“Some people wish to place us in the year 711,” remarked Spanish archbishop Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco a few years back. Rouco’s warning remains urgent today. Spanish Muslims are determined to pray in the Cordoba Cathedral, which was an important mosque during the 500 year Muslim rule of Spain beginning in 711. Luckily for Spain, the Roman Catholic Church isn’t prepared to give in to Muslim demands, as it recently revealed when it rejected a petition to the Pope from Spain’s Islamic Board for the right to share the Cathedral with Catholics.
During his trip to Turkey in November, Pope Benedict XVI refrained from praying or crossing himself when he visited the Hagia Sophia.
Heeding the warning of Islamic protestors who hours earlier had shouted “Pope, don’t make a mistake, don’t wear out our patience,” Benedict made every attempt to avoid hurting the feelings of sensitive Muslims who feared the Pope was attempting to reclaim the Hagia Sophia’s status as a great Christian church.
(Also known as the Church of Holy Wisdom, the Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque after the conquest of Istanbul by Ottoman Turks in 1453.)
With this recent history in mind, Benedict must have found it ironic to be the recipient in late December of the letter from Spanish Muslims requesting the right to prostrate themselves in worship in the Cordoba Cathedral, which is also known as the Mezquita. Located on the site of the Visigoth cathedral of St. Vincent, the building was converted back into a church in the 13th century after Cordoba was conquered by Ferdinand of Castile.
The recuperation of places and buildings that were once mosques or sacred Islamic sites is the primary method employed by Muslims to reconquer Al-Andalus. So-called moderate Muslims are oftentimes more effective than extremists in gaining concessions because of their attempts to portray Western democracies as intolerant if those countries don’t cede to certain demands. This technique has been used repeatedly in the case of the Cordoba Cathedral.
Spanish Muslims have for years been petitioning for the right to celebrate Friday prayer in the cathedral. Up until now these requests have been denied, which is a good thing according to Spanish politician Gustavo de Aristegui, the nation’s foremost expert on Islamic terrorism. Aristegui explains that if this request were to be granted, it would set a dangerous precedent. Similar demands would follow in ancient mosques throughout the Iberian Peninsula. Far from satisfying Muslims, initial concessions would only serve to inspire Islamic extremists and their potential recruits.
Already plans are underway by Spanish Muslims to construct what is being conceived as a ‘European Mecca’ in Cordoba, which was the capital of Al-Andalus. According to the Spanish newspaper ABC, a new mosque funded by Saudi Arabia would be the second largest in the world. While Cordoba’s city council has twice denied the request to build such a mosque in a city with 1,000 Muslims, the Andalusian city of Seville has granted permission for a new mosque to be built on council land near the Los Bermejales district. But local residents, aware that 100 mosques already exist in Andalusia, have obtained a court order court order halting construction of the mosque.
The rejection by Cordoba’s Bishop Juan Jose Asenjo of the aforementioned plea to the Pope by Spain’s Islamic Council was another example of such cultural fortitude. Asenjo opposes the plans for an “ecumenical temple” because “it would not contribute to the pacific coexistence of the different creeds.” He added that “such shared use can circumstantially have sense in an airport or an Olympic villa, since is not properly about temples but places of oration, but not in the case of a cathedral.”
Belgium’s bishops could learn a thing or two from Asenjo. Paul Belien of The Brussels Journal has documented how they have opened up their churches to mostly Muslim illegal immigrants in an effort to pressure Belgian authorities into allowing the immigrants to stay in the country. This has led to nothing less than a transformation of these cathedrals into mosques. While Muslims immigrants feel safe in these churches because they know respect for the Catholic Church prevents the authorities from entering to arrest them, they see no problem in desecrating these holy buildings. Photographs taken in the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor in Brussels reveal Muslim squatters holding prayer services in the church, the statue of Our Lady covered by a cloth to hide her from the eyes of Muslims, and fires being set. Belien describes the 20 churches that have been opened as “dormitories for non-believers.” An estimated 300 Africans are staying in Antwerp’s Magdalena Chapel, which does not bother Monsignor Paul Van den Berghe, the Bishop of Antwerp. In fact, Berghe participated in a protest in favor of illegal immigrants last February.
In their letter to the Pope, Spanish Muslims claim to not be looking for a way take control of the Cordoba Cathedral or regain Al-Andalus. But many Spanish Muslims would beg to differ. In 2004, the prominent Spanish Muslim, Abderrahman Muhammad Manan, wrote that the cathedral should be freed and that, “We Moslems cannot stand behind, saying that Islam is not stones or monuments. To do so is to not give account of what things are in their essences, and in its essence Alhama is Islam in our land, as is Al-Andalus, Andalucia; it is the remembrance of a colonization, of a genocide, of an expulsion.”
Perhaps the best retort to Spanish Muslims who want to transform Cordoba Cathedral is a question posted by a Spaniard on a Catholic website: “Will Christians be able to pray in the mosques of Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Iran or Kuwait?” The Pope’s trip to the Hagia Sophia already provided the answer.
Aaron Hanscom is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .