Only a few days before the start of the school year, the debate on Islamic headscarves in schools will continue and this will be hardened by petitions to prohibit the burqa. But the discussions on these kinds of symbols could also get radicalized in the coming months, just as it seems that the traditional or fundamentalist versions of Islam sticklers are growing fast in Spain. A strange situation, the experts say, in contrast with the religious attitude and behavior that prevails among the urban middle classes in countries like Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan. This is the case of the Syrian president’s wife, Asma al-Assad, who came to Spain in July. Perhaps impressed by the debonair and European looks of Asma, a woman who has modern looks, wears short dresses and trousers, swims and rides a bike, and seems the same as the president, a reporter asked if that that was normal in her country, which she replied to that it was “a mirror of Syrian society.”
Islam In Spain also differs. Judging from positions that we can read on Islamic groups’ webs in Spain, the manner in which they responded to hijab or burqa bans or the attitudes of some imams, it doesn’t seem that Asma al-Assad is the prototype of the female Muslim Spain. Even among Spanish converts (between 35,000 and 40,000 people practice a moderate Islam). “What is not clear,” says Fernando Bravo, TEIM (International Mediterranean Studies Workshop) of the Autonomous University of Madrid, “is whether this apparent spread of a more traditional Islam, even a fundamentalist one, is due to an increase in religiosity or an attitude of claims arising from the feeling, stronger in Europe than in their countries, that their identity is threatened“.
Both the Union of Islamic Communities (UCID) and the Federation of Islamic Religious Entities (FEERI), the two major religious federations that make up the Islamic Commission of Spain (CIE), have been taking a hard line on major issues seems to be due, according to specialists, that many of the grassroots communities that form them, are increasingly penetrated by elements from groups like Justice and Charity, Salafists or Tabligh, with sensitivities at least fundamentalists and those who stood in the wide world of political Islam. FEERI, founded in the 80’s by a group of converts, has gradually been taken much more fundamentalist stances. As explained by Mansur Escudero, who served as president for 14 years: “I left the presidency in 2003 because FEERI that year groups advocating ideas very different from our managed the majority. There was no chance of reconciling our positions with their own. ” (By the way, Mr. Escudero was not as “moderate” as he claimed to be -he died recently-. A former Communist and a doctor, he asked the Government to pass a law, legalising polygamy after the homosexual marriage was approved in Spain. But instead of asking the Govt to regulate it, he said that “it was regulated already in the Qu’ran”. So, it seems that he was asking the Govt to accept polygamy but not any polygamy, but Islamic polygamy, as that expression can actually mean, that Islamic organizations were interested in making legally bounding Qu’ran’s regulation on the subject).
In Muslim circles it is recognized that the instability that exists inside the Spanish Muslim community has much to do with the flood of Muslim immigrants to Spain, which has increased since the late 90’s. And that has also caused its composition to be much more varied. For example, the Moroccans, who make up 70% from about 1.1 million Muslim immigrants in our country have grown from under 100,000 in 1996 to 200,000 in 2001 and nearly 900,000 at present. But there are more than 60,000 Algerians or 55,000 Pakistanis along with people from 25 other nationalities. A result of this invasion, the converts were practically driven out of large organizations and replaced by nationals from Morocco and some of these other countries.
This greater diversity has led to all groups and all radical Islamic sensibilities – from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Salafists, the Tabligh or members of the Moroccan Justice and Charity, who advocates the maintenance of their identity, a certain separation from local population and even the implementation of Sharia-, are already present in Spain. They control many mosques (there are about 400 but only 11 or 12 may be considered as such) and maintain close ties with their parents in countries of origin. In addition, a group of such proportions can not be either ignored by Arab governments, especially those of a more autocratic, who feel compelled to sponsor Islam outside their borders.
Apart from these radicals, we must not forget that Muslims living in Spain, moderate or not, are very traditional. Just look, for example, the tone in announcing the creation of an Islamic school in Granada by the Islamic Community in Spain, by a group belonging to the Morabitum (very close to the Moroccan regime) and also planned to build the mosque of Los Bermejales in Seville. In an introductory part, their leaders explain the main reason for establishing a Muslim school in Spain: “Protecting our youth, protect the Imam and his heart, and to guard against the lies and ignorance of secular education and their views about life and existence“. Later they say: “We want our children to learn about the truth and make a true transmission of the religion of Islam to ensure, insha’llah, to become men and women under their Lord and active in strengthening the Ummah“. And concludes that “the Qur’an and Sunnah are the main source that determines, nourishes and gives meaning to the diversity of the different aspects of education, the Quran is the main source of all knowledge“.
Meanwhile, the Government has sought to obtain reliable information from all over the map within Islam, although it seems that with little success. As experts say, the project to mark these groups and the idea of having representative partners have failed. The aim to ensure, through them, the development of an Spanish Islam, more moderate and distanced from both Morocco or Saudi Arabia, which was the goal to create the Islamic Commission in 1992, has also failed.
Part of the problem of radicalism may also being caused by some loss of importance by the two federations mentioned, who fear being overtaken by new associations. Among them there are some very radical ideology, although more moderate communities are born. A new cause of division within the Islamic world.
The CIE (Spanish Islamic Commission) has been, experts say, a failure, because it has no operativity and hasn’t met for years. It doesn’t have even a phone number or an email. A scenario that the Justice Ministry wants to solve looking for a new system of representation that accommodates everyone. To achieve this, the Govt has warned this year that either everyone comes to an agreement allowing the participation of all or public grants are suspended. A decision that would hurt everyone, especially the UCID, which has among its affiliates 58% of all Islamic Communities in Spain and whose president, Riay Tatari, seems unconcerned with that ultimatum and defends himself against accusations of monopolizing the representation “I tried to reform the Islamic Commission in 2006 that could solve these problems if it had been accepted by the Ministry,” he says. Nor does he seem very concerned with the growing split between Muslims in Spain: “Between us there is no division on the essentials. Muslims share the same principles, rules, religion and jurisprudence. We are united“.
So, if they are all united, that leaves the organization in a very bad situation, because it would mean that they share the core of Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafism, etc.
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