired by the Sufi tradition.
Antonio Romero, now 55, converted to Islam many years ago. At the age of 17 he left his home in the Albaicin and went to Madrid to study music at the conservatory. At the age of 19 he played with well-known rock bands in Pasadena, California. In the course of his itinerary he discovered the music of Andalusia from the 9th century and travelled through the Middle East. For 12 years Abdussamad, as he now calls himself, studied Islamic mysticism under a Sufi master in Mecca. In 1996 he returned to Granada and founded an Islamic school and Islamic Centre, called Al-Madrasa, in the mountain village of Alqueria de Rosales in 2000. Every year the Centre organises a two-week summer camp for children of different faiths aged between 8 and 16. The activities at the camp include archery lessons, horse riding, hiking and prayers and voluntary fasting for Muslim boys and girls. The summer camp is aimed at creating and fostering an atmosphere of mutual understanding, tolerance, sharing and cooperation, qualities that were a distinctive part of Spain’s Islamic legacy.
Muslims in Spain have founded several non-profit religious, cultural and educational organisations. Junta Islamica, a non-profit Islamic organisation, was founded by a group of converts for the purpose of protecting the rights of Muslims, promoting the study of Islam, removing misconceptions about Islam and Muslims, facilitating the integration of Muslims into Spanish society and fostering harmonious relations between Muslims and mainstream Spanish society. Junta Islamica also supervises institutions that issue certification for halal products. The organisation has emerged as an authentic and representative voice of Spanish Muslims.
Junta Islamica works closely with the government on social and religious issues. It organises conferences and workshops on subjects related to Islam and Muslims, which are partly funded by the Justice Ministry. The National Distance Learning University, which is jointly financed by the government and Junta Islamica, conducts training programmes for academics and students who wish to specialise in Islamic culture, especially in the context of Spanish history.
In 2004 Junta Islamica petitioned the Vatican to open Cordova’s Grand Mosque for Muslim worshippers. But the petitioned was turned down by Spain’s Catholic Church.
Problems and Challenges
There is widespread racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in Spain. In spite of the extensive secularization of state and society in Spain, public discourses and popular attitudes clearly reflect racism and Islamophobia. An annual festival Moros y Cristianos is celebrated across 400 localities in Spain, mostly in Andalusia, Valencia and Castilla-La Mancha. The historical origins of the festival can be traced back to the 13th century. The celebration of the festival, which lasts for several days, is based on a symbolic, dramatized battle for victory between Muslim and Christian soldiers, which results in the ultimate victory of the Christians. The Moros (Muslims) are defeated in the battle and are then converted to Christianity or, in some cases, are symbolically thrown into the sea. The festival represents Muslims as cruel and treacherous. Some of the highly offensive features of the festival were removed following a recommendation from the Second Vatican Council in 1968.
A particularly offensive feature of the festival is a cardboard dummy of the Prophet Muhammad, which is used as a banner of the Moorish army, which is symbolically beheaded or burned by the victorious Christian army. After the cartoon controversy in 2006, the organizers of the festival in Beneixama and Boicarent have removed this offensive feature from the drama so as not to hurt the sentiments of Muslims. Muslim organizations in Spain have asked the festival to be banned since it represents a false, distorted image of Muslims.
In Spain, as in many European countries, there is an evident disjunction between the constitutional recognition of the legal, political and cultural rights of Muslims (de jure rights) and the factual state of affairs (de facto rights). Muslims face discrimination in employment and housing. Graduates with Muslim names are often ignored by employers. Muslim nurses who wear the headscarf are not employed in hospitals. In a survey of second-generation Muslim immigrants in Spain, carried out by the universities of Princeton, Clemson and Miami, 20% of the respondents said they had experienced discrimination in the past three years.
Muslims, including headscarf-wearing women, are often subjected to humiliating racial and religious slurs, verbal abuse and even physical assault. In 2017 more than 500 Islamophobic incidents were reported. In the past few years a few mosques have been vandalised.
The undercurrents of Islamophobia are evidenced in the public opposition to the construction of new mosques in the country and in the reluctance or unwillingness of local authorities to ensure that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Muslims are complied with. Public protests against the construction of new mosques have been widespread in the country in recent years. In Catalonia alone there have been 18 cases of public protests between 2001 and 2006. Premia del Mar is a small town north of Barcelona, where Muslims immigrants make up about 4.4 per cent of the population. It witnessed public protests against the proposed construction of a mosque in 2002. The neighbourhood groups that spearheaded the protests accused the Muslims of unwillingness to be integrated into mainstream society, saying that the proposed mosque project would turn the area into a Muslim ghetto. The protests were supported by right-wing political leaders, who raised the bogey of a Muslim invasion and whipped up popular passions about defending Christian identities, customs and culture. In support of the local Muslim community, a local group, Coordinadora Premia per la Convivencia, was formed, which organized counter-protests. In Badalona, Barcelona, Catholic priests supported the local Muslim community for the construction of a mosque.
When local authorities reluctantly grant permission for the construction of a mosque, it is generally at the outskirts of the town, away from the gaze of local residents. Faced with this situation, Muslims have no choice but to pray in prayer halls located in private garages, offices and apartments. A similar kind of reluctance on the part of local authorities is evident in respect of spaces for Islamic cemeteries, the demand for halal food and the wearing of headscarves in schools. As Muslim immigrants often have no voting rights as a result of discriminatory citizenship laws and procedures, local authorities are under no pressure to protect their rights.
Muslim immigrants are generally concentrated in certain ghettos in Barcelona and other cities, where they live on the margins of Spanish society. By and large, Spaniards and Muslim immigrants live in parallel societies. Abdulhasib Castaneira says that interaction between Muslims and the native population can go a long way in removing ignorance, misunderstanding and stereotypes about Muslims and in building bridges of understanding and tolerance between Muslims and mainstream society.
In the past few years Spain has suffered from terrorist attacks carried out by extremist Muslim groups. In March 2004 a terrorist attack on a Madrid train killed nearly 200 people and injured dozens of others. In August 2017 there were terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils carried by Moroccan immigrants. Terrorist attacks exacerbate and reinforce the mistrust and prejudice against Muslims. Fortunately, Muslims in Spain have joined hands with local groups and organisations to denounce and condemn terrorism. Hundreds of Muslims gathered at Las Ramblas, the tourist site which witnessed a terrorist attack on 7 August 2017, chanting “Not in my name!” and “Islam isn’t terrorism!” As a result of the resolute stand taken by Spanish Muslims against terrorism and the mediating role of organisations like Junta Islamic and Islamic Commission, the Spanish government refrains from using the misguided term “Islamic terrorism.” The Islamic Commission explained to officials that one cannot characterise any act of terrorism as Islamic because any kind of terrorism is prohibited in Islam. Mr Castaneira says that it is very difficult to convince someone who has seen the Alhambra that Islam has anything to do with violence and brutality.
Muslims in Spain are facing up to the challenges with courage and determination. There are 1200 mosques and prayer halls in the country. A vibrant Islamic community is taking shape in Granada. Maria Trinidad Lopez (now known as Quraiba), 56, embraced Islam in 1982, and with a friend opened a tea shop in Albaicin. The narrow streets of Albaicin are lined with small shops selling fabrics, pottery, brass teapots and water pipes. There is a Moroccan butcher shop, where halal meat is sold. Antonia Maria Munoz, who converted to Islam in 1988, says, “Here we are picking up again where we left off in 1492,” as she sips a hot cup of tea that wafts scents of rose, jasmine and orange blossoms. “We’ve come to offer society the only alternative that exists to lead it out of chaos,” says Al-Hajj Abdul Hasib Castineira, a tall, bearded Spaniard who converted to Islam in 1977.
A New Mosque in Granada After 500 Years
In the 1980s a small group of Spanish converts decided to build a mosque in Granada. They embarked on a trip to the Middle East, hoping to collect $10,000 they needed to buy the land for the construction of the mosque. Muslims in Libya, Morocco and Malaysia made contributions to the cause, but the larger part of the funds (€30 million) came from the Emir of Sharjah. Unfortunately, opposition from local groups and far-right political parties held up the project for nearly 22 years. Ultimately, when the permission for the construction of the mosque was granted by the local authorities, the mosque had to be scaled down to half its proposed size and the height of its minaret was cut down to satisfy local demands.
The mosque, located in Albaicin and overlooks the Alhambra and the Alpujarra hills, was opened, in the presence of Granada’s mayor and other prominent citizens, in the summer of 2003. The minaret of the mosque is a tower designed and constructed in the original Albaicin style. The mosque, surrounded by beautifully designed gardens with orange, olive and pomegranate trees, is open to the public. The mihrab is an exact replica of the famous mihrab of the Cordoba Mosque. Hundreds of tourists visit the mosque every day and a few convert to Islam each week.
On February 7, 2014, the Spanish government approved a law allowing descendants of Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from the country in 1492, to seek Spanish citizenship, in addition to their existing nationality. Spain’s Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said that Spain owed the Sephardic Jews a debt for spreading the Spanish language and culture around the world. He added, “The law we have passed today has a deep historic meaning: not only because it concerns events in our past of which we should not be proud (like the decree to expel the Jews in 1492) but because it reflects the reality of Spain as an open and plural society.” The descendants of Sephardic Jews, who are estimated to number around 3.5 million, are living in Israel, United States, Turkey, France, Mexico, Argentina and Chile.
Muslim groups in Spain are demanding that millions of descendants of Spanish Muslims – Moriscos -- who were expelled from the country in 1492 should be allowed to return to their native land and granted full citizenship rights. Millions of Moriscos are living in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt and Mauritania. It is estimated that as many as five million descendants of Moriscos are living in Morocco alone.