Spain’s Relations with the Muslim Communities
By Jose María Ferré de la Peña*
Spain had a very keen interest in nothing nasty happening after the 11-M. It was the biggest terrorist attack Spain had ever suffered and anti-Muslim reactions could have developed. The Spanish society was shocked. It was for the judges to decide. The judges have already pronounced sentence on the the terrorist attack. The intention was never to run after anyone because of his/her faith or culture.
At the same time, a large Muslim community had consolidated in Spain (specially in Madrid, Andalusia, Catalonia and Ceuta and Melilla). This new phenomenon was linked to a big increase in population due to immigration. The Spanish Muslim community has about one million members, 2/3 of them from Moroccan origin. Some of them also come from Asia (specially Pakistan) and the Middle East. Many are still foreigners, but Spanish nationality can be obtained after ten years of legal residence in Spain. All strands are represented (Tabligh, Muslim Brotherhood, converts, foreign influences, sufi…). Relation with country of origin: first generation looks to country of origin; second generation looks to nationals and feels discriminated.
European Muslim diaspora. Our Muslim community is beginning to have an associative framework, but the initiatives are still not important. We think that in the near future Spanish Muslims will give a good and useful contribution to our society and they will be involved in every social activity. We look at what takes place in Europe because we know we can learn from it. We do not have a debate about multiculturalism or citizenship. We work so that everyone has the same rights and duties.
-Alliance of Civilizations. National Plan
-“Fundación Pluralismo y Convivencia” (Foundation Pluralism and Co-existece): It is a public Foundation. Education, culture, staff, register of associations.
-“Casa Árabe-IEAM”: This new institution has begun in 2006 to work hard and is becoming well known abroad. It is funded and directed by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (MAEC), the regional governments of Madrid and Andalusia and the municipalities of Madrid and Córdoba. It has a Diplomatic Council and an Advisory Council. Arab culture, society, persons, life or history are not very well known in Spain. Casa Árabe will help to improve this situation through its activities, with presentations, library, films, Arabic lessons, conferences and involvement in social life. There are different Casas and other institutions that work to implement our National Plan of the AoC. Casa Arabe is also involved in public diplomacy and in investigation (through the IEAM, which means International Institute of Arab and Muslim World Studies).
- Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (MAEC): Muslim questions are taken into account in the work of the Ministry; creation of the position of Ambassador at Large for Relations with Muslim Communities and Organizations Abroad (as has been done in other Western countries); information; relations with EU and Western network; relations with Muslim groups, networks and personalities; Diplomatic School; backing of the role of faiths in international relations; conferences and meetings; setting a national position; we consider violence has nothing to do with Islam.
- Cordoba Conference about Intolerance and Discrimination of Muslims (organised in October 2007 by the Spanish presidency of the OSCE). The first one to be organised in this framework, it wants to be a reference in the fight against islamophobia. The Cordoba Declaration is attached. Cordoba is very symbolic in the Muslim world as see of a Caliphate and because it had a very tolerant and cultivated society. Modern Cordoba is a place were Muslims feel at home.
- After Spain´s transition to democracy back in 1975 and our present Constitution of 1978, the Basic Law on Religious Freedom was adopted in 1980, after which UCIDE and FEERI were formed. UCIDE is the “Unión de Comunidades Islámicas de España” (Union of Islamic Communities of Spain) and FEERI is the “Federación de Entidades Religiosas Islámicas” (Federation of Islamic Religious Entities). In 1992 the Law 26/92 regulating relations between Islam and Spain was passed. The law that was passed at that time giving the Islamic Faith the right to public funding required a unique or sole interlocutor. It was then that the Spanish Islamic Commission (“Comisión Islámica de España” -CIE-), which comprises both UCIDE and FEERI, was created as an attempt to bring together the different Muslim organizations. Being the unified interlocutor is the main role of the CIE, but the important organizations at grass-root level are UCIDE and FEERI. Ther are other agreements on education, chaplaincy (hospitals, army, prisons), tax revenue, some difficulties (cemeteries, mosques), aid for integration. The Spanish authorities maintain a good relationship with the main Muslim federations. There is no control over the Friday sermons. In some cases, security people go to the mosques. There have not been any serious cases of people involved in sermons calling for extremism. There is nothing equivalent to UK’s MINAB.
- Provisions for training imams in Spain. There are some itinerant courses by UCIDE and FEERI. The “Consell Islàmic of Catalonia” (Catalan Muslim Council) is keen to collaborate with the University. “Fundación Pluralismo y Convivencia”, the public foundation I mentioned above, is in contact with the UNED (a public universtity for distance learning equivalent to the Open University) and will begin a training course in the near future. There are some courses at UNED on Islamic culture and another at the Diplomatic School aiming at civil servants dealing with the region.
- Constitutional values: Western values are wide enough to embrace Muslims in Europe. We are beginning to work in these questions with big Muslim communities. Relations are very smooth but we have to prepare the near future. We need much more mutual knowledge. We want to back a European Islam that plays a positive role in the world. Europe is neither “dar-al-islam”, the house of Islam, nor “dar-al-harb”, the house of war; it is “dar-al-sulh”, the house of social contract were Muslims can live in peace as citizens belonging to a religious minority. In Europe there are indigenous Muslims (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Bulgaria, etc), emigrant Muslims and native Muslims (children of emigrants or converts) who have Islam in common, but differ in their experience and expectations. Faiths provide means for peace and well being.
-For many generations Islam has been part of the West. Today about 20 million Muslims live in Europe. Many of them think their contribution is not appreciated enough and are considered suspiciously, some of them contribute to this wrong feeling. Citizenship has to prevail for the well being of all and the continuity of our way of life. A common civilization based on human rights, tolerance and the absolute value of peace is possible.
For additional general information on these issues, please visit the Website of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation: www.maec.es. For information on the Casa Arabe, go to: www.casaarabe-ieam.es. There is the option of switching the page into English by clicking on the upper left corner on “Casa Arabe (EN)”.
* Spanish Ambassador at Large for Relations with the Muslim Communities and Organizations abroad
* Remarks at EMBASSY OF SPAIN IN LONDON- INTERCULTURALISM: A SPANISH PERSPECTIVE - 5 June 2008