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Saudis Giving Mosque to Spain, Which Once Expelled Muslims

November 24, 1985

MADRID — Nearly 500 years after Muslims were expelled from Spain, Madrid will be getting its first mosque, a gift from Saudi Arabia.

Muslims, along with Jews, were ordered out of Spain forever in 1492 by decree of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, patrons of Christopher Columbus' voyage that led to the discovery of America.

The construction of the mosque and a Muslim cultural complex, to begin early next year, coincides with a growing awareness in Spain of its Arab and Jewish past.

Although Spain maintains friendly relations with Arab nations, Arabs who live in Spain, particularly North Africans, still are often subjected to racial slurs and the epithet Moro --Spanish for Moor.

The Moors invaded from North Africa and overran Spain in the 8th Century, establishing Moorish cultural centers in Cordoba, Toledo, Seville and Granada. The last of them, Granada, fell to the forces of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

Recent ceremonies in Cordoba marked the 12th centenary of the Mezquita, a mosque built in 785 on the site of an earlier Christian church. In the 13th Century, the mosque once again became a Roman Catholic church, but the original Muslim architecture was left largely intact.

The mosque for Madrid's 10,000 Muslims was first proposed in 1976 by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Libya, but financial and other disagreements held it up.

In the end, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, a close friend of Spain's King Juan Carlos, agreed to put up the estimated $10 million for the complex in eastern Madrid next to the municipal funeral center.

King Fahd has already built one of the two functioning mosques in Spain. It is a green, white and gold structure of the dominant Sunni branch of Islam located amid a chic residential neighborhood in Marbella, the southern Mediterranean resort favored by Arabs who can no longer go to Beirut.

Spain's other mosque was completed in 1982 in Pedro Abad, a town 35 miles northeast of Cordoba. It was built by the Ahmadiyya Movement, a reformist sect of Islam founded in Pakistan in 1889.

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