Islam in Spain

written by Fernando Bravo

Demographics and Immigration
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It is difficult to estimate the size of the Muslim population living in Spain. Available statistics do not distinguish population according to faith, which means we can only estimate quantity using national origin or national identity as sign of religious adherence. This implies a certain margin of error and, indirectly, a certain “ethnification” of Islamic identity that would be determined by ancestry or national origin on the basis of this method, rather than by religious faith.

This should be taken into consideration before drawing any conclusions from the statistics that we will go on to present. Properly speaking we are going to speak about Moroccans, Algerians, Senegalese, Pakistanis, etc., and not about Muslims.

If we take the statistics of Spanish and Foreign population coming from, or nationals of, countries with a Muslim majority population (where the Muslim population is estimated at more than 50% of the total population according to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (((2009): “Mapping the global Muslim population. A report on the size and distribution of the world’s Muslim population”, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, october, [last view: 22 December 2009].))), we obtain the following figures:

[table id=36 /]

*Source: National Statistics Institute (INE: Municipal Register, 1 January 2009. Compiled by Fernando Bravo.

As seen in the table, speaking about “Muslims” in Spain means speaking mainly about Moroccans.

In addition to that figure, the number of converts is uncertain because there is no reliable source. ((There have been some estimates. A newspaper report said that the Muslim convert population was 2.5% of the total Muslim population in Spain (1 million); see MOLINA, MARTA (2007): “Nuevos musulmanes”, en El País, 31 July. Juan José Escobar Stemmann said that it was a 2%, without providing any source; see ESCOBAR STEMMANN, JUAN J. (2008): “Activismo islámico en España”, Política Exterior, nº 124, pp. 67-81.)) But they are certainly a minority compared with Moroccans, Algerians, Senegalese, or Pakistanis.

We could conclude that the total “Muslim” population in Spain could be approaching 1,200,000, representing 2.5% of the total population in Spain (46,661,950 on 1 January 2009 according to the INE Municipal Register). But we should remember that this way of proceeding has many problems. For example, although there is an important quantity of Nigerians and although we have included them in the table, we should bear in mind that the Muslim population in Nigeria is estimated at 50.4% of the total population, so there is a high probability that the Nigerian population in Spain could be Christian. Therefore, we could say that 1,000,000 would be a very generous estimate of the number of Muslims in Spain.

Nearly 90% of the total “Muslim” population is made up of foreign nationals. Of these, Moroccans, Algerians, Senegalese and Pakistanis together make up 86% of the total. For this reason, we will only speak about Moroccans, Senegalese, Algerians and Pakistanis in order to make an approximation to the “Muslim” population demographic profile.

All of these four communities show a similar tendency in their quantitative evolution. Although the Moroccan community is much larger than the rest, they have all been growing fast since the mid-1990s.


The figures that we have showed until now come from the Municipal Register, which collects data that includes all residents in each municipality, regardless of their legal status (regular and irregular immigrants alike). But, contrary to what is commonly thought, “Muslim” immigration in Spain shows a high percentage of legality. Since 1996 the percentage of legality among Moroccan immigrants has always been higher than 74% and it is currently the highest among the different immigrant communities, of whatever origin. In the next graph we compare the figures of Moroccans in Spain provided by the Municipal Register with those of Moroccan immigrants with a residence permit:


For the rest of the four main communities, the percentage of legality has sometimes been lower, but never less than 50%.

The spatial distribution of “Muslims” in Spain is not homogeneous. The four provinces of Catalonia, especially Barcelona (see map of reference), and the provinces of Madrid, Almeria, Murcia, and the three provinces of the Autonomous Region of Valencia concentrate the majority of the population. But all provinces in Spain have a “Muslim” population, never less than 500 “Muslims”.

Moroccans live mainly in Catalonia —specifically in the province of Barcelona— where more than 30% of the total Moroccan population live; but also in Andalusia —mainly in the province of Almeria— in Madrid, in the Autonomous Region of Valencia —particularly in the province of Alicante— and in Murcia.


More than 30% of Algerians live in the Autonomous Region of Valencia — in the provinces of Alicante and Valencia, especially. Catalonia, Andalusia and Aragon have also a high quantity of Algerians, but much less than Valencia.

Catalonia is also the main destination for Pakistani settlement (much more than anywhere else), with over 60% of the total Pakistani population residing there.

And finally Catalonia also has the highest population of Senegalese (33% of the total population), followed by Andalusia, the Autonomous Region of Valencia and Madrid.
Catalonia is therefore the main centre of “Muslim” settlement in Spain, especially the province of Barcelona with a joint population of Moroccans, Algerians, Senegalese and Pakistani of 178,476 people, representing 15% of the total “Muslim” population in Spain.

In the big cities the “Muslim” population represents a relatively small percentage of the total population. In Barcelona, the city with the biggest resident “Muslim” population (Moroccans, Algerians, Senegalese and Pakistanis number 30,814), they represent a 1.9% of the total population. However, in the small town of Manlleu (also in the province of Barcelona), they represent a 16.8% of the total population (20,505). This tendency can be observed in the rest of Spain. We have Madrid with 0.9% of “Muslim” population, but we also have Humanes de Madrid (a small town near Madrid) with 5.04% of “Muslim” population. We always find the higher concentration of “Muslim” population in agrarian villages like Talayuela (in the province of Caceres, with 9,282 inhabitants) with 25.8% of “Muslim” population, or small cities like El Ejido (with an eminently agrarian economy, in the province of Almeria) with a population of 80,987 inhabitants in which the “Muslim” population represents 19.5% of the total population. ((All figures from INE, Municipal Register, 1 January 2008.))

In big cities like Barcelona or Madrid, the concentration in certain neighbourhoods is higher, but never that high. In Madrid, for example, we find the highest concentration in the Embajadores neighbourhood (in the city centre, with a total population of 49,754 inhabitants), with 9.61% of “Muslim” population (and, incidentally, a very important community of Bangladeshis). ((All figures from Ayuntamiento de Madrid [Madrid City Council], Municipal Register, 1 January 2008, )) The “Muslim” population in big cities tends to be concentrated in deprived neighbourhoods, with a long history of immigration (national and international alike). Here, the concentration of immigrant population (of any origin) is usually very high, giving it a strongly multicultural character.

Moroccans, Algerians, Senegalese and Pakistanis, all show very different age and sex distribution, due to their different immigration history. The Moroccan community is the most long-standing immigrant community in Spain as a result of which it has a more feminine character than the others:


The rest, Senegalese, Algerians and Pakistanis, show the typical pyramids of recent immigrant communities: mainly men of working age. The Moroccan pyramid still has that profile, but it also has a high number of women and children. It also shows the existence of a small quantity of elders, totally absent in the other three communities. In the Moroccan case, this reflects family formation and the stabilization of the community.

Labor Market
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It is the Moroccan community that has more workers affiliated to the Social Security than any other immigrant community: 238,048 (over the 227,690 Romanians). That means that 33.5% of the total Moroccan population is affiliated to the Social Security, a slightly lower rate than the total population average rate (38% affiliated).

Algerians and Senegalese show an even lower rate of affiliation (29% and 28% respectively), but Pakistanis show a rate similar to that of Moroccans (33.8%).

The great majority of “Muslim” workers affiliated to the Social Security are employees. Just a small minority of the affiliated are self-employed (5.9% of Senegalese, 6.3% of Algerians and 6.9% of Moroccans). Only Pakistanis show a different picture, because 15.3% of them are self-employed. ((All figures from Anuario Estadístico de Inmigración [Yearbook of Immigration Statistics], 2008, Madrid, Secretaría de Estado de Inmigración y Emigración, 2009,

The main sector of employment is services. The construction sector has traditionally been an important source of employment for immigrants, and still is, but its importance has heavily decreased owing to the current housing market crisis. This crisis has heavily affected immigrants, of all origins. In the case of Moroccans, Algerians, Pakistanis and Senegalese, their rate of affiliation to the Social Security has decreased since 2007, as we can see in the following tables:

“Muslims” affiliated to the Social Security by sector of employment
[table id=35 /]
[table id=37 /]

Source: Anuario estadístico de inmigración, 2007 and 2008, Secretaría de Estado de Inmigración y Emigración, Ministry of Employment and Immigration. Compiled by Fernando Bravo.

In fact, the current financial crisis has affected “Muslims” working in all sectors. Their presence in services, industry and construction has decreased in the last two years. But, at the same time, the presence of Moroccans, Algerians and Senegalese in agriculture has increased somewhat, possibly on account of having transferred from other sectors.

Within the services sector, Moroccans are preferentially employed in the commerce sub-sector (22,498), and the hospitality industry sub-sector (22,127). On the other hand, within the industry sector they are specially concentrated in the manufacturing industry sub-sector (18,528).

In the case of Algerians, they also are specially concentrated in the services sector and, within it, in the real-estate market sub-sector (1,840) and the commerce sub-sector (1,509). But among sub-sectors, the one where most Algerians are employed is the manufacturing industry (2,017).

Senegalese are also heavily concentrated in the manufacturing industry sub-sector (2,502). Within the services sector, Senegalese are employed in the real-state market sub-sector (1,631) and the commerce sub-sector (1,531).

Finally, Pakistanis are employed specially in the hospitality industry (3,752) and commerce (1,920) sub-sectors.

Apart from these figures, we also have to take into consideration that there might be a relatively high proportion of immigrants working in the “informal sector”, but we have no grounds on which to base speculations in this respect.

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There are no data concerning the housing of the “Muslim” population specifically. We can only infer their situation from the general situation of the immigrant population according to a published survey.

According to the Colectivo IOÉ, 87% of the immigrant population from East Europe, Africa and South America lives in rented accommodation. In other words, the remaining 13% are house owners. Of this 87%, 30% rents an entire house, while 47% lives in subleased houses, in which they only rent a room or share the rent with other people. This is the case especially for newcomers. ((COLECTIVO IOÉ (Carlos Pereda, Walter Actis y Miguel Ángel de Prada) (2005): Inmigración y vivienda en España, Madrid, Observatorio Permanente de la Inmigración, pp. 200-201.))

It is interesting to note that, according to the aforementioned survey, a majority of those polled think that the house they left in their home countries is bigger (84%), more comfortable (81%), and quieter (72%), than the house in which they live now. ((Ibid., p. 203.))

The concentration of immigrant population per neighbourhood depends on the economic situation of the neighbourhood. In the richer neighbourhoods immigrants are scarcely present. However, in the poorer neighbourhoods their concentration is very high. ((Ibid.))

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The presence of “Muslims” in the education system is high. The Moroccan is the largest immigrant community in the education system, especially in pre-school and primary education, where Moroccans represent 22% and 16.4% of the total immigrant population at both educational levels. However the situation is different in terms of secondary education, where Moroccans represent the second-biggest immigrant community (12.6%) after Ecuadorians (17.2% of the total immigrant population in secondary education). The situation is even more alarming at Baccalaureate level, where the Moroccans only represent the fourth-biggest community with 5.4% of the total immigrant population, following Ecuadorians (15.4%), Colombians (9.5%), Romanians (8.8%) and Argentineans (6%). At the level of vocational training, the situation is slightly better: Moroccans are the third-biggest community (11.3%), after Ecuadorians (15.6%) and Colombians (11.4%). In the Social Guaranty Program (a vocational training program designed for people who have completed their secondary education without achieving the academic objectives corresponding to that level), Moroccans have the highest percentage (29.5%), far from the 16.8% of Ecuadorians. Therefore, while Moroccans and Ecuadorians have a similar population in the education system, Moroccans are worse off once they pass the primary-education level.

“Muslims” in the education system
(Not university level. As compared with other communities)

[table id=34 /]

Source: Estadísticas Enseñanzas no Universitarias – Resultados Detallados – Curso 2007-2008, Ministry of Education, Compiled by Fernando Bravo.
* FP: Formación Profesional (Vocational training).
** Prog. GS: Social Guaranty Program.

The rest of the “Muslim” communities are scarcely represented in the education system because, as we saw earlier, their population of under-16 year-olds is very small. The Senegalese, despite having a smaller population within the educational system than that of Algerians, Argentineans, Chinese and Pakistanis, represent a higher percentage of the immigrant population in the Program of Social Guaranty.

Apart from the figures already shown, it may be said that the great majority of the immigrant population (including, of course, “Muslims”) attend public schools (82.7%), public schools representing 73% of the total number of schools in Spain. ((

State and Church
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Legally speaking, Spain is neutral vis-à-vis Religious confessions. Its 1978 Constitution established that “no religion shall have a state character. The public authorities shall take into account the beliefs of Spanish society and shall consequently maintain appropriate cooperation relations with the Catholic Church and other confessions” (section 16.3).

It is also stated that “freedom of ideology, religion and worship is guaranteed, to individuals and communities with no other restriction on their expression than may be necessary to maintain public order as protected by law” (section 16.1). So Spain is constitutionally a secular State where freedom of religion and thought is both recognised and protected.

In addition to what the constitution stipulates, in 1980 a Religious Liberty Law was approved. The Religious Liberty Law develops what the Constitution already says. It stipulates, for example, the necessity for religious communities to be registered at the Ministry of Justice’s Registry of Religious Entities in order to be recognised by the State as entities with “legal personality”. Among other things, following the constitutional command to “maintain appropriate cooperation” with religious confessions, it also established that the State “shall establish, as appropriate, Cooperation Agreements or Conventions with the Churches, Faiths or Religious Communities enrolled in the Registry where warranted by their notorious influence in Spanish society, due to their domain or number of followers” (article 7.1).

This “notorious influence” is what in the original text is called “notorio arraigo”. “Notorio arraigo” is a status given by the State to a religious confession that recognises that it is deeply rooted in Spain. It is a legal artifice that, in practice, discriminates some religions in their relationship with the State. Their lack of recognition by the State prevents them from enjoying the “same benefits and privileges as other groups with ‘deeply rooted status’”. ((See “International Religious Freedom Report 2009”,

In other words, it is only confessions with “notorio arraigo” that can sign an agreement of cooperation with the State. In practice only four confessions have done so: the Catholic Church, The Islamic Commission of Spain (CIE), the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE), and the Federation of Religious Evangelical Entities of Spain (FEREDE). The Catholic Church signed the agreement in 1979, the others in 1992. ((See the agreements (in Spanish) in the Ministry of Justice web page.))

No agreement of cooperation exists for the other confessions, although some of them have been recognised by the State as religions with “notorio arraigo”. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (in 2003), Jehova’s Witnesses and Buddhists (in 2007), have won recognition as confessions with “notorio arraigo”, but they have not signed an agreement of cooperation with the State similar to that of Muslims, Jews and Evangelicals. That turns their recognition as confession with “notorio arraigo” into dead letter. In addition, the confessions that have not won recognition as confessions with “notorio arraigo” are in an even worse situation of disadvantage.

However, neither recognition of “notorio arraigo” nor the establishment of an agreement of cooperation with the State guarantees actual cooperation, not even the practical recognition of the rights that the agreements stipulate. It was not until recently that the main articles of the agreements of cooperation were put into practice and true cooperation between the State and the Muslim, Evangelical and Jewish communities began.

In all events, the Catholic Church has always received preferential treatment at the hands of the State. In the symbolic sphere in particular, Catholicism has a heavy presence. Institutions like the Crown, some town halls, some public schools, or some public hospitals, although they are State institutions and despite the neutrality the Constitution mandates, publicly identify themselves with Catholicism and its symbols. The presence of Catholic churchmen (and Catholic churchmen only) in institutional ceremonies, and the presence of representatives of State institutions in Catholic ceremonies (and in Catholic ceremonies only) is commonplace.

Muslim in Politics
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The presence of Muslims in politics is very small. There is a member of the Catalonian Parliament, member of the Socialist Party, Mohammed Chaib. There are city councillors in the Assembly of the Autonomous city of Ceuta, both in the Socialist Party and the Popular Party, ((See a list of the members of the Assembly: and also in the Assembly of the Autonomous city of Melilla. ((See )) There is also a Muslim city councillor (member of the Popular Party) in a small town in Seville: Gines. ((

In October 2099 the first Islamic party of Spain was created in Granada:
the Party of Renaissance and Union of Spain (PRUNE). After its creation
the party opened delegations in other parts of Spain, but it has very
few supporters. Its importance within the Islamic community in Spain is
negligible. ((See

Muslim Organizations
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The first Muslim organizations were created in the cities of Ceuta and Melilla (the Spanish autonomous cities in the North of Africa). ((On the contemporary history of Islam in Spain see PLANET CONTRERAS, ANA I. (1998): Ceuta y Melilla. Espacios-frontera hispano-marroquíes, Melilla y Ceuta, Ciudad Autónoma de Melilla, Ciudad Autónoma de Ceuta, UNED-Melilla, pp. 107-114; PLANET CONTRERAS, ANA I. (2001): “Un colectivo islámico en la España de hoy. Del sucursalismo a la desobediencia: musulmanes y comportamientos políticos en Melilla”, Anales de Historia Contemporánea, nº 17, pp. 485-500; LÓPEZ GARCÍA, BERNABÉ y PLANET CONTRERAS, ANA I. (2002): “Islam in Spain”, in HUNTER, SHIREEN T. (ed.): Islam, Europe’s second religion. The new social, cultural, and political landscape, Westport (Connecticut), Praeger, pp. 157-174; PLANET CONTRERAS, ANA I. (2008): “Islam e inmigración: elementos para un análisis y propuestas de gestión”, in PLANET CONTRERAS, ANA I. and MORERAS, JORDI (eds.): Islam e inmigración, Madrid, Centro de Estudios Políticos y Constitucionales, pp. 9-52; ARIGITA, ELENA (2006): “Representing Islam in Spain: Muslim Identities and the Contestation of Leadership”, The Muslim World, vol 96, nº 4, pp. 563-584; MORERAS, JORDI (2002): “Muslims in Spain: between the historical heritage and the minority construction”, The Muslim World, vol 92, nº 1-2, pp. 129-142.)) The first one that registered at the Ministry of Justice’s Registry of Religious Entities was the Muslim Association of Melilla in 1968 (right after the promulgation of the Franquist Religious Liberty Law of 1967). Soon after that, in 1971, the Mohamadia-Mahoma Muslim Zawiya of Ceuta also registered.

On the other hand, a little earlier, the Jamaat Ahmadia of Islam in Spain was created in Pedro Abad, in the province of Córdoba (Andalusia), followed by the creation a year later in Madrid of the Muslim Association of Spain (AME). Both associations were founded by students who had arrived in Spain in the 1960s and 1970s from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt, as a result of the rapprochement policy between the Franquist and the Middle East countries during that period.

Later on, after Franco’s death and the establishment of democracy, but one year before the promulgation of the Religious Liberty Law of 1980, the Muslim Community of Spain was registered at the Ministry of Justice’s Registry. This association was created in Madrid and was led by Álvaro Machordom Comins.

Right after the promulgation of the Religious Liberty Law, new Muslim associations came into being. A good many of them were led and made up by converts that played an important role during the first years of the process of institutionalization of Islam in Spain. However, already in the early 1980s some associations made up by immigrant communities began to be organized. It is the case, among others, of the Autonomous Muslim Association of Jaen and Province, registered at the Ministry’s Registry in 1983, with headquarters in the town of Linares and created by Pakistani immigrants employed at the mining industry.

After the promulgation of the Religious Liberty Law, the first steps were taken with a view to signing Agreements of Cooperation between the Spanish State and the Jewish, Evangelical and Muslim confessions.

The first condition required by law in order to sign such agreements was that those confessions had the recognition of “notorio arraigo”. In the case of Islam, the Advisory Commission on Religious Freedom approved the recognition of Islam as a deeply rooted confession on 14 July 1989. By that time, Protestants and Jews had already achieved this status.

But the signing of the agreements was subject to the existence of a single representative of Islam in Spain, a condition laid down by the Spanish government. To this end, days before the recognition of Islam as a confession with “notorio arraigo” in Spain, the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities (FEERI) was created. It was composed originally of nine Islamic religious associations with headquarters in Madrid, Granada, Seville, Almeria, Ceuta and Melilla.

A few months after, the Muslim Association of Spain (the same association that in April 1989 had submitted an official request to the Government for the recognition of Islam as a confession with “notorio arraigo”) created the Union of Islamic Communities of Spain (UCIDE).

The State’s insistence on the presence of a single interlocutor coupled with the lack of harmony between the two federations (FEERI and UCIDE) —something that continues today—, resulted in the need to create an Islamic Commission of Spain (CIE) as an interlocutor with the State. The two federations were kept as independent entities within the CIE and the leading posts within the Commission were distributed equally between them. There are therefore two General Secretaries, one for each federation, and four speakers, two from each of the Federations. In fact the two federations operate independently and the CIE meets only when dialogue with the State is needed.

In April 1992, the cooperation agreement between the Spanish State and the Islamic Commission of Spain was signed, but until recently it has not been put in practice. Islam was not an issue to care about. The bombings on 11 March 2004 were, paradoxically, the incentive for the State to have a higher grade of cooperation with the Islamic community in Spain. The conviction that the bombings were inspired by some uncontrolled radical imam in some “clandestine” mosque pushed the Government to initiate a new policy concerning the Islamic community. ((For several months after the bombings, the Government was under heavy pressure to control mosques and what was said there. See, for example, (2004): “José Antonio Alonso, Ministro del Interior: «Es necesaria una ley para poder controlar a los imames de las pequeñas mezquitas»”, El País, 2 May; (2004): “La Comisión Islámica califica de disparate el control de los imames”, El País, 3 May; (2004): “El Gobierno quiere llevar la ley de control de imames radicales al Pacto Antiterrorista”, El País, 4 May; (2004): “El Gobierno carece de un registro de imames y de mezquitas para controlar a los islamistas”, El País, 5 May; (2004): “El Gobierno estudia una reforma legal para el control de mezquitas e imames”, El País, 8 May; See also the 6 May 2004 op-ed piece “Interior de las mezquitas”, also in El País.))

Soon it became clear that the Registry of Religious Entities at the Ministry of Justice was inefficient in terms of providing a clear picture of the number of mosques in Spain and their location (because registry is not compulsory, nor the data update). So, in order to encourage the inscription of mosques and religious associations in the Registry, the Government initiated a policy of funding projects made by religious communities (not just Islamic, but any religious community affiliated to any of the Federations that signed an agreement of cooperation with the State). In order to pursue that aim, the Government created the Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation [Fundación Pluralismo y Convivencia]. Now the State funds projects implemented by individual religious communities, which does to some extent remedy their disadvantage with respect to the privileged status of the Catholic Church, which receives state funds directly (not linked to the execution of any specific project).

The result of all that has been an important increase in the number of Islamic “entities” registered at the Ministry’s Registry (see maps below). So, while there has been an important change in recent years, it has occurred mainly as a result of security concerns, and only secondarily to repair the discrimination that minorities have suffered in Spain.

During these years in which the State has sought a more frequent dialogue with the representatives of the Muslim community in Spain, the lack of representativeness of the Islamic Commission of Spain (CIE) has become clear. ((On the situation of the Islamic Commission of Spain see ARIGITA: “Representing Islam in Spain”. On the foundation of new regional federations see the case of Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha in LÓPEZ GARCÍA, BERNABÉ, et al. (2007): Arraigados. Minorías religiosas en la Comunidad de Madrid, Madrid, Icaria; GARCÍA ORTIZ, PUERTO, et al. (2009): “Comunidades islámicas”, in GARCÍA ORTIZ, PUERTO y HERNANDO DE LARRAMENDI MARTÍNEZ, MIGUEL (eds.): minorías religiosas en Castilla-La Mancha, Barcelona y Madrid, Icaria y Fundación Pluralismo y Convivencia, pp. 245-278.)) Those communities that feel dissatisfied with the management of the CIE, or do not feel represented by it, have begun to create their own federations, some of them with a marked regional character. In December 2009, a total of 23 Islamic Federative Entities were registered in the Register of Religious Entities of the Ministry of Justice. Besides FEERI, UCIDE, and the CIE itself, and also the 10 regional federations that UCIDE has created during the last years (in Ceuta, Aragon, Valencia, Madrid, the Basque Country, Extremadura, Murcia, Catalonia, Castile-Leon and in Castile-La Mancha), the following federations are registered: Islamic Commission of Melilla, Islamic Council of Valencia, Islamic Federation of the Autonomous Region of the Balearic Islands, Muslim Federation of Spain (FEME), Islamic Federation of Murcia, Higher Islamic Council of the Autonomous Region of Valencia (CISCOVA), Federation of Muslim Communities of Castile-La Mancha, Spanish Islamic Federation of Catalonia (FICDE), and the more recently created Federation of Sub-Saharan Muslim Communities for Dialogue, Culture and Rights (FEDICD), and the Islamic Centre of Catalonia.

With the exception of the Islamic Commission of Melilla, established in 1989 and composed of four communities (Muslim Religious Association, Muslim Religious Council, Muslim Community of Melilla and Association Badr), all these associations came into being after 2005 (especially in 2008 and 2009). The creation of these federations is mainly explained by the lack of representativeness of FEERI and UCIDE and its inoperability in search of a better dialogue with the regional administrations. Among the reasons that have led to the creation of these new federations the existence of different ideological positions cannot be ignored.

In late 2006 the Platform of Islamic Federations of Spain was created, as the product of the junction of five of the aforementioned federations. The Platform seeks to end the dominion that FEERI and UCIDE exert over the CIE. In order to pursue that aim, the Platform has proposed changing the CIE statutes, in order to allow new actors to join. That factor has made the operation of the CIE increasingly difficult, even more since FEERI is immersed in an internal crisis since 2000. The five federations that comprise the Platform are the Islamic Federation of Murcia, Spanish Islamic Federation of Catalonia, the Higher Islamic Council of the Autonomous Region of Valencia, The Muslim Federation of Spain, and the Islamic Federation of the Autonomous Region of the Balearic Islands.

As FEERI and UCIDE couldn’t achieve an agreement to allow other Islamic
communities to join the Islamic Commission of Spain (CIE), in April 2011
representatives of 870 Muslim associations decided to create the Islamic
Council of Spain, which included those communities with no
representation in the CIE. The new Islamic Council included nearly 93%
of the 916 Islamic religious entities registered at the Ministry of Justice.

The new Islamic Council included a managing board formed by the
President of the UCIDE, Riay Tatary; 3 members of the Muslim Federation
of Spain (FEME); the Vice-President of Murcia’s Islamic federation,
Munir Benjelloun; and the head of Valencia’s Islamic Cultural Centre,
Amparo Sánchez. ((See

Apart from the traditional rivalry between FEERI and UCIDE another factor of instability has appeared: the growing influence of al Ahd wal Ihssan [Justice and Spirituality, the Moroccan Islamist movement] among Moroccan communities in Spain. In the past few years, Justice and Spirituality has gained enough strength to challenge current Moroccan control over FEERI. Morocco, meanwhile, has tried to influence the Spanish Government presenting itself as the sole guardian of moderate Islam, and Justice and Spirituality as a radical group and a threat to Spain. It has also tried to extend its control over imams in Spain, and has tried to convince the Spanish Government that a Moroccan-controlled body of imams would be a guaranty of moderation. In this line Morocco convened a meeting of imams working in Spain. It took place in Marrakech in November 2008. (( See CEMBRERO, IGNACIO (2008): “Marruecos convoca a más de cien imanes afincados en España”, El País, 7 November; PAGOLA, JON (2009): “Fieles a Mohamed VI e islamistas pugnan por el control de los musulmanes en España”, ABC, 1 November.))

Islamic Education
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The Agreement of Cooperation between the Spanish State and the Islamic Commission of Spain states (as do the agreements with Jews and Evangelicals) that, as the Education Law includes the right of having access to religious education in public and private-concerted schools, (( Private-concerted schools are private schools that receive public funding.)) Islamic religion must be taught where parents ask for it (article 10).

The Agreement also states that Islamic religion will be taught by teachers appointed by communities belonging to the Islamic Commission. The subject contents as well as textbooks will be also chosen by the communities belonging to the Islamic Commission.

It is also stated that the Islamic Commission could create its own schools, as well as universities and Islamic training centres.

However, the Agreement has not been implemented to any significant degree. Islam is taught in few schools. For example, in Catalonia and Madrid, where the majority of Muslim population lives, there is not a single teacher of Islam. ((See AYLLÓN, DANIEL (2009): “El islam tiene 46 maestros para 150.000 alumnos”, Pú, 6 September.))

As we can see in the following table, the teaching of Islamic religion lessons in Spanish schools is practically non-existent.

[table id=38 /]

Source: Ministry of Education and Different Autonomous Regions with competence on education matters. I wish to thank the Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation for providing me with this table.

The Ministry of Justice, through the Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation, has tried to facilitate the development of this right by stimulating the publication of two Islamic religion textbooks for primary: Descubrir el islam 1 & 2. Both books have been written under the supervision of the Islamic Commission.

Security and Anti-Terrorism Issues
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Despite the terrible attacks of 11 March 2004 (11-M), Spain has not introduced new anti-terrorist legislation. However, a great many terrorist suspects have been arrested and imprisoned.
The most important trial of jihadists targetted those involved in the 11-M attacks.

The trial of the 28 defendants lasted 4 months. ((“El juicio por los atentados del 11 de marzo en Madrid queda visto para sentencia”, Europa press, )) The judge finally convicted 3 of the 8 chief defendants to prison terms of 35,000 to 40,000 years. The rest received far lower penalties. (((2007): “España: fallo judicial por el 11-M”,, 31 October; Romero, MANUEL & YOLDI, JOSÉ (2007): “El tribunal culpa a una célula islamista del 11-M, descarta a ETA y desmonta los bulos amparados por el PP”, El País, 31 October.))
There has also been a trial against an al-Qaeda terrorist cell linked to the 9/11 attacks. In this trial the defendant “Abu Dahdah” was sentenced to 27 years in prison. (((2005): “La Audiencia Nacional condena a 27 años de cárcel a «Abu Dahdah» por dirigir la célula española de Al Qaeda”, ABC, 26 September.))

Other trials have been held against terrorist cells or supposed terrorist cells. In 2007 the Spanish National Court (Audiencia Nacional) sentenced 5 members of the so-called “Dixan commando” to 13 years’ imprisonment. (((2007): “La Audiencia Nacional condena a 13 años de cárcel a cinco miembros del ‘comando Dixan’”, El País, 9 February.)) Recently, 10 Pakistanis and one Indian received prison sentences of up to 14 years after being found guilty of planning to bomb the Barcelona underground. (((2009): “Condenados a penas de hasta 14 años los 11 islamistas que planearon volar el metro de Barcelona”, El País, 14 December.))

According to one estimate, nearly 50% of those accused of being members of jihadist cells in Spain have been found not guilty. 89 people have been tried since 2005 by the Spanish National Court, of whom 42 were acquitted. Similarly, the final sentences meted out have always been less severe than the penalties called for by the prosecutor. (((2009): “Absueltos casi el 50% de los acusados por terrorismo islamista desde 2005 en España”,, 11 April.))

As we saw earlier, concern over terrorism and security has also guided the implementation of measures to improve relations between the State and Muslim communities. This policy has paved the way for a more fluid dialogue between State representatives and those of the Muslim communities. It also led to the implementation of the Cooperation Agreements.

Islamic Practice
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In May 2004 there were 235 Muslim Religious Entities ((In Spanish law a “religious entity” is a religious organization with legal personality recognised by the Ministry of Justice. That designation includes religious communities, associations and federations. Therefore, it should not be confused with the number of mosques. All mosques in the Ministry’s Register are religious entities, but not all religious entities are mosques.)) registered at the Ministry of Justice’s Registry of Religious Entities. (( At the end of 2008 there were 641. This does not mean that they were all were created in those four years. Many were, but many others had been created before. The new policy of cooperation between the State and the Muslim communities through the Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation has generated greater interest in registering at the Ministry’s Registry.

According to the Agreements of Cooperation between the Spanish State and the Islamic Commission of Spain, ((Acuerdo de cooperación del Estado Español con la Comisión Islámica de España (aprobado por la Ley 26/1992 de 10 de noviembre, BOE de 12 de noviembre).)) mosques are inviolable spaces (article 2.2) and they cannot be forcibly expropriated without the Islamic Commission being heard. In addition, they cannot be demolished without their holy character being previously removed, and their archives and documents are protected by law.

Mosques in Spain are predominantly small spaces. They are usually located in garages or warehouses on the outskirts of the towns because communities do not easily find better places or because local authorities or/and neighbours are opposed to mosques being opened in town centres.

There are very few big newly built mosques in Spain, only four: two in Madrid (Abu Bakr Mosque and the Islamic Cultural Centre of Madrid), one in Valencia (Islamic Cultural Centre of Valencia) and another one in Granada.

There are projects for building new big mosques in Seville and Barcelona, but they are still at the work-in-progress stage. The Seville project has met with serious opposition from neighbours. ((RINCÓN, REYES (2008): “La mezquita de Sevilla se queda otra vez sin suelo por un error municipal”, El País, 17 October.)) Opposition to the construction and opening of mosques is common in Spain. There have been important cases, especially in Catalonia. ((See MORERAS, JORDI (2008): “¿Conflictos por el reconocimiento? Las polémicas en torno a los oratorios musulmanes en Cataluña”, en PLANET CONTRERAS, ANA I. y MORERAS, JORDI (eds.): Islam e inmigración, Madrid, Centro de Estudios Políticos y Constitucionales, pp. 53-79.))

Recently (15 July 2009) the Catalonian Parliament approved a law regulating places of worship in an attempt to solve the problems that religious minorities (not just Muslims) face when they try to open a new place of worship. ((See



There are 24 Islamic burial sites in Spain. The majority (14) are special spaces within public cemeteries. There is also an important proportion of Civil War Islamic cemeteries, created during the Spanish Civil War to bury the Moroccan soldiers that fought on Franco’s side. Of those Civil War cemeteries, some are not in use anymore, but others are still being used by the Muslim communities in Spain. The cemetery in Griñón (near Madrid) is one of those.

There are also two private Islamic cemeteries, property of two Muslim communities and used just by them.


*The Civil War Islamic cemetery in Griñón (Madrid) Source:

The Agreement of Cooperation states that Islamic cemeteries will enjoy the same legal rights as mosques. Muslim communities are entitled to a special place in public cemeteries, as well as to having their own cemeteries. They also have the right to be buried according to Islamic burial rites (article 2.5).


Halal Slaughter

According to the Agreement of Cooperation the Islamic Commission of Spain has the right to have food slaughtered according to the Islamic rite and labelled as “halal”, but Islamic slaughter must respect the public health laws. It is also stated that public institutions such as hospitals, schools and the army must do their best to provide Muslims with halal food when required (article 14).

Apart from what the Agreement states and before it was signed, the Islamic Junta, an Islamic organization joined mainly by converts, created the Halal Institute in 1986 to provide Muslims with food labelled as halal.


The Agreement of Cooperation states (article 12) that the members of communities belonging to the Islamic Commission have the right to ask to stop work on Fridays in order to attend the mosque (between 13:00 and 18:30). They also have the right to finish work an hour before sunset during the month of Ramadan. However they will have to recover the lost hours.

If an agreement is reached between employees and employer, Muslims could replace the common holidays among the non-Muslim population with the following Islamic holidays: Al-Hiyra (1st. Muharram), Ashura (10th Muharram), Idu al-Maulid (12th Rabiu al-Awwal), Al-Isra wa al-Mi’ray (27th Rayab), Idu al-Fitr (1st, 2nd, 3rd Shawwal), Idu al-Adha (10th, 11th, 12th Du Al Hyyah)

The same holds true for students in public schools.

Ceuta and Melilla, the Spanish Autonomous Cities in North Africa, were the first Spanish cities to officially recognise an Islamic celebration: the Eid al-Kabir. ((See (2008): “El Aid El Kebir de 2010 también será día festivo en Ceuta”,; Cembrero, Ignacio: “La fiesta del Cordero será oficial”, El País, 30 November.))

As an important Shi’i community lives in Barcelona, the City Council has also allowed the celebration of Ashura with a procession through some streets. ((See (2009): “Los chiíes de Barcelona celebran la Ashura con permiso del Ayuntamiento”, ABC, 9 January.))


Islamic marriage is recognised by the State as legal if the bride and groom fulfil the legal requisites established by Spanish law (Agreement, article 7).

There are no statistics about Islamic marriages taking place in Spain, but we can make an approximation to the issue by showing the statistics of marriages that have taken place between Spanish and nationals from countries identified with Islam, and between nationals from countries identified with Islam.

[table id=33 /]

Source: National Statistics Institute (INE: Compiled by Fernando Bravo.

As we can see, there are more marriages between Spanish and Moroccans than marriages between Moroccans. This is an indication that marriages of Moroccan residents in Spain probably and preferably take place in Morocco, not in Spain. The same probably holds true for Senegalese, Algerians and Pakistanis.


Unlike France, there is no legal ban on the wearing of the hijab in Spain. Controversies have nonetheless been aired in the media when certain schools tried to prevent Muslim girls wearing the headscarf. These few cases have been few and far between. ((On the issue of the hijab in Spain see MIJARES, LAURA y RAMÍREZ, ÁNGELES (2008): “Mujeres, pañuelo e islamofobia en España: un estado de la cuestión”, Anales de Historia Contemporánea, nº 24, pp. 121-135.))

In all events, the media discourse in Spain concerning the hijab has been highly influenced by the polemics in France, more than by actual problems in Spain.

Recently controversy was sparked in the media concerning the case of a judge who refused to allow a Muslim witness to wear the niqab and a lawyer to wear the hijab. The case of the lawyer has been especially controversial since she has appealed to the Spanish High Court of Justice in order to have the right to wear it during the proceedings. ((CEBERIO, MÓNICA (2010): “El supremo decidirá sobre el uso del ‘hiyab’ en los juicios”, El País, 15 January.))

Media Coverage, Intellectual and Political Discourse
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There is no exhaustive study of Spanish media coverage of Islam and Muslims, although there are partial studies enabling us to make an estimation of this coverage in recent years.

If we use the following graph as a sample of this coverage, we could conclude that interest in Islam and Muslims is relatively recent.

El País and ABC are two of Spain’s leading newspapers. Both are addressed to a wide range of readers, albeit on different sides of the ideological spectrum: liberal in the case of El Pais, conservative in the case of ABC. Different as they are ideologically, they show a very similar tendency in the grade of attention they have paid to Islam.

Appearance frequency of the word “Islam” in two of the main Spanish newspapers

As we can see, they have always paid attention to Islam mainly during International crisis as the Iranian Revolution, the war in Former Yugoslavia, the Algerian Civil War, and above all after 9/11. We can easily identify each crisis by the peaks in the graph. So we can draw the following conclusions: Islam is mainly associated with violence, wars and international conflicts.

We cannot discern how many news items deal with the issue of immigration or Muslims in Spain because concern over this issues only became really apparent after 9/11. In the graph they are easily confused with news about, for example, terrorism, war in Iraq, etc.

Before 9/11 the media paid little attention to Islam. El País, as we can see, paid a little more attention to it during the Civil War in Yugoslavia and Algeria, but nothing compared to what happened after 9/11. Before that, the issue “Muslims in Spain” was dealt with in the context of a broader concern with the issue “Immigration”. Islam still was not a main issue. The main concern was irregular immigration and the integration of immigrants. And when media, politicians and intellectuals spoke about the integration of Muslim immigrants, they almost invariably spoke broadly about their “culture of origin”, not specifically about Islam. The objects of concern were Maghrebis, not Muslims. Few people thought of Maghrebis as Muslims, but as “moros” or Moors (an ethnic rather than religious category). During those years negative discourse about the presence of Maghrebi immigrants in Spain was part of a broader backlash against multiculturalism. ((See ZAPATA-BARRERO, RICARD; GONZÁLEZ, ELISABET and SÁNCHEZ MONTIJANO, ELENA (2008): El discurso político en torno a la inmigración en España y en la Unión Europea, Madrid, Ministerio de Trabajo e Inmigración y Observatorio Permanente de la Inmigración; BRAVO LÓPEZ, FERNANDO (2002): Los partidos políticos parlamentarios españoles ante la inmigración (1999-2002), DEA Tesis, Department of Arab and Islamic Studies, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid; ABELLA, CARLOS MANUEL (2005): Los discursos mediáticos acerca de la inmigración y el multiculturalismo en España: análisis de los editoriales de ABC, El Mundo y El País, 1994-2002, PhD Tesis, Department of Theory and Method of Social Analysis, Universidad de la Coruña, La Coruña.))

However this attitude against multiculturalism very soon led to a negative attitude against Islam and Muslims, even more after 9/11. But it was especially after the publication of La sociedad multiétnica [The Multiethnic Society] in early 2001 by Italian political scientist Giovanni Sartori, when a national debate on multiculturalism and the integration of Muslims in Spain began. Sartori argued against multiculturalism and identified it as a threat to democracy. He also considered that European States should discriminate against immigrants on the basis of their “culture of origin” and give preference to the arrival of those immigrants with a culture similar to that of the host country. According to Sartori, the entrance of Muslim immigrants should be avoided because it was so difficult to integrate them. ((SARTORI, GIOVANNI (2001): La sociedad multiétnica. Pluralismo, multiculturalismo y extranjeros, Madrid, Taurus.))

The book was broadly discussed in newspapers and heavily influenced politicians, especially –but not only- in the Popular Party, then in power. For example, Enrique Fernández Miranda, who in those days was Secretary of State on Immigration, publicly manifested that he agreed with Sartori on the issue of multiculturalism. ((BRAVO LÓPEZ: Los partidos políticos parlamentarios, pp. 69-71)) It also inspired Federico Trillo, Ministry of Defence in 2002, when he argued in favour of the inclusion of South American immigrants in the Army, “because they are of our culture”, and against the inclusion of immigrants of other “cultures” (although Muslim soldiers are already part of the Spanish army). ((Ibid., pp. 72-73.))

As we said before, after 9/11 the national debate on immigration, integration and multiculturalism, swiftly came to focus on Islam and Muslims. The debate oscillated between those who equated Islam with terrorism and was therefore a threat to the “west”, and those who tried to avoid such identifications.

The situation worsened after the attacks of 11 March 2004 in Madrid. Despite the pain, people remained calm and there were few racist or Islamophobic attacks. However, in the media the situation was different. It was not long before op-ed pieces of an Islamophobic character began to appear. In the following months, there was an ongoing debate on the nature of Islam, its supposed violent and intolerant character, and the need for the State to control mosques and what imams said there. ((See some examples of Islamophobic op-ed pieces in the Spanish media in NAVARRO, LAURA (2008): Contra el islam. La visión deformada del mundo árabe en Occidente, Córdoba, Almuzara; BRAVO LÓPEZ, FERNANDO (2009): Islamofobia y antisemitismo: la construcción discursiva de las amenazas islámica y judía, PhD Tesis, Department of Arab and Islamic Studies, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid. See also BRAVO LÓPEZ, FERNANDO (2009): “Islamofobia y antimusulmanismo en España: el caso de César Vidal”, Revista de Estudios Internacionales Mediterráneos, nº 8, pp. 47-71.))


*D7 ABC cover, 2 December 2007. Source:

In the past two years the situation in the media seems to have calmed down. As seen in the previous graph, the attention paid to Islam by two of Spain’s leading newspapers has returned to pre-9/11 levels. However, given the current economic crisis, immigration has again become a major concern, in the media as well as among politicians.

For example, the municipal authorities in a small city in the province of Barcelona, Vic, recently decided to prevent the registration of irregular immigrants in the Municipal Register. After some controversy, the city hall backtracked and decided to obey the laws in force. The controversy has been used by the Popular Party to call for a reformation in the legislation on immigration and a “integration contract” for immigrants. ((See (2010): “Los alcaldes del PP exigen una reforma de la Ley de Extranjería”, El País, 25 January; (2010): “El PP retoma la creación de un «contrato de integración» para inmigrantes”, ABC, 23 January.)) This “integration contract” was proposed by the Popular Party in its 2008 electoral campaign (sparking a great deal of controversy). It was argued that the contract was necessary to make immigrants obey laws, learn the language and respect Spanish customs. ((See (2008): “Rajoy promete a los inmigrantes un «contrato de integración» si gana las elecciones”, ABC, 6 February.))

Public Perception of Islam, Bias and Discrimination
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In September 2007 the Spanish Centre of Sociological Research (CIS) published the results of a national survey on Attitudes toward discrimination based on a racial and ethnic origin. (( See (2007): “Actitudes ante la discriminación por origen racial y étnico”, 19 September, Similar data can be found in (2009): “Actitudes hacia la inmigración (II)”, 20 September,, and also in DESRUES, THIERRY and PÉREZ YRUELA, MANUEL (eds.) (2007): Opinión de los españoles en materia de racismo y xenofobia. 2007, Madrid, Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales.)) Those polled were asked whether they thought there were ethnic, religious or cultural groups that “did not mix with the rest of society”, and which groups sprang to mind. 15.7% of those polled said “Moroccans, Maghrebis, Algerians”, 18.2% “Muslims, Mohammedans”, 11.1% “Arabs” and 7.9% “moros” or Moors. If we put together all these different identifications under the label “Muslims”, then the result is that 52.9% of those polled thought that Muslims did not “mix with the rest of society”, a far cry from the 18.3% that said “Romanians”, and the 17.2% that said “gypsies”.

The situation has not changed much in the last decade. Already at the beginning of 2001 the CIS “barometer” showed similar data: For those polled, Maghrebis (there were no questions about “Muslims”) were the less likeable community among immigrants. ((See

Again, in 2007 the Real Instituto Elcano (a think-tank that declares itself to be independent but that has strong links with the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs) published a survey in which the results showed that 96% of those polled thought that Muslims were sexist, 90% thought that that they were authoritarian, 68% that they were violent, and 37% of them had a “negative opinion of Muslim religion”. (( NOYA, JAVIER (2007): “Los españoles y el islam”, Real Instituto Elcano. ARI, nº 47, pp. 13-17.))

This has probably triggered incidences of discrimination against the Muslim population, but we have no data in this respect. As the Constitution states, no-one in Spain can be obliged to declare his religious beliefs, and statistics for discrimination complaints do not collect religious affiliation of the victims, nor their national or ethnic origin. In addition, it is difficult to determine whether an act of discrimination or an aggression has been motivated by the victim’s religious, ethnic or national identity. An explicit confession of the perpetrator is needed in order to elucidate this point.

We can also reach a conclusion about the perpetrator’s motivation if his action has a symbolic component. In that sense, currents of opposition to the opening of mosques, to which we alluded earlier, might well have an Islamophobic component. But, even in those cases, we cannot always conclude that this is necessarily the case, because we also find similar situations when Evangelical churches or Jehovah’s Witnesses’ temples are going to be opened. We can also identify symbolic actions of an anti-Islamic character when we find, for example, swastikas painted on the walls of an Islamic cemetery or a mosque.


*A crossed-out Swastika on the walls of the Islamic cemetery at Griñón (Madrid). December 2009. Photo by Fernando Bravo.

But we can also identify Islamophobic actions perpetrated against institutions and people that have no relation with Islam. For example, in May 2008 the Spanish National Front (an extreme-right party) organized a demonstration in front of Casa Árabe [Arabic House, a cultural institution dependent on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs], because they identified it as an Islamic cultural centre. ((See FIGUERAS, AMANDA (2008): “El Tribunal Supremo de Justicia de Madrid autoriza una manifestación contra Casa Árabe”,, 14 May.))


*National Front poster on the demonstration at Casa Árabe with the Mayor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz Gallardon, wearing a fez and saying: “An Islamic Cultural Centre is exactly what this neighbourhood needs and that’s that!” Source:

In all events, as shown in a recent study by the Institute of Advanced Social Studies (IESA-CSIC), ((The study is still unpublished. It was based on discussion groups.)) there is a lot of ignorance about Islam in Spain. Most people know nothing about Islam, and they cannot even elaborate a negative discourse about it. Negative attitudes toward Muslims used to be based on the traditional aversion towards “moros”, based on traditional racist stereotypes: “the Moor is dirty”, “the Moor is a liar”, “the Moor is a thief”, “the Moor is lazy”, etc.

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Islam in Madrid

written by Rita Gomes Faria

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The capital of Spain has a population of 3,287,630. The 17.4 percent (574,869) is of foreign origin. As there are no census or official records of the religious faith of the population living in Spain, one way to estimate the number of Muslim population is by approaching the statistics about foreign population coming from countries that have a majority of Muslim population. ((We defined a country as of Muslim majority according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (2009))) So, in this text, when we refer to Muslim population we shall be referring to national origins, and most often to those that have a significant presence. One should be careful though, as this communities are settling for a growing length of time and are changing their nationality by naturalizing as Spaniards, children are being born in Spain who may continue to be Muslim but of Spanish nationality, a person may have been born in a Muslim majority country and profess a minority religion, and, finally, Spanish conversions to Islam are almost impossible to quantify.

Holding this in mind we may start by saying that today the major population of Muslim faith comes from Morocco, although it was not so in the early 1970’s. In those days many students arrived from the Middle East – Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon – to study medicine at the Spanish Universities, and they were the ones to create in Madrid the first Muslim association, the Asociación Musulmana de España, in the year 1971. Although there were other presences in the territory, as the Muslim Brotherhood and the At-tala’i, this was the only association registered as a religious one at the Ministry of Justice until the year 1986.

The 80’s were also a decade of conversion to the Muslim religion by an important number of Spanish citizens. Although they do not represent an important figure numerically (there are no available figures to account for the number of converts but in no case do they surpass 10 percent of the whole Muslim population), it is important to take them into account as they were many times related to the left-wing political parties and were active agents in the process of negotiation with the Spanish state of the public presence of Islam.

The presence of Islam is amplified in the 1990’s with the arrival of immigrants from countries of Muslim majority, especially from Morocco. The 1992 extraordinary regularization process attracted and most often legalized a great number of immigrants that were living in Madrid without need for official documents. From the very first moment the Moroccan population appears as the most relevant figure and continues to be so until today. According to the Municipal Register -that collects data on the whole population regardless of their legal or illegal residence status (in the case of foreign population)- Moroccans represent the 4.66 percent of all foreign population in Madrid. The other relevant communities from Muslim majority countries observe a great comparative numerical difference: population from Bangladesh represents 0.69 percent, from Senegal 0.44 percent, from Mali 0.43 percent, from Nigeria ((One should be aware of figures concerning countries as Nigeria (that the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life provides a 50.4 percent of Muslim population), as in the case of Madrid there is a very important number of people of Nigerian origin that profess the Christian faith and attend Christian churches both in Madrid or in surrounding municipalities as Fuenlabrada.)) 0.33 percent, from Algeria 0.2 percent and from Pakistan 0.19 percent. ((Islam in Madrid is mainly Sunni but there is also some population from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon that profess Shí’isme.))

Country of origin Total % over total population of the city of Madrid % over foreign population
Morocco 26,821 .81 4.66
Bangladesh 4,004 .12 .69
Senegal 2,561 .077 .44
Mali 2,473 .075 .43
Nigeria 1,935 .05 .33
Algeria 1,174 .035 .2
Pakistan 1,135 .034 .19
Egypt 624 .01 .108
Iran 527 .016 .0916
Mauritania 525 .0159 .0913
Syria 515 .0156 .0895
Turkey 384 .0116 .0667
Iraq 284 .0086 .0494
Tunisia 266 .00809 .0462
Jordan 217 .00660 .0377
Indonesia 186 .00565 .0323
Lebanon 177 .00538 .0323
Libya 125 .003802 .0217
Saudi Arabia 107 .003254 .0186
Total population of Madrid 3,287,630 100 17.4
Total population of foreigners in Madrid 574,869 17.4 100
Source: Ayuntamiento de Madrid (Madrid City Hall). Padrón Municipal de Habitantes (Municipal Register), 1 January 2009. Compiled by: Rita Gomes Faria.

The crisis that is affecting worldwide economy had an impact on the immigration numbers in Madrid and one can see in the graphics below that the number of people from Muslim majority countries has been descending, although it is starting to remount again from 2008 on.

Source: Ayuntamiento de Madrid (Madrid City Hall). Padrón Municipal de Habitantes (Municipal Register), 1 January 2002 – 1 January2009. Compiled by: Rita Gomes Faria.

Moroccans in Madrid
Source: Ayuntamiento de Madrid (Madrid City Hall). Padrón Municipal de Habitantes (Municipal Register), 1 January 2002-1 January 2009. Compiled by: Rita Gomes Faria.

Concerning the distribution of the population from Muslim majority countries in the city of Madrid, the districts that have more Muslim presence are Centro -mostly the neighbourhoods of Lavapíes and Embajadores-, Puente de Vallecas and Villaverde (three areas that have traditionally been occupied by migrants), followed by the districts of Carabanchel, Latina and Tetuan.

Population from Muslim majority countries in each district in the city of Madrid

Area in Madrid Morocco Bangladesh Senegal Mali Total foreigners Spanish citizens
1. Centro 2.054 2.963 1.074 30 39,830 104,625
2. Arganzuela 174 159 34 8 25,117 129,917
3. Retiro 296 4 34 8 12,452 112,067
4. Salamanca 453 6 46 11 20,881 127,748
5. Chamartin 440 2 52 4 17,818 129,086
6. Tetuán 21.162 168 23 28 34,928 122,459
7. Chamberí 482 6 17 26 21,295 125,375
8. Fuencarral-El Pardo 1.344 23 28 24 24,629 202,192
9. Moncloa-Aravaca 431 4 9 17 15,615 103,660
10. Latina 2.047 150 83 585 50,337 208,829
11. Carabanchel 2.553 170 238 660 61,174 196,924
12. Usera 1,108 21 53 155 34,597 107,345
13. Puente de Vallecas 3,423 184 295 359 49,589 196,689
14. Moratalaz 32 29 3 333 11,670 92,436
15. Ciudad Lineal 1.142 61 99 31 41,896 188,331
16. Hortaleza 632 1 25 9 22,092 150,882
17. Villaverde 3,733 26 176 277 36,407 114.031
18. Villa de Vallecas 1,602 12 58 62 13,864 67,130
19. Vicálvaro 890 1 12 36 11,741 58,537
20. San Blas 559 13 46 86 23,068 134,935
21. Barajas 378 8 5 12 5,869 39,304
TOTAL 26,831 4,004 2,561 2,473 574,869 2,712,502
Source: Ayuntamiento de Madrid (Madrid City Hall). Padrón Municipal de Habitantes (Municipal Register), 1 January 2009. Compiled by: Rita Gomes Faria.

The two stages of the presence of Islam in Spain –before and after the 1990’s- become obvious when we analyse the number of Muslim religious entities registered at the Ministry of Justice. Until 1992 there were only six religious entities in Madrid: the Asociación Musulmana de España (1971), the Comunidad Musulmana Marroquí de Madrid Al-Umma (1986), the Comunidad Islámica de Madrid (1990), the Centro Islámico de Formación Religiosa (1990), the Comunidad Islámica An-Nisa (1990), and the Liga del Mundo Islámico -Centro Religioso-Cultural Islámico de Madrid- (1992). Today there are 30 religious entities in the city of Madrid. Religious entities are religious groupings with juridical entity recognized by the Ministry of Justice. This denomination includes religious communities as well as associations and federations. It must not be mistaken for the number of mosques. All the mosques registered at the Ministry of Justice (Registro de Entidades Religiosas ((In Relaciones con las Confesiones (Secretaria de Estado de Justicia – Ministerio de Justicia):
))) are religious entities but not all Islamic religious entities are mosques. Federations and associations are also registered and acquire juridical personality as religious entities.

It is notable that when comparing population figures for foreigners from Muslim-majority nations with the geographical location of religious entities, we observe that Centro, Villaverde and Tetuan concentrate the Muslim presence of both population and institutions.


However it is also relevant to consider the fact that the Housing is much more costly in the capital city, and that many Muslim immigrants moved to the surrounding municipalities, creating small religious communities there. So, if we consider the whole Comunidad de Madrid we can find up to 80 mosques and prayer halls (usually of very small size and in poor conditions). Other important sites of Muslim religious entities presence are Collado Villalba, Aranjuez, Fuenlabrada, Leganés and Getafe, followed by Colmenar Viejo, Humanes de Madrid, Torrejón de Ardoz, Galapagar, Navalcarnero, Móstoles, Alcorcón and Parla. These are municipalities where the presence of Moroccan population is also noteworthy.

Moroccan population in some municipalities of the Comunidad de Madrid:

Moroccan population in some municipalities of the Comunidad de Madrid:

More than 40 percent of the mosques and prayer halls situated in the rest of the Comunidad de Madrid are located in these 14 municipalities. ((There are 200 municipalities in the Comunidad de Madrid))

Labor Market
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In Madrid people from Muslim majority countries are affiliated to the social security mostly as employees (87 percent) and only 13 percent are self-employed.

The main sector of employment is the services (over 60 percent). Within this, most people are working in the commerce sub-sector (13.7 percent) or in the hospitality industry sub-sector (13.4 percent). In both cases, the area of ethnic commerce is highly important.

Construction was a major sector of employment until recent years but the economic crisis in Spain has had a great impact in this area and the unemployment rate of people working in construction has increased. Also, many Muslims working in the construction sector have had to change occupation (many have moved to the countryside to work in agriculture) or are still unemployed. In the year 2008 about 11.6 percent of migrants from Muslim majority countries were affiliated to the social security under this epigraph.

Also the industry sector – mainly the manufacturing industry sub-sector – is an area where we find Muslim populations working (5 percent).

In the case of women, it is also important to notice the domestic service (0.3 percent) and social activities (3.5 percent) as important areas of occupation. When considering these figures one must be careful and remember the existence of informal labor relationships between employee and employer in the domestic service area.

Muslim Organizations
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Comisión Islámica de España (C.I.E.) (( See the Country Profile (Spain) for more extensive information on the C.I.E., U.C.I.D.E. and F.E.E.R.I.))

In the year 1989 a group of converts to Islam created the Federación Española de Entidades Religiosas Islámicas (F.E.E.R.I.) with the purpose of drawing together all the Muslims in Spain and becoming the interlocutor before the central state in the negotiations of an official agreement in the 1990’s. It was formed mostly by Spanish converts to Islam but received an important amount of financial support from Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iran and Morocco. During negotiations, many disagreements between the different communities involved in the process caused the dissolution of F.E.E.R.I. Seven communities, including Syrian and Palestinian students, formed a new federation called Unión de Comunidades Islámicas de España (U.C.I.D.E. (( In face of the coming out of a third party in the negotiations, issues of inadequate representation arose and the Spanish state demanded a single interlocutor in all matters concerning the Muslim community. As a result, both federations joined a single entity named the Comisión Islámica de España (Spanish Islamic Commission/C.I.E.), which was the group to be included in the 1992 agreement, “Acuerdo de Cooperación del Estado Español con la Comisión Islámica de España” ((The full document is available at the website of the Ministry of Justice:

This entity experienced difficulties in operation from the beginning due to the existence of duplicated hierarchic posts: its Permanent Commission is composed of three members of F.E.E.R.I. and three members of U.C.I.D.E., and two of its Secretary Generals are the Presidents of both Federations.

Federating is not mandatory for the Muslim communities, and each one may choose freely to which to federate, choose to change federation at any time, or choose not to federate at all. As we saw before, many new communities have appeared and new federations have been created across the Spanish state since the signing of the Agreement in 1992, in part due to internal leadership problems of other federations.

The origins of U.C.I.D.E. can be traced back to the Asociación Musulmana de España, the first Muslim association to be registered in Madrid in 1971. This association functioned, as it does today, as a federation that included other smaller Muslim communities from all over the country. The President of the Asociación Musulmana de España, Riay Tatary Bakri, is still today simultaneously the President of U.C.I.D.E. For the case of F.E.E.R.I., the chairmanship of the current President Abdelkarim Carrasco is being charged with irregular administration by the communities associated with the Federación Islámica de Murcia ((Leaded by Munir Benyelún, who supposedly is also a member of the Justice and Spirituality movement (Al Adl w-al-Ihsan).))

In the case of Madrid, U.C.I.D.E. has federated more Muslim communities: 240 entities (40 of which are in the Comunidad de Madrid), compared to the 62 that are federated by F.E.E.R.I. (12 of which are in the Comunidad de Madrid). For the case of the Comunidad de Madrid, in the year 2006 the Federación Musulmana de España (FEME) was created, an entity that gathers 15 of the 19 Muslim communities present in the northern region of the Comunidad de Madrid.

The national head offices of the C.I.E. are the headquarters of the two Islamic Federations that compose it (those being the two main mosques in the city of Madrid).

Mezquita Omar de Madrid or Mezquita de la M-30 (( ))

This mosque, which is now the reference for all the diplomatic posts from Muslim countries in Madrid, is the home of the Centro Cultural Islámico. It was built on grounds donated by the Ayuntamiento de Madrid (Madrid City Hall) during the governance of the socialist mayor Enrique Tierno Galván on the occasion of a visit of the Saudi King Fahd Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud whom contributed to the construction of the building with 2.000 million pesetas. The Mezquita Omar de Madrid, also known as Mezquita de la M-30, was inaugurated in 1992 with the presence of the Kings of Spain (Juan Carlos I and Sofia of Borbón) and of the Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz. The mosque depends on the Muslim World League ((The religious entity registered at the Ministry of Justice is Liga del Mundo Islámico (Centro Religioso-Cultural Islámico de Madrid).)), the Islamic non-governmental institution founded in Mecca in the sixties, whose funding comes from different Muslim countries but mostly from Saudi Arabia. The Mosque holds the head office of the Federación Española de Entidades Religiosas Islámicas (F.E.E.R.I.).

The Centro Cultural Islámico de Madrid has established a religious authority for the monitoring of the ritual sacrifice of animals according to the halal rites at Spanish slaughterhouses as they have the right to grant the “marca de garantía halal” (halal guarantee brand) ((There is also a trademark called “Halal Guarantee Brand of the Junta Islámica” registered at the Office of Patents and Brands by the Instituto Halal (Halal Institute) . This institution, located in Andalucía, was created by the Junta Islámica in 1989, an association composed mainly by converts to Islam. Its President, Mansur Escudero, was also the President of F.E.E.R.I. until de year 2000 (when he was replaced by Abdelkarim Carrasco) and Secretary General of C.I.E. until de the 2006. ))

Mezquita Abu-Bakr or Mezquita de Estrecho

This mosque is the headquarters of U.C.I.D.E. In 1988, supposedly with the financial support of personal donations of Muslims from all over the world, the Comunidad Islámica de Madrid, in cooperación with the Asociación Musulmana de España, built the Mezquita Abu-Bakr, also known as the Mezquita de Estrecho. At the time it was the most important mosque in the city, but now that position is held by the Mezquita de la M-30. It also holds the Unión de Comunidades Islámicas de Madrid, a local federation created by the President of U.C.I.D.E. ((Today it does not have an active agenda as it was created in case a local federation was required in the future.))

As a result of the “Acuerdo de Cooperación del Estado Español con la Comisión Islámica de España” agreement of 1992, the Comunidad de Madrid, by initiative of the Socialist Party, developed the “Convenio Marco de Colaboración entre la Comunidad de Madrid y la Unión de Comunidades Islámicas de España” in 1998. The agreements established between the Spanish state and the Muslim national community were applied at the autonomic level. The agreement is structured in three parts:

I. Institutional relations: Supports dialogue and cooperation between the two entities.

II. Culture: Where the autonomic government takes concern in the encouragement of the participation of the Muslim population in all cultural activities, in the restoration of Islamic patrimony and the organization of activities to promote tolerance and solidarity.

III. Social Work: To take social care of Muslims in social disadvantage, to promote the cession of public grounds for the building of cemeteries and mosques, to facilitate halal food in public hospitals, public kindergartens and public facilities of social aid, to attend the special needs of Muslim immigrants, and to promote educational programmes for fighting school failure by Muslim students.

The signature of this agreement is interesting as it shows the move by U.C.I.D.E. as to become the main interlocutor with the autonomic government in that it implies the acknowledgment of U.C.I.D.E. as the valid reference to the Comunidad de Madrid in all issues related to the Islamic religion.

Other associations

Apart from the small prayer hall, the main mosques and entities related to them, there are other Muslim organizations present in Madrid:

-The Asociación de Universitarios de Madrid: heiress to the Asociación de Estudiantes Marroquíes de Madrid created in 1993, it is composed by Moroccans that originally came to Spain to continue their university education ((This is a cultural association but the amount of activities organized in which Islam is present in one way or another makes us refer to them.))

-The Forjadores de Vida (Sunnaa Al Hayat ): this is the Madrid representation of the international NGO based on the movement led by the Egyptian TV-preacher Amr Khaled. In Spain the first group is created around 2004 in the town of Mataró (Catalonia),

-The Asociación ONDA: heiress to the Al Adl w-al-Ihsan (Justice and Spirituality Movement). This is a spiritual-political movement created in Morocco by Abdelssalam Yassine in contestation for the religious leadership of the King of Morocco (Amir Al Muminín). In Spain its members fight for the rights of Moroccans as Muslims and citizens, and provide social support to immigrants as well as participate in the education of imams (through the Liga de Imames de España ((The President of the Liga de Imames de España, Rachid Boutarbouch, is also the visible face of Adl w-al-Ihsan in Spain.)))

Other associations exist, constituted mainly by sons and daughters of immigrants, generally university students, whom, on the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of the 11th of March of 2004 show motivation for the spread of awareness on social issues among Muslim population and to make known the true meanings of Islamic religion to the general population. These are:

-The Asociación de Jóvenes Musulmanes de Madrid: created in 2004, it is composed by young sons and daughters of Syrian, Jordanian and Palestinian immigrants,

-The Asociación Cultural Tayba: also created in 2004, it has a more diversified composition as it draws together youngsters born in Spain from Moroccan immigrant parents, Moroccan youngsters sent for by their parents whom had immigrated to Spain, Spanish converts to Islam and also non-Muslims.

Islamic Education
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Even though the “Acuerdo de Cooperación del Estado Español con la Comisión Islámica de España” states the right of Muslim students to receive an Islamic education in both public and private schools (Ley 26/1992, de 10 de noviembre, Art. 10, B.O.E. nº 272 de 12 de noviembre), in Madrid there are no teachers of Islamic religion in primary or secondary public education.

Islamic education is therefore primarily provided by mosques. Generally all mosques, in spite of their size, provide Arabic and Islam courses for children and adults. Usually it is the imam himself who also carries out the duties of teacher of religion. In some cases, in communities with a strong presence of young university students, these may work as volunteer teachers. In both cases, the conditions on which these courses are taught are not sufficient as generally the communities lack both the physical space and the material resources as to provide positive educational results.

In Madrid there are some private schools that have religious education on their syllabus. They are:

-The Escuela Iraquí en Madrid (( This school had been providing for an Islamic education in Madrid since the year 1977. Along with the common subjects of primary and secondary education, the school offered Islamic Education, Arabic and Koran as specific subjects to 100 students, mainly of Iraqi origin but also of Spanish, Libyan, Saudi and Moroccan origin. It closed its doors in the year 2005 as a consequence of the fall of the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

-The Escuela Al-Fateh Arabe: This school offers primary and secondary education accord to the Libyan educational system for the children of the employees of the Libyan Embassy in Madrid.

-The Instituto Saudí Umm Al-Qurá: This private school, that offers both kindergarten, primary and secondary education to over 300 students, was connected to the Centro Cultural Islámico de Madrid from its origin in 1993 until the year 1998, when it became an independent institution ((Although currently the school is functioning at the grounds of the Centro Cultural Islámico (Mezquita Omar de Madrid or Mezquita de la M-30), the principalship and the government of Saudi Arabia are trying to buy a building, preferably of an old school, to transfer.)) The school follows the syllabus of the Saudi Arabian educational system and receives students from Saudi Arabia but also of Moroccan, Egyptian, Iranian and Spanish origin.

Political participation
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There is no presence of Muslims among local or autonomic elected politicians.

Public Perception
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Muslims are perceived as a unified group, sharing beliefs but also behaviours and ways of living. They are seen as people for whom the religious practice and belief is dominant in their everyday life, often preventing them from participating in more wide social relationships. The true diversity of national origins, doctrinal disparities, social and political differences is most frequently not regarded. The distrust the Spanish population may feel for the Muslim identity is in most cases connected to the wariness they feel about the Moroccan immigrants (also called contemptuously Moros).

The bombings perpetrated on the 11th of March of 2004 showed us an image of unity among the population of Madrid. Some of the people killed in the trains were of Islamic faith and during the day of the attacks and the days that followed there were no public demonstrations against the Muslim population neither individual confrontations. During the civil society manifestations that took place the following days one of the most common slogans was “Todos íbamos en ese tren” (We all were in that train), showing how citizenship made an effort to differentiate the Muslims living in Spain from those placing the bombs. ((There is a collective documentary called “Madrid 11-M: Todos íbamos en ese tren” (Production: Spain, 2004), in which 23 short films pay tribute to the victims of the bombing, among them one called “Un dia sin luz”, by Jose F. Echeverría, that tells about the death in one of the trains of a 13 year old Muslim girl.)) What was noticed was an increase of the police stop and search of population with a Muslim/Arabic appearance. In some exceptional cases, as in the Fuenlabrada municipality, the police has activated strategies for a more effective police stop and search, as the Moroccan population was becoming scarce of police officers. In any case, it was much more the newspapers that, in the following weeks, intensified the news on Islam in Spain, the incorporation of immigrants of Islamic religion in the Spanish society, and the need for control of the messages imams spread through the mosques. Curiously enough some associations of migrants -as the ATIME (Asociación de Trabajadores Inmigrantes Marroquíes en España)- demands from the Spanish state a higher control over the choosing of the imams and the religious activities of the Muslim communities.

Important Incidents
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In the year 2002 the story of Fatima Elidrisi was in the public eye. On the written press, on television, on the Internet… everywhere was the image of Fatima, being refused education in a public school for wearing the hijab. The girl had arrived in Spain in the middle of the school year and the Comisión de Escolarización Municipal (Concejalía de Educación del Ayuntamiento de San Lorenzo del Escorial ) designated a state-sponsored religious school for her, the Colegio Inmaculada Concepción. The nuns conditioned her acceptance to the abandonment of the hijab. In face of the girls’ father refusal, she was designated to another school, this time the Juan de la Herrera Public School. This second school complained to the Comisión about having to receive the troublesome students that were being neglected by the state-sponsored private schools. However, in interviews given to different journalists, the School Principal mentioned the girls hijab and related it to the discrimination of women. From then on, the debate focused on the hijab and on women’s (and girls) human rights. It became the first headscarf affaire in Spain.


The most important event to report in Madrid is the terrorist attack perpetrated the 11th of March of 2004 by the Al Qaeda, when nine backpacks full of explosives exploded on the inside of four trains, arriving from the outskirts of Madrid (Alcalá de Henares) and Guadalajara at rush hour (07:36-07:40), in the Atocha (seven explosions), El Pozo (two explosions) and Santa Eugenia (one explosion) railway stations. In this incident 191 persons were killed and 1.858 turned out injured. A few weeks later the police found part of the terrorist command in a town in the outskirts of Madrid called Leganés and the bombers committed suicide by exploding the house where they had been in hiding, causing the death of a police officer. This bombings were perpetrated only three days before the general elections and there was a heated public debate on the fact that one of the main reasons for the Partido Popular to loose the elections was its denial of the authorship of the bombings, claiming that they were by ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, the terrorist group created in 1959 in the País Vasco) when most of the international news agencies and newspapers were already mentioning Al Qaeda.

Still, this was not the only incident occurring in Madrid. In April of 1985 a bomb exploded in a restaurant called “El Descanso” known for being commonly visited by American militaries of the American Air Base in Torrejón de Ardoz. Supposedly the attack was perpetrated by the Islamic Yihad, motivated by the armed conflict in Lebanon. In this attack 18 people were killed and 82 were wounded.

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(Also see the Spain Country Profile for an extensive bibliography on Islam in Spain)

ÁLVAREZ DE MIRANDA, Berta (2005), “La religiosidad de los inmigrantes musulmanes: marroquíes en Madrid, turcos en Berlín y bengalíes en Londres”, Panorama social, nº 2, pp. 129-143.
(2007), Aquí y allí: vínculos transnacionales y comunitarios de los inmigrantes musulmanes en Europa, Real Instituto Elcano, Documento de Trabajo nº 9, 14 de marzo.
(2008), “La diversidad de los inmigrantes musulmanes en Europa” in Victor Pérez-Diaz (coord.) Colección Mediterráneo Económico – Modernidad, crisis y globalización: problemas de política y cultura (nº 14), Madrid: Cajamar Caja Rural, pp. 185-202.

ESCOBAR STEMMANN, Juan José (2007), “Los islamistas y la democracia ¿Debate imposible?”, Política Exterior, nº 116 (marzo/abril), 13 p.

FRANCÉS BRUNO, Eva (2008), La Regulación del Pañuelo Islámico en el Espacio Público Español. Alternativas a legislar, Opex (Observatorio de Política Exterior Española), Documento de trabajo 32/2008, Fundación Alternativas.

JIMÉNEZ-AYBAR, Iván (2006), “Tras el 11-M: presente y futuro del proceso de institucionalización del Islam en España”, Derecho y religión, nº 1, pp. 67-86.

LACOMBA, Joan (2001), El Islam Inmigrado. Transformaciones y adaptaciones de las prácticas culturales y religiosas, Madrid: Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte.

LÓPEZ GARCÍA, Bernabé and Mohamed Berriane (eds.) (2004), Atlas de la Inmigración Marroquí en España, Madrid: UAM – Observatorio Permanente de la Inmigración.

LÓPEZ GARCIA, B., Ángeles Ramírez Fernández, Eva Herrero Galiano, Said Kirhlani and Mariana Tello Weiss (2007), Arraigados. Minorias religiosas en la Comunidad de Madrid, Madrid: Icaria Editorial and Fundación Pluralism y Convivencia.

LORENZO VÁZQUEZ, Paloma (2004), La Enseñanza Religiosa en la Comunidad de Madrid, Madrid: Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

MARTÍN MUÑOZ, Gema (1994), “El islam en España hoy”, in Luisa Martín Rojo (ed.) Hablar y dejar hablar (sobre racismo y xenofobia), Madrid: Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, pp. 219-230.

MIJARES MOLINA, Laura and Ángeles Ramírez Fernández (2005), “Gestión del Islam y de la inmigración en Europa: tres estudios de caso”, Migraciones, nº 18, pp. 77-104.
(2008) “La ‘islamización’ de la inmigración: algunas hipótesis acerca del caso español”, Quaderns de la Mediterrànea, nº 9, pp. 389-392.
(2008), Mujeres, pañuelo e islamofobia: un estado de la cuestión”, Anales de Historia Contemporánea, nº 24, pp. 121-135.

MORERAS, Jordi (2002) “Muslims in Spain: Between the historical heritage and the minority construction”, The Muslim World, vol. 92, nº 1-2, pp. 129-142.
(2006), Migraciones y Pluralismo Religioso. Elementos para el debate, Barcelona: Fundació CIDOB.

PEW FORUM ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE (2009) Mapping the Global Muslim Population. A report on the size and distribution of the worlds Muslim population, Washington: Pew Research Center.

PLANET CONTRERAS, Ana (2008), “Laicidad, Islam e inmigración en la España contemporánea” in Encarna Nicolás and Carmen González (eds.) Ayeres en Discusión. Temas claves de Historia contemporánea hoy. IX Congreso de la Asociación de Historia Contemporánea, Murcia: Universidad de Murcia-Servicio de Publicaciones.

SCHMITT, Maggie and Begoña Pernas (2008), Pasos hacia la igualdad. El Proyecto Stepss (Strategies for Effective Polica Stop and Search) en España, Grupo de Estudios y Alternativas 21 (GEA 21).

TÉLLEZ, Virtudes (2008), “La juventud musulmana de Madrid responde: lugar y participación social de las asociaciones socioculturales formadas o revitalizadas después de los atentados del 11-M”, Revista de Estudios Internacionales Mediterráneos – REIM, nº 6 (septiembre-diciembre de 2008), pp. 133-143.

Islam in Norway

Written by Simon Sorgenfrei


The first Muslim immigrants came to Norway in the late 1960s looking for work. People primarily arrived from North Morocco and Turkish Anatolia, with large numbers coming from the province of Punjab in Pakistan as well. Muslims of Pakistani background is, and has been, the dominant and most visible Muslim group in Norway. The most notable deployments within the Pakistani-Muslims in Norway is between the Barelwis and the Deobandis. There is also a very active Tablighi group in Norway. The great number of Barelwis calls for a strong Sufi-oriented interpretation of Islam in Norway.

After a ban on labor migration in 1975, the Muslim population has been added to by family reunification and refugees. Today, according to Kari Vogt’s re-issued “classic” “Islam på Norsk” and Christine Jacobson’s account of Islam and Muslims in Norway in Göran Larsson’s (ed.) “Islam in the Nordic and Baltic Countries”, there are approximately 120,000 to 150,000 Muslims living in Norway. ((Vogt 2008:9, Jacobsen 2009:18)) Of these, some 80,000 could be called practicing, religious, or organized Muslims. ((Statistisk sentralbyrå, Innvandring, Vogt 2009:9 The largest ethnic Muslim gropu)) The largest ethnic-Muslim group in Norway is to be found among Pakistani immigrants (29 134), followed by Iraqis (22 881), Somalis (21 795), Bosniaks (15 649), and Iranians (15 134). ((Statistisk sentralbyrå, 1. januar 2008. The figures presented here represents the total number of immigrants of the ethnic groups – not the number of Muslims within the groups.))

About 80 percent are Sunni Muslims, and the Shi’ite minority is counted at approximately 20 percent.

For an through and updated account and bibliography of Islam and Muslims in Norway, see Oddbjörn Leirvik’s website:

Labor Market

In the study of immigrants conditions on the Norwegian labor market, “Highly Educated Immigrants on the Norwegian Labour Market: Permanent Disadvantage?”, Idunn Brekke and Arne Mastekaasa concluded that:

the overall finding is one of a considerable immigrant–native gap in both employment and earnings. The immigrant–native gap is particularly large for recent immigrants, and declines sharply during the first years in Norway. After about eight years, however, further increases in residency have no effect. Keeping the time of residency effect constant, there is a quite clear tendency for earnings (but not employment) differences between male immigrants and natives to increase with time since graduation. For women, the most striking effect is a steady decline in immigrants’ probability of full time employment. ((Brekke and Mastekaasa 2008 The study is available at See also: Hansen, M.N. (2000) ‘Høyere utdanning og utbytte – hva betyr utenlandsk opprinnelse for inntektsnivå’, Søkelys på arbeidsmarkedet 17(2): 223–34. and Longva, P. and Raaum, O. (2003) ‘Earnings Assimilation of Immigrants in Norway – a Reappraisal’, Journal of Population Economics 16(1): 77–193. ))


The great majority of Norway’s Muslim population live in the capitol Oslo. Just as the rest of the immigrated population, Oslo’s Muslims mainly live in the east of the city. ((Blom 2002)) The second-largest town of Norway, Bergen, also has a Muslim population of some quantity, but compared to the Muslim population of Oslo the Muslims in Bergen has been quite anonymous until fairly recently when a conflict over prayer facilities and a new mosque attracted some media attention. ((Jacobsen 2009:18f))

State and Church

Norway has an established state church system, and about 83 percent of the total population are counted as members. Every religious community in Norway is entitled to the same amount of financial support per member as the state church receives for each of its members. The state church is a challenged institution and is up for revision. A commission investigating the question of the church-state relations – the Gjonnes Commission – has recommended that the current state church system should be put to an end. ((Jacobsen 2009: 29ff))

Muslims in Government

No academic research is currently available.

Muslim Organizations

Up until the 1990s the most common way of institutionalizing Islam in Norway was the establishment of mosques and organizations along national, linguistic, and doctrinal lines writes Jacobsen. ((Jacobsen 2009:20)) In the 1990s a number of new organisations that recruited across these boundaries were established – some of whom had nationwide ambitions. ((Jacobsen 2009:21))

The first Muslim umbrella organization – The Muslim Defence Committee – was established as a response to the Rushdie affair in 1989. That same year also witnessed the establishment of the Islamic Information Association, and in 1991 the Islamic Women’s Group of Norway as well as the Urtehagen Foundation, witch focuses on education and schooling, was both established. 1993 the Islamic Council of Norway – after an initiative from the Church of Norway – was established. In 2006 it gathered about 25 Muslim organizations throughout the country. In addition to these, two largely independent student and youth organizations was established in the 1990s. “The Muslim Student Organization (MSS) and the Muslim Youth of Norway (NMU), established in 1995 and 1996, marked the ‘coming of age’ of a new generation of Muslims born and raised in Norway.” ((Jacobsen 2009:21, 23f, Vogt 2008: 74ff and especially Ch. 6))

There are two purpose built mosques in Oslo, both in the eastern parts of town. The first – the World Islamic Mission – was built by the Barelwis in 1995, and in 2007 the Barelwis also opened the Jamaat-e Ahl-e Sunnat Mosque near by. It is a multifunctional mosque that accommodates different financial, cultural, social, and financial activities. Most mosques in Norway, however, are located in flats, basements, old industrial buildings etc. ((Naguib 2001, Vogt 2008: Ch. 1-2))


Leirvik (2002) gave the following account of the modern debate on religious education in Norway:

In the 1990s, the need was felt to restructure religious education in schools so as to provide an opportunity for mutual learning. A new system of religious education in primary and lower secondary schools was introduced in 1997. Until then, parents had three options as to religion in school: either (1) Christianity with a confessional, Lutheran basis, or (2) “worldviews” with a neutral or even secular flavour, or (3) no religious or life stance education in school. In principle, the faith communities could establish their own out of school religious education, with financial support from the authorities. Some mosques took advantage of the opportunity and were thus able to receive some financial support for their qur’anic schools (only for those Muslim children who opted out from religion in school).

From 1997, this has changed and all pupils are now supposed to take part in the new and compulsory subject “Christianity, Religions and Life Stances” (the Norwegian acronym is KRL, for “Kristendom, religion og livssynskunnskap”). No alternatives can longer be established. Full exemption is neither not possible, only so-called “partial exemption” from activities that parents might deem to run contrary to their own faith (i.e. reading prayers aloud, or participating in other worship-related activities). The Education Act presupposes that all religions are taught with the same pedagogical approach and treated on their own terms as “a living source of faith, morals and life interpretation”.

When first introduced, the KRL subject met with considerable suspicion and protest from the non-Christian minorities. Their apprehension had probably been raised by certain formulations in the general part of the curriculum (from 1993), which seem to refer to Christianity as the national bond: “Christian faith and tradition constitute a deep current in our history – a heritage that unites us as a people across religious persuasions”.

In the course of the process, some concessions were made to minority interest and resource persons from the minority communities (Muslims, Buddhists, secular humanists) were invited to contribute to the work on the curriculum.

The new curriculum implies that for the first time, all Norwegian pupils will receive a substantial amount of knowledge not only of Christianity but also of Islam and the other world religions, as well as of philosophy and more secular outlooks on life. Apart from ensuring that all pupils will have a good knowledge of the Christian tradition as well as of other religions and worldviews/life stances, the intention has been to open a space for dialogue training in an increasingly multireligious society.

Despite these good intentions, to which most parents and faith communities would probably subscribe, minority representatives initially saw the new subject as a just another way of reinforcing “the Christian cultural heritage” or “Christian and Humanist values”. Although several adjustments have been made to accommodate for minority interests, many minority representatives still struggle for the right to opt out of the new subject entirely, and – possibly – to organise alternatives as before. Both the Humanist Association and the Islamic Council brought the case to Norwegian courts in 1999. After their cases were turned down, the Humanist Association plans to bring it before the European Court in Strasbourg.

Many Muslims have taken to the streets to demonstrate against the new compulsory subject. They are still suspicious towards the original design of the subject (“Christianity plus”), and critical of the idea of a compulsory subject that is mainly Christian in quantitative terms. At the local level, however, the situation is often different, and many Muslim parents seem gradually to have become more positive towards the subject because of the inclusive way in which it is now being practised in many schools. The general principle of adjustment to local context makes it possible to put more emphasis on Islam in schools with many Muslims. It might thus be that the subject (with some further adjustments) may eventually become rather flexible and pluralistic in practice.

The case is replete with potentially wide-ranging consequences. Within say ten years, we will know whether a unified school system – including a uniform system of religious education – will survive the new pluralism in Norway, or whether people will organise themselves differently in order to ensure their freedom of religion. ((Leirvik The current debate about religious education and freedom of religion in Norway, 2002))

Islamic Education

The first application for a Muslim private school in Norway was presented by the Urtehagen Foundation to the Labour party government in 1995, but meet with a rejection. The same application was later approved by the Christian People’s Party in 1999 and after some debate, the first Muslim private school – Urtehagen friskole – was opened in 2001. ((Berglund 2007, Leirvik The current debate about religious education and freedom of religion in Norway)) However, the School closed due to internal conflicts in 2004. Trond Ali Linhagen – a Norwegian convert who established the Urtegahen Foundation in 1993 – didn’t give up and applied again to open a Muslim private school in Drammen in 2006. This time the application was denied by the left-wing government who stopped all new private schools after coming to power in 2005.

As for now there exists no Muslim private schools in Norway.

Security, Immigration and Anti-Terrorism Issues

One of the most debate Muslim individuals in Norway is and has been Mulla Krekar. Krekar, or Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad, is an Iraqi Kurd that has been living in Norway since 1991. Eveso he has not been granted Norwegian citizenship. Krekar is known as one of the founders and the original leader of the Kurdish Islamist group Ansar al-Islam. Since 2006 he has been on the UN terror list.

Late January 2010 Krekar’s home was attacked and his son in law was shot in the arm. ((Verldens Gang (Norwegian) Nettavisen (Norwegian) Aftenposten (Norwegian) Aftenposten (Norwegian) Aftenposten (Norwegian) NRK (Norwegian) P4 (Norwegian) Adressa (Norwegian)))

Islamic Practice

Up until the 1990s mosques and other Islamic milieus in Norway were generally male arenas. But in later years we can see how women are becoming more active and visible in Muslim activities – not the least as a result of the efforts of the Islamic Women’s Group of Norway (IKN). ((Jacobsen 2009:25))

Media and Public Perception of Islam

In the essay, “Theory and Politics in Research on Muslim Immigrants in Norway”, Christine Jacobsen discusses how there was a change in Norwegian public debate from the “immigrant other” to the “Muslim other” in the 1990s. ((Jacobsen 2008))

The Muslim presence creates a lot of attention and the tone in the Media is getting harsher. Muslims loyalty towards “Norwegian values” are being questioned, they are often accused of being violent and hostile, and the Muslims – as a collective – are talked about as enemies of freedom of speech. ((Vogt 2008:12)) In an essay on Muslims in Norwegian media Kjersti Rogde Naess finds that Muslims are generally depicted as the Others, and the otherness of Muslim immigrants are depicted as something negative. Muslims are generally associated with criminality and other anti-social, or non-Norwegian behaviour, explained through their religious denomination, where Islam is being reified into a coherent system. ((Naess 2005))

Political and Intellectual Discourse

Even if there exists, according to Jacobsen (2009), a considerable body of “immigrant studies”, there is still little research into the various practical and institutional manifestations of the contemporary Islamic presence in Norway. The studies conducted, she continues, has mainly been from the field of religious studies “often emanating out of a concern with inter-religious dialogue” – or from the field of social sciences concerning themselves primarily with ethnic, social and economic dimensions of Muslim immigration. Even so, in later years it has become more common to “read across” this division “by investigating the religious dimensions of Muslim immigrants lives within the Norwegian sociocultural context.” ((Jaconsen 2009:19))

Islam in Barcelona, Spain

written by Arturo Guerrero Enterría


Barcelona is the main city in Catalonia. Catalonia is one Comunidad Autónoma (Autonomous Community) in the Spanish state. Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain with a population of 1,621,537 inhabitants. A 17.54 percent of the total population, 284,385 individuals, are foreigners according to the data of the Instituto Nacional de Estadística. Catalonia is where the main Muslim population lives in Spain (ca. 300,000 Muslims). Most of them are immigrants that arrived in Barcelona from several countries: Pakistan, Morocco, Bangladesh, Algeria, Nigeria and Senegal.

The main Muslim community in Barcelona is the Pakistani. ((Departament de Estadística Ajuntament de Barcelona, Evolución de la Población Extranjera de Barcelona. 2001-2009. Available: (2010, Feb/09).)) In 2009, there were 17,735 Pakistanis registered in this city. They are the third largest immigrant population living in Barcelona. Italian (22,684) and the Ecuadorian (22,210) communities lead this ranking. A great part of the Pakistanis living in Barcelona are male (88.9 percent) . ((Recio, A. et al. “Immigració i Mercat de Treball a Barcelona”, Consell Económic i Social de Barcelona-Ajuntament de Barcelona.)) The second biggest Muslim population is the Moroccan, with 14,402 individuals registered. They represent the sixth biggest population in Barcelona after the previous country mentioned plus Bolivia (17,672) and Peru (15,613). The gender ratio shows that the Moroccan males represent 64.5 percent of the total community.

There is in Barcelona a specific district where the Muslim population is settled, Ciutat Vella, especially in the administrative neighborhood of Raval. Following the data available for 2008, ((Departament de Estadística Ajuntament de Barcelona, Población de Barcelona. Por distritos según nacionalidades. Año 2008. Available: [2010, Jan/25].

It’s important to note that an estimation of Muslim population living in Barcelona is difficult to follow: There are no official records of Muslim population living in Barcelona, because as in the rest of the Spanish state, there are legalities that assure the right of preserving the confidentiality of religion.
)) in Ciutat Vella lived 6,357 Pakistanis representing 5,5 percent of the total population in this district and 37.2 percent of the total Pakistani population in Barcelona. The Moroccan population that lived in this district in 2008 was about 3,830 and represented 3.4 percent of the total population and 36.4 percent of all Moroccans living in Barcelona. The Bangladeshi community in Ciutat Vella with a total of 1,633 in 2008 represent 77.9 percent of all the Bangladeshis living in the city. The presence of the Muslim population was also important in other districts like Sants-Montjuic (15.2 percent of all the Pakistanis lived in this district quiet similar as the percentage of the total of Moroccans 15.0 percent) or Nou Barris and Sant Martí. The districts of Les Corts and Sarria Sant-Gervasi were the less occupied by Muslim population.

Settlement patterns of immigrants from Muslim-majority nations ((The Departament de Estadística Ajuntament de Barcelona provides immigration population distribution data at:

Departament de Estadística Ajuntament de Barcelona: [2010, Feb/11].
For information on Pakistanis:
For information on Moroccans:

Barcelona district Pakistanis Moroccans Bangladeshis Algeria Nigeria Senegal Native Spanish Total
Ciutat Vella 111,891 3,830 1,633 534 94 235 62,313 111,891
Eixample 891 1,181 111 207 38 81 219,555 268,189
Sants-Montjuïc 2,590 2,521 184 203 71 47 146,080 182,692
Les Corts 299 183 13 63 24 11 72,572 83,060
Sarrià-Sant Gervasi 249 289 19 50 17 13 125,975 143,583
Gràcia 410 586 18 110 14 42 103,273 123,304
Horta-Guinardó 586 1,011 17 134 54 49 147,781 170,906
Nou Barris 1,478 1,577 25 94 559 71 140,155 169,461
Sant Andreu 1,419 1,398 32 127 88 54 126,163 146,524
Sant Martí 2,810 1,931 45 181 52 238 192,844 228,480
17,089 14,507 2,097 1,703 841 1,336,711 1,628,090

The contemporary presence of Muslims in Barcelona started in the early 1960s. Barcelona and Catalonia were a first stop for the North-African migrant population on their way to Europe. The quantitative estimation is hard to establish, because of the high fluctuation and mobility of this migrant presence. Research on these movements, including data on hotel and guesthouse occupation, show that in 1965 a total of 7.702 Moroccans existed.

The settlement in Barcelona started in 1967, due to the strong European manpower crisis. In the 70´s the Magrebi population suffered irregular legal statuses. The first settlements of Muslims in Barcelona were in the quarters of Raval, Barceloneta and Santa María del Mar and in the industrial suburbs of Sta. Coloma de Gramanet, L´Hospitalet de Llobregat, Sabadell, Cornellá, Badalona, S. Vicenç dels Horts. It is important to remark that in these years a great number of Egyptians, Jordans, Syrians and Palestinians university students lived in Barcelona too. ((Moreras, J. 1999, Musulmanes en Barcelona: espacios y dinámicas comunitarias, CIDOB Edicions, Barcelona.))

Employment and Economic Activity

Since the economic crisis in 2007 began, the immigrant population has suffered high unemployment rates. Moroccans have suffered the highest unemployment rates because many worked in real estate, an industry that is experiencing great difficulty. ((Baquero, A. 2008, El paro se dispara en los barrios habitados principalmente por extranjeros en Barcelona.))

The statistics show that the immigrant Muslim population works basically as employees ((Recio, A.e.a. “Immigració i Mercat de Treball a Barcelona”, Consell Económic i Social de Barcelona-Ajuntament de Barcelona.))

The Muslim population is employed as construction workers (25.8 percent), as house workers (10.8 percent) and storekeepers.
The self-employment rates show high values between the Muslim immigrant populations working in Barcelona, if we compare them to the rates shown for other non European Union nationalities. If we look at the self-employment rates of the Pakistani (8.4 percent) and the Moroccan (4.8 percent) population we notice that they are in third and fifth position in the ranking of self-employment between the immigrant population, only surpassed by Chinese (26.7 percent) and Argentineans (9.5 percent) in first and second position in this ranking, and the Russians in fourth position with an percentage of 6.9 percent. Only the percentage of the Chinese people is similar to the medium average of the European Union (26.8 percent).

But the self-employment has a special interest in the description of the Muslim population in Barcelona, because self-employment is related with the opening of business-stores in the streets of Barcelona. One consequence of this is an increase of the visibility. Within the increase of the Muslim population and its visibility a new type of demands flourished and new types of business were established. This was the case of the opening of the first halal butcher’s shop opened in 1983. The number of halal butcher’s shops rose during the following three years to six. The halal butchers could offer halal products because the central market of Barcelona, Mercabarna, offered them the possibility to do the sacrifices following the Islamic specifications. ((Agencia Islámica de Noticias 2001, Barcelona: Mercabarna sacrifica más de 400 corderos para [la] celebración de fiestas musulmanas.)). Mercabarna could achieve the halal certificate from the Spanish Muslim association Junta Islámica in 2005. ((Agencia EFE 2005, Matadero Mercabarna obtiene la certificación del Instituto Halal.)). The extension of the Islamic business in Barcelona includes new business like travel agencies specialized in Pilgrimage to Mecca ((Moreras, J. 2005, “¿Ravalistán? Islam y configuración comunitaria entre los paquistaníes en Barcelona”, Revista CIDOB D´Afers Internacionals; Migraciones y relaciones internacionales entre España y Asia, vol. 68. ))and other different shops (textile, electrical appliance, communication and mobile telephony). In general we have to consider that Muslim immigrants have established a lot of different types of business, also in crisis time, they have used different strategies to compete with the local businesses: Long working days, offering credit to their customers, selling specific products (differentiation and diversification of the business). Some of these strategies are being criticized by a part of the autochthonous business owners. They lean especially on the legal restriction of the business opening hours, because these Islamic businesses are often more time open than the town council specification admits.


In Barcelona they are 35,882 of school age registered.

According to Barcelona’s town council data Moroccans are the largest group between 1 and 17 years with 2,734 individuals, followed by Pakistanis (1,827) and Bangladeshis (443). But education data indicates that these immigrant Muslim populations have a high population of uneducated people. The Bangladeshi population rate of uneducated people is also very high. The rate of unregistered Bangladeshi individuals of school age is 54.2 percent far away from the rates shown by the total immigrant population in school age (26.2 percent). The Moroccan (34.5 percent) and the Pakistani population (39.5 percent) are very high too, but no as high as the Bangladeshi rate.

Population and students per nationality in Barcelona 2008 ((Departament de Estadística Ajuntament de Barcelona, Extranjeros y enseñanza. Población y alumnos no universitarios por nacionalidades en Barcelona. 2008. Available: (2010, Feb/09).))

Pakistani population has mainly a primary education (89.3 percent) only 5.2 percent achieve the high school degree and 4.9 percent has a degree. Moroccans have mainly primary level too (79.5 percent), but on the other hand they achieve higher rates in high school (12.5 percent) and university (6.9 percent) than the Pakistani population.

This shows very different rates if we compare it to the total immigrant population living Barcelona. The rate of scholarship for the total population shows lower values for the primary education (47 percent), but the high school (23 percent) and the university (29 percent) rates are higher. ((Recio, A.e.a. “Immigració i Mercat de Treball a Barcelona”, Consell Económic i Social de Barcelona-Ajuntament de Barcelona.)) This data shows a lower qualification of the Muslims population in comparison with the immigrant population average in Barcelona.

It is interesting to examine the evolution of Islamic Education in Spain. It was recognized within the Agreement between the Spanish State and the Islamic Community of Spain. After this recognition the process of implementing this politics wasn´t roll-out, because religion was not a priority in the political arena. Only after the bombings in the commuter train system in Madrid in 2004 was the implementation of the Agreement was reinforced. We have to consider also that another process–the decentralization of the Spanish State, was taking place at the same time and some competences of the Spanish State were being transferred to the Comunidades Autónomas (Autonomous Regions) during the implementation of this agreement. The politics related to education were one of the subjects that were being transferred to the Comunidad Autónoma of Catalonia. This affected directly to the running of the Islamic education in Catalonia and in Barcelona too.

Just before the 2009-2010 academic year Spanish news reported that no teachers were hired to teach Islamic religion in Catalonia. ((Ayllón, D. 2009, El Islam tiene 46 maestros para 150.000 alumnos.)) This is the situation in the Comunidad of Madrid too, but not in the Comunidades Autónomas where these subjects haven’t been transferred yet and where the Spanish State is leading these competences.

Religious Life

In Barcelona, there is an open debate about the construction of a great mosque since 1988, when the first the Asociación Gran Mezquita de Barcelona (“Great Mosque Association of Barcelona”) was created. But the first steps for the building of a great mosque were taken a decade later. In 1999 a Syrian settled in Barcelona, Mowafak Kanfach, made the proposal to the town council of building a mosque with the direct investment of the Saudi Arabian Prince, Abdallah Ben Abdel Aziz. But the first’s problems arose with the opposition of the town councilors and the increasing internal division of the Muslim community in Barcelona.

It’s very surprising that only prayer rooms and little mosques have been created where the main Muslim population of Spain lives. This is because part of the Islamic community in Barcelona wants the construction of a great mosque and another part of the Muslims in Barcelona prefer the creation of well-equipped prayer rooms and the improvement of the existing ones. ((Segler, A. 2007, Barcelona: ¿Es necesaria una gran mezquita?¿O es mejor “una mezquita digna” en cada barrio?)) Both positions, those who supports the creation of a great mosque and those who support a more decentralized system of little prayer rooms, instead of a great mosque, are focused on the achievement of improve quality of the religious and social life of the Muslims in Barcelona and in Catalonia. But at the moment one main characteristic of the Islamic cult spaces in Barcelona is the precariousness of the resources. Most of them depend on the resources available in the community, on financial support from individual actors, on contributions of international Islamic organizations and on charity collection. Most of the worship places are located in old warehouses and garages, premises and flats. The characteristics described reflect the conditions of these spaces: too small (especially during Ramadan), lacking basic security accesses, ventilation and not fulfilling the legal requirement particularly at the beginning of these projects. Many of these prayer rooms are also multifunctional spaces. They aren’t used only as prayer rooms; they’re used also for other cultural and social activities, without having a specific area for each thing mixing sacred spaces with other non sacred.

Currently the town council spokesperson argues that the building of a great mosque in Barcelona can’t be considered, because in Barcelona does not exist a unique Muslim community and because the possibility to find a unique Muslim voice to find agreement about this issue is at the moment not possible ((Europa Press 2008, Barcelona no tendrá por ahora una mezquita como la de la M30 de Madrid.)).

There are also political parties against the construction of a great mosque in Barcelona. This is the position shown by the conservative right wing party (Partido Popular) ((Partido Popular is the third party most voted in the last town council elections (15.6 percent of the total votes achieved) after the Partido Socialista de Catalunya and Convergencia I Unió and the second party at state level.)) . The answer to this question of Alberto Fernández Díaz, the mayor candidate of Partido Popular in the last town council elections, was:

“No to a great mosque in Barcelona… I fear of who pays the constructions of mosques…” ((Redacción Webislam 2008, Candidato del PP a la Alcaldia: “No a una gran mezquita en Barcelona”.))

Meanwhile other places of worship (little mosques and prayer rooms) have been opened in Barcelona. In 1983 there were four worship places registered officially in Barcelona, the number increased in 2008 to fourteen ((Europa Press 2008, Unos 3.000 catalanes se han convertido a la religión musulmana en los últimos años.)) and in 2010 to sixteen ((Oficina D´Afers Religiosos Ajuntament de Barcelona , Religious organizations and places of worship. Available:,4134,259064949_760259385_3,00.html?tema=0040102016006_Islam&entitat=&radiob_lloc=1&districte=0&nom_carrer=&numero=&al=&submit-cerca=Search&cercadorAsia=true&districte=&llistaCanal=NO&accio=cercar_eq (2010, Jan/26))).

Other type of spaces had been adapted in order to meet with the needs of the Muslim community in Barcelona. This is the case of the cemeteries for Islamic burials. In 1997 the town council decided to reserve 552 square meters ((Argita, E.(Coord.). 2009, Musulmanes en España. Guía de Referencia, Casa Árabe.)) in the Collserola cemetery for this use and this was possible after the signature of an agreement between the city of Barcelona and four Arab-Muslim social and cultural entities. This was also problematic, because the major Spanish Islamic organizations (especially FEERI) claimed that this agreement had to be signed by them and the town council and not by the local Islamic association and the town council.

But a main characteristic of the Muslim population in Barcelona is the high diversity between them. This is shown not only by the demographical data mentioned before, that show the different origins of the Muslim population in Barcelona, this is also shown by the different forms of understanding Islam by the Muslims in Barcelona and it’s also shown in the different associations and mosque officially registered. This variety of Islamic approaches is related to the distinction between shiism and sunnism.

In Barcelona the Muslim population is mainly sunni, but they´re also two shii associations ((Estruch, J., Gömez i Segala, J., Griera, M.d.M. & Iglesias, A. 2006, Las otras religiones, Icaria Editorial.)) and they try to be very active in the public sphere. These associations celebrate the Ashura ((Solá, G. 2009, Los chiíes residentes en España también celebran la Ashura The Ashura is the one of the main festivity for the shii Muslims and it commemorate the martyrdom of the Imam Hussein.)) with a demonstration in the streets of Barcelona with some limitations. It is forbidden to realize flagellation ritual with bloodshed during the public demonstration.

We can find also Sufis turuq ((Turuq is the plural of tariqa and it can be translated to English as brotherhood, association or guild.)) (brotherhoods) in Barcelona. These turuq are followed mainly by autochthonous individuals and the immigrants are only a few. One of these Sufis center is the Instituto de Estudios Sufíes, founded in 1998, which follows the Maulawiyya tariqa. Another association established in Barcelona is the Centro Sufí de Barcelona founded in 2000 and is related to the Naqshbandiya tariqa.

Civic Life

There are different ways in which Muslims organize in Barcelona: By self-management of the Muslim collectives, by cultural actions of diplomatic representations, by supranational actions of the Muslim organizations, by influences of the Spanish Muslim associations and by individual actors. The creation of Islamic associations in Barcelona has been a long process. These associations were created informally without being legally registered at the beginning until these organizations find their stability. Many of these associations are registered as cultural associations and not as religious entities, because it’s easier to register them as cultural associations.

The first associative efforts took place in 1974 with the creation of the Asociación de Amistad con los Pueblos Árabes Bayt al-Thaqafa and the opening of a local office of the Centro Islámico de Madrid ((Moreras, J. 1999, Musulmanes en Barcelona: espacios y dinámicas comunitarias, CIDOB Edicions, Barcelona.)). This phenomenon grew afterwards with the creation of other associations: Amical de Trabajadores y Comerciantes Marroquíes en Barcelona (1979). (Amical is a very relevant association in Barcelona due to is work with Moroccan immigrants) and Casa y Centro Islámico de Pakistán (1981).

The following data show the associations and mosques inscribed officially in Barcelona (Official Islamic entities, religious organizations and worship places registered in Barcelona in the minority confessions register of the Justice Ministry of Spain ((Ministerio de Justicia, Registro de Confesiones Minoritarias. Available: (2010, Jan/21).)) and at the Office of Religious Affairs of the Barcelona town council[26]):

  1. Almahabba Wattaouasol
  2. Anjamane Eshat Udin O Falah Ul Muslemin
  3. Annour
  4. Associació Social Cultural Independent Forjadores de la Vida (Sant Martí)
  5. Centre Islàmic Al Qaim (Ciutat Vella)
  6. Centre Islàmic Camí de la Pau (Ciutat Vella)
  7. Centre Islàmic Camí de la Pau – Oratori – Arc del Teatre (Ciutat Vella)
  8. Centre Islàmic de Barcelona (Sant Andreu)
  9. Centre Sufí – Derga Naqshbandi (Gràcia)
  10. Centro Islámico Al Qaim
  11. Centro Islámico Camino de la Paz
  12. Centro Islámico Catalán
  13. Centro Islámico del Carmelo
  14. Centro Islámico Mezquita Shahajalaljame
  15. Comunidad Islámica Amigos de la Mezquita de la Paz
  16. Comunidad Islámica Anjuman Islah Ul Muslemin De Barcelona
  17. Comunidad Islámica de la Bordeta – Mezquita Rahma (Misericordia)
  18. Comunidad Musulmana Al-Iman
  19. Comunidad Al Kauzar
  20. Comunitat al Kauzar
  21. Consell Islàmic Cultural de Catalunya (Ciutat Vella)
  22. Comunidad Al Kauzar
  23. Consell Islàmic Cultural de Catalunya
  24. Consejo Islámico de Cataluña
  25. Federació Islàmica de Catalunya (Ciutat Vella)
  26. Federación Islámica Catalana de España (FICDE)
  27. Hermandad Islámica Imam Ar-Rida (A.S.)
  28. Institut d’Estudis Sufís (Les Corts)
  29. Junta Islàmica Catalana
  30. Mesquita Abi Ayoub Elansari (Ciutat Vella)
  31. Mesquita Abu Bakr Sant (Martí)
  32. Mesquita Ali Ciutat (Vella)
  33. Mesquita Baba Jalal Shah (Ciutat Vella)
  34. Mesquita Fezane Madina (Sants-Montjuïc)
  35. Mesquita Jamea Masjad Ghulamane Mustapha Catalunya (Sant Martí)
  36. Mesquita la Paz (Sant Andreu)
  37. Mesquita Madni (Ciutat Vella)
  38. Mesquita Rahma (Sants-Montjuïc)
  39. Mesquita Tarek Ibn Ziad (Ciutat Vella)
  40. Mezquita Hamza (Sant Martí)
  41. Yamaat Ahmadia Del Islam a Espanya

Public Perception and Community Life

The leading force for the increase of the Muslim visibility in Barcelona, as in other parts of the Spanish state, is related to the definitive settlement of the Muslim population in Spain and an increasing integration wish ((Argita, E. (Coord.). 2009, Musulmanes en España. Guía de Referencia, Casa Árabe.)). The increase of visibility can be associated to a bigger interest of the media in the presence of the Islamic community. The precariousness of the Islamic community affects also the way that this community is being seen by the non Muslim population. The lack of space and the localization of the Muslim prayer rooms has also increase its visibility, because several times the Friday prays and in the Holy Festivities many Muslims must perform their prays on the street. This has caused some tensions between the Muslim community and the authority.

Usually, Muslims are identified with Moroccans and the concept of “Moro”. This concept and other traditional stereotypes make that the Muslim community is seen with suspicion; this perception was reinforced after the terrorist attack against the World Trade Center in September 2001. Several efforts were made in order to promote the interreligious dialog, but these efforts crashed down after the terrorist attacks in the commuter train system in Madrid in 2004. ((Moreras, J. 2008, “Musulmans a Catalunya; Radiografia d´un islam implantat”, IEMed (Documents).))

Several new efforts have been done since then to increase the interreligious dialog. Some of these efforts are promoted by the town council and the UNESCO. One example of these efforts is the creation of the Office of Religious Affairs (OAR) by the City Council´s Department of Civil Rights and managed by UNESCOCAT (The UNESCO Center of Catalonia) ((Oficina D´Afers Religiosos Ajuntament de Barcelona, available at: ; (Last view: 10.02.2010))). The Office of Religious Affairs is focused on improving the relationship between the different religions that meet together in Barcelona and to empower the coexistence by mediation in conflicts relate with religions, training on different beliefs and giving advise and information about religious issues. This center has promoted also a new legal regulation for the establishment of worship places and the official register of the already existing. This is not only for the Islamic prayer rooms, but also for other religions present in Barcelona. ((Oficina D´Afers Religiosos & Ajuntament de Barcelona 2007, Obertura i Regularització de Centres de Centres de Culte a la Ciutat de Barcelona.))

In general, we can describe the relationship between the immigrant Muslim population and the people of Barcelona as coexistence without high interaction in order to avoid conflicts. ((Torres Pérez, F. 2006, “Las dinámicas de la convivencia en un barrio multicultural. El caso de Russafa (Valencia)”, Papeles del CEIC.)) Many Muslims have chosen to reduce their visibility to avoid problems and conflicts. The clearest example of this effort in reducing their visibility is the absence of elements that inform about the location of many prayer rooms (prayer room signs, advertising hoarding etc.). But these efforts to maintain a climate of coexistence are broken occasionally by conflicts that sometimes have been promoted by autochthonous local associations and minority radical groups ((Moreras, J. 2004, “Conflictos en Cataluña” in Atlas de Inmigración Marroquí en España, eds. B. López García & M. Berriane, UAM-Observatorio Permanente de la Inmigración.))

That has been also used opportunistically by some politicians in their discourses affecting negatively how Muslims are perceived by the rest of people living in Barcelona. ((MARTÍNEZ, Montse (2007); El candidato del PP a la alcaldía de Barcelona reitera su oposición a una mezquita e invita a discriminar a los inmigrantes por su religión; elperió; available at: ; Last view:(18.01.2010)))

All these aspects have their reflection in an increase of the presence of news related with the Muslims presence in the mass media. The images showed by some media aren’t often very friendly portraying the Muslims population of Barcelona and stereotypes are often used to support argument lines.

Home country Total immigrant population percentage Immigrant pop. ages 1-17 yrs. percentage Registered immigrant students Percentage Unregistered immigrant students Percentage
TOTAL 280,817 100,000 35,882 100,000 26,478 100,000 9,404 26.2
Morocco 13,998 5.0 2,734 7.6 1.792 6.8 942 34.5
Pakistan 15,966 5.7 1,827 5.1 1,105 4.2 722 39.5
Bangladesh 1,976 0.7 443 1.2 203 0.8 240 54.2

Islam in Sweden

written by Simon Sorgenfrei


Even though Sweden, or what today is Sweden, has a long history of commercial and political contacts with countries dominated by Muslim culture – dating back to the Viking era ((.Wikander 1978)) and peaking with Swedish-Ottoman contacts in the seventeenth and especially eighteenth centuries (( Ådahl 2002))– Muslim presence in Sweden is a fairly recent phenomenon.

At the last census to include information on religious affiliation in 1930, 15 persons identified themselves as Muslims. ((Svanberg and Westerlund 2002.)) This first small group of Muslims in Sweden were primarily of Baltic Tartar origin. ((Otterbeck 1998)) Today the number of Muslims in Sweden is estimated to be approximately 400.000. ((Larsson 2009, Sayed 2010 The total population, according to SCB (November 30 2009) is 9 336 487.)) Out of these, the Swedish Commission for state Grants to Religious Communities (SST) estimate 110.000 to be practising Muslims. (( )) In their big survey Islam and Muslims in Sweden – A Contextual Study, Larsson and Sander (2007) believes this estimation to be to low, and the result of SST’s “conservative and exclusive” definition, “only counting individuals who belong to congregations that are ‘recognized’ by itself.” ((Larsson 2009:56, Larsson and Sander 2002:108, Larsson and Sander 2007:158f)) According to their estimation the number of practising Muslims is closer to 150.000 individuals. ((Ibid))

Sander has acknowledged the problem of defining the term “Muslim” in Sweden. ((Sander 1993, 1995. Also Sander and Larsson 2007)) He presents four categories: Ethnic-, Cultural-, Religious-, and Political Muslims. An “ethnic Muslim” defines anyone:

“who has been born in an environment dominated by a Muslim tradition […] and carries a name that is attached to that tradition; also included in this category are those who identify with, or consider themselves to belong to, one or the other of these environments. This particular definition is independent of cultural competence, religious belief, active participation in Islam as a religious system, and/or individual attitudes regarding Islam and its various representatives. ((Larsson and Sander 2007: 153))”

A “cultural Muslim” is anyone who:

“has been socialized into the Muslim cultural tradition […] such that it has become an integral part of his/her attitudes and beliefs, and who has Muslim cultural competence as well [and] for whom the Islamic cognitive universe is the phenomenon through which they constitute and experience themselves and their life-world.” ((Ibid 154))

Someone can be considered a religious Muslim “if (s)he professes allegiance to a specific set of beliefs, participates in certain religious services and practices, and considers personal piety and other such religious elements to be essential to her/his personal lifestyle.” ((Ibid 154f)) And as a political Muslim, finally, he considers someone who “views Islam primarily as a socio-political phenomenon, and has specific ideas about the place, role and function of religion in society [and] tend to view Islam as a total way of life, not only for the individual, but also for society at large.” (( ibid 155)) These categories can, of course, be overlapping.

Today Sweden has one of the most heterogeneous Muslims populations in Western Europe, coming from more than 40 different countries of origin. The first group of Muslims of any number to arrive in Sweden were Turks coming as guest workers, probably with no ambitions to stay in Sweden, in the late 1960s. Many of them stayed, however, and as their families began to arrive in the 1970s and 1980s the requirement for institutions helping to uphold and preserve cultural and religious needs and values began to be felt. (More on the institutionalization of Islam in Sweden under the heading Organizations).

The 1980s also saw a growing Muslim population of refugees, and since then the Muslims of Turkish background are no longer in majority. The most influential groups come from Iraq, Iran, Somalia, the Balkans and Pakistan. ((Larsson and Sander 2009:163-169))

Most Swedish Muslims live in and around the three largest cities – Stockholm, Göteborg and Malmö – and the great majority lives in suburbs such as Rinkeby, Tensta or Skärholmen in Stockholm, Biskopsgården, Hammarkullen and Hjällbo in Göteborg, and Rosengård in Malmö.

Labor Market

Even though there has been more or less consensus within Swedish politics that employment will promote integration, studies show that access to the labor market have decreased in the general for immigrants (not only Muslims) since the 1970s. ((Arai et al. 1999; Behtoui 1999; Bevelander 1995, 2000; Bevelander et al. 1997; Broomé et al. 1996, 1998; Ekberg and Gustafsson 1995; Franzén 1998; Månsson and Ekberg 2000; SOU 1996:55, Ch. 8; Larsson and Sander 2009: Ch. 3:1:7)) According to Bevelander et al. (1997, Ch. 2) the failure of Sweden to give immigrant access to the labor market is so considerable that it (hand in hand with Norway and Denmark) resides at the bottom of the statistics in comparison to the rest of the industrialized world.

Even if they are fortunate enough to get a job, “most Muslim immigrants are forced to work in positions far below their level of education, training and skill. Employed foreign born are, consequently, to be fund [sic] primarily in branches with high amount of unqualified jobs, part of the industry sector, the hotel- and restaurant sector together with the private service sector.” (( Larsson and Sander 2009)) Larsson and Sander conclude that “many labor market reserachers have drawn the conclusion that the mere happenstance of being an immigrant – and particularly a black or Muslim immigrant – is, in and of itself, a sufficient disqualification in terms of securing gainful employment in Sweden…” ((Ibid 264)) Many [Muslim] immigrants have chosen, or been forced into, self employment as a response to the poor situation on the Swedish labor market.

Schooling was made obligatory for all children in Sweden in 1842. The most important subject back then was religious instruction under influence of the Lutheran State Church. This was the case until 1919 – the starting point of the secularization of the Swedish school system – when religious instruction were reduced by fifty percent. In 1962, a school reform required the subject of Christianity to maintain a “neutral” profile with respect to questions of faith; and in 1969, the subject’s name was changed from Christianity to Religious Education (religionskunskap), indicating the transition from a confessional to a non-confessional form of religious education that prioritised teaching about religion—including different religions, rather than teaching into a religion (e.g Christianity). ((Berglund 2010))

“The school has the important task of imparting, instilling and forming in pupils those values on which our society is based. The inviolability of human life, individual freedom and integrity, the equal value of all people, equality between women and men and solidarity with the weak and vulnerable are all values that the school shall represent and impart. In accordance with the ethics borne by Christian tradition and Western humanism, this is achieved by fostering in the individual a sense of justice, generosity of spirit, tolerance and responsibility. Education in the school shall be non-denominational. ((Curriculum for the non-compulsory school system Lpf 94: 2006))”

In accordance with Sweden’s Educational Act, these guidelines are to be followed by all schools – whether non-confessional or confessional.


As a result of the financial situation following immigrant’s low status in the Swedish labor market most immigrants of African and Asian origin can be found in Sweden’s poorer neighborhoods – so called “disadvantaged areas”. (( Larsson and Sander 2009: Ch. 3.1.9)) The commission on Housing Policy (Bostadspolitiska utredningen) define these as follows:

State and Church

January 1, 2000 saw what has been called a formal separation between the Church of Sweden and the State of Sweden. Even so the Church of Sweden is still more priviledged than other religious organizations and did, for instance, get to keep its properties and real estate – much of which is considered Swedish cultural heritage.

Muslims in the Legislature

According to Larsson and Sander (2007) immigrant representation in Swedish politics is poor. (( Larsson and Sander 2009: 245)) There are a few noticeable (ethnic-, cultural-, and religious-) Muslims active in Swedish politics. For instance Nalin Pekgul, of Turkish-Kurdish origin, who held representation in the Parliament of Sweden between 1994-2002. Since 2003 she’s the chairman of the The National Federation of Social Democratic Women in Sweden. Another politician of Turkish origin is Mehmet Kaplan who is a member of Parliament of the Swedish Environmental Party, member of the Swedish Committee of Justice, deputy of the Swedish Committee of Foreign Affairs, and deputy of the EU-Committee. Prior to his political commissions Kaplan was secretary (1996-2000) and later chairman (2000-2002) of Sweden’s Young Muslims (SUM) and spokesperson (2005-2006) of the Swedish Muslim Council (SMR).

In Anne Sofie Roald’s Muslimer i nya samhällen (Muslim’s in New Societies) (2009) seven persons in the Parliament with names indicating Muslim background were approached with a questionnaire about their religious affiliation, out of these two affirmed a Muslim identity. According to Roald a great majority (80 percent in 2002) of Sweden’s Muslims vote for left wing parties. But even so, she concludes, most Muslims in Sweden seem to have family- and moral values agreeing more with the politics of the right wing, or conservative parties. ((Roald 2009:137-143, Klaussen 2005))

February 2010 Mosa Sayed defended his much noticed dissertation Islam och arvsrätt i det mångkulturella Sverige. En internationellt privaträttslig och jämförande studie (Islam and Inheritance Law in Multicultural Sweden. A Study in Private International and Comparative law.) He himself summarizes the main concernes of his thesis as follows:

“Immigration has meant that to a large extent Sweden’s population at present is heterogeneous as regards culture and religion. In this doctoral thesis the choice of law rules of Swedish private international law relating to inheritance are elucidated in the context of an intestate succession characterised by Islam, to be precise the Egyptian law of inheritance.

The Egyptian rules are used as an example of a typical Islamic inheritance system. According to the Act (1937:81) on International Legal Relations Concerning Estate, the choice of law rule relating to inheritance is based on the principle of nationality.

This principle means that suitable rules follow the law of the country where the deceased was a citizen at the time of death. Many people in Sweden are citizens of countries with an Islamic inheritance legal order. The Swedish international inheritance rules imply that in these cases the estate will be devolved in accordance with the rules in the country of citizenship, i.e. the Islamic regime.

In this study the Swedish conflict rules are analysed in context of a multicultural Sweden.

What is the function of succession rules based on religion in a non-Muslim society, where a significant proportion of the population identifies themselves with the Islamic law due to their religious views and affiliation?

In what way can a multicultural perspective contribute to the interpretation and application of the international inheritance law regulations in Sweden?” ((

Muslim Organizations

Sweden’s first national Muslim federation – Förenade Islamiska Församlingar i Sverige (FIFS) – was founded in 1973 and in 1976 an Ahmadiyya congregation in Göteborg opened the country’s first purpose built mosque. Due to a split in FIFS a second national federation was formed in 1982 called Svenska Muslimska Förbundet (SMuF), and two years later a new group broke out of FIFS and formed Islamiska Centerunionen (ICUS). In 1988 these three federations claimed a total of 38 local congregations and 60.000 registered members. All three have joined SST under the name of Islamiska Samarbetsrådet (IS).

In 1986, FIFS and SMuF created Stiftelsen Islamiska Informationsbyrån (two years later to be renamed Islamiska Informationsföreningen, IIF), aiming at informing Swedish Muslims and non-Muslims alike through informational publications, lectures and such. In 2000 a handful of prominent representatives of Sweden’s Muslim communities founded Svenska Islamiska Akademin with the intention to promote Islamic education and research in Sweden, and working towards an Islamic University that, among other things, would be responsible for the training of imams. FIFS and SMuF also cooperate in Sveriges Muslimska Råd (SMR) created in 1990 to centralize power and act as spokespersons for Sweden’s Muslims in contacts with authorities and to the public at large. That same year the still very active youth organization Sveriges Muslimska Ungdomsförbund (SMuF), later to be renamed to Sveriges Unga Muslimer (SUM) was founded. Other important organizations is the umbrella organization Islamiska Rådet i Sverige (IRIS), Islamiska Kvinnoförbundet i Sverige (IKF) focusing on issues regarding women’s situation, and Sveriges Imamråd (SIR).

Both SMR and IRIS are heavily dominated by Sunni Muslims, but since the 1990 Sweden have seen an increasing amount of denominational and ethnic organizations, such as the Shi’ite Islamiska Shiasamfunden i Sverige (ISS) founded in 1992, or Bosnien-Hercegovinas Islamiska Riksförbund created in 1995. ((Larsson & Sander 2009:169-186))

January 2011 a Swedish Fatwa Counsel was established by some 10 Imams in Malmö. The ambition of the counsel is to offer guidance to Muslims living in Sweden, making it easier to practice Islam in harmony with Swedish law and culture.

In addition to these organizations there are also Sufi Tariqas and other Muslim congregations not necessarily affiliated with SST.

Islamic Education

Denominational schools in Sweden:

Christian Muslim Jewish
Compulsory schools 54 9 3
Upper secondary schools 6 0 0

In her 2009 thesis Theaching Islam: Islamic Religious Education at Three Muslim Schools in Sweden Jenny Berglund found that:

“it is inaccurate to speak about IRE in homogeneous terms since the content varies distinctively between different schools. In addition, it has been found that the educational questions considered by the involved teachers are similar to those considered by many other types of teachers. Although classroom observations and teacher interviews showed that the general content of all three IRE classrooms included the teaching of the Quran, Islamic history through religious narratives and song, specific content variations were evident. Differences concerned approaches to the teaching of the Quran, ways of using religious narratives and genre of songs. Therefore pupils in each school received somewhat different answers to local and global questions that were raised in the classrooms, indicating somewhat different interpretations of Islam. These differences suggest that the depiction of IRE as a transmission of Islam to the younger generation is not accurate since it leads to the impression that religions are insulated entities that are capable of being passed from one generation to the next without any change taking place. Instead this study shows that the teachers translate the content of IRE according to their perception of what is vital for their pupils to know and suitable for them to comprehend since they constantly choose content and negotiate its meaning.” (( Berglund 2009, 2010))

In 2010 Sweden’s first Muslim folk high school – Kista folkhögskola – opened. In 2011 they are investigating the possibility to offer some sort of an Imam education at the school.

Security, Immigration and Anti Terrorism Issues

December 18, 2001 two men of Egyptian origin – Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad al-Zery were deported from Sweden to Egypt on request from the CIA.

Mehdi Ghezali, a young Swedish man of Algerian background, was imprisoned at Guantanamo between January 2002 and July 2004. He was captured in Afghanistan December 2001 and taken to Guantanamo. In September 2009 ha was arrested again, in Pakistan, suspected of dealings with al-Qaida or other terrorist activity in Pakistan. He was released one month later and flown back to Sweden.

Oussama Kassir, a Swede of Lebanese origin, was found guilty on eleven charged brought against him in a terrorist trial by an American federal government in May 2009. Ousamma Kassir was convicted to lifelong imprisonment.

September 25, 2009 the daily newspaper Sydsvenska dagbladet knew to tell at least nine Swedish citizens were jailed around the world, suspected or convicted of crimes related to terrorism. ((

Since 2009 there have been many reports about representatives from Somali Islamist network al-Shabaab recruiting in Sweden. According to Swedish Secret Police (SÄPO) ten to twenty Swedish-Somalis have been recruited and about ten persons have gone to Mogadishu to partake in battle.

January 2010 The Swedish government asked the Swedish Secret Police (SÄPO) for a report on radical Islamism in Sweden. “There are indications coming from SÄPO”, said Minister of Integration Nyamko Sabuni, “that violent, radical Islamists are recruiting in Sweden. Even if this is not a big problem, it can have grave consequences for some individuals.” The report was published December 15 2010. In the report “violence inclined Islamist extremism” is defined as “activities threatening security which are Islamistically motivated, and which aims at changing the society in a non-democratic direction by the use of violence or threat of violence.” Radicalization, further, is defined as: “the process leading to a person, or a group, supporting or exercising, ideologically motivated violence to support a case.”

The report was the result of a systematic adaptation and analysis of existing material gathered by Säpo, and focused on 2009. But they also made use of other publically available sources, such as other authority reports and research articles.

According to the report there are approximately 200 individuals engaged in violence inclined Islamist extremism in Sweden – even though this activity mainly pursue to support or aid terrorism in other countries, such as Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and North Africa. The only somewhat common denominator for radicalization amongst these individuals seems to be that the majority consists of men in between 15-30 years of age. Out of these 200 individuals SÄPO estimates 80 percent to have friendly bonds or other connections to each other. Not surprisingly Internet seems to be the common ground for these individuals and groups.

SÄPO states that “the threat from violence inclined Islamist extremism in Sweden is currently not a threat against fundamental societal structures or the Swedish form of government.” The greatest potential threat towards Sweden, SÄPO concludes, is the long term effects of individuals travelling abroad to affiliate with violence inclined Islamist organizations.

The general conclusions of the report are that violence inclined Islamist extremism and radicalization is a reality in Sweden and must be seen as a potential threat. Presently, however, this is to be considered a limited phenomenon which is to be met with general crime preventive measures, already conducted in Sweden. On their homepage Säpo sums the report up as follows:

Violence-promoting Islamist extremism and radicalisation do exist in Sweden and should not be underestimated as potential threats. However, the currently limited occurrences of these phenomena should be countered mainly by an increased focus on preventive measures. These are the main conclusions of the report on violence-promoting Islamist extremism in Sweden presented to Government today.

In February 2010, the Security Service was commissioned by the Government to put together an official report on violence-promoting Islamist extremism. The report contains a description of violence-promoting Islamist extremism in Sweden, discernible radicalization processes and tools and strategies for use in countering radicalization. The overall purpose of the report is to facilitate a more balanced and informed debate on these issues.

Focus on other countries:

According to the report, there are a number of networks based on a violence-promoting Islamist extremist ideology that are currently active in Sweden. Most of these networks focus on action and propaganda against foreign troops in Muslim countries and against governments they see as corrupt and not representing what the networks consider to be the only true interpretation of Islam. Individual who are active in these networks engage in activities aiming to support and facilitate terrorist offenses mainly in other countries.
Relatively limited number of people.

The report also shows that the threat from violence-promoting Islamist extremism in Sweden is currently not a threat to the fundamental structures of society, Sweden´s democratic system or Central Government. This form of extremism may however constitute a threat to both individuals and groups.

Only a relatively limited number of people are involved in violence-promoting Islamist extremism, and the group of active members on whose actions the descriptions in this report are based consists of just under 200 individuals. There is nothing to indicate that the number of people radicalized in Sweden is growing.
The importance of preventive measures:

Violence-promoting Islamist extremism and radicalization should be countered mainly by an increasing focus on preventive measures. Given the substantial similarities in terms of how and why people radicalize, regardless of ideological affiliation, it should be possible to better coordinate preventive efforts and countermeasures targeting various extremist groups.

Experiences and knowledge gained from crime prevention initiatives in general should also play a more prominent role. Preventive work should be engaged in by actors on all levels of society — nationally, regionally as well as locally.

((Säpo 2010))

Just days before the publication of the SÄPO report, on the afternoon of December 11, 2010, a suicide bomber blew himself up in downtown Stockholm. The fatal blast occurred 10 minutes after a car exploded and injured two persons on a nearby street. The bombing was defined as a terror crime by Swedish Secret Police (SÄPO).

The Suicide bomber was later identified as Taimour Abdulwahab, a 29-year old Swede of Iraqi origin who was raised in the little town of Tranås in the south of Sweden. Abdulwahab was not in the SÄPO report published days before. One reason for this could be he was living in Luton, England since 2001, where he had studied to become a physical therapist. Some reports suggests he became radicalized through contacts with Hizb ut-Tahrir representatives in a local mosque there. Not long before the suicide bombing in Stockholm he spent some time in the Middle East – possibly Jordan – where he, according to a letter he sent out before the suicide attack – was engaged in Jihad.

He had been in Sweden for about four weeks before the bombing. The first explosion, sending two people to the hospital was set of in a car, filled with canisters of liquefied petroleum gas and fireworks. Minutes later came the other explosion on a side street, parallel to one of the main shopping streets in Stockholm. It seems one of the bombs he had strapped to his body went off prematurely, before he was able to reach his destination (which is unknown), killing just Abdulwahab himself without setting the other bombs off or injuring anyone else.

Roughly ten minutes before the explosions, Abdulwahab is to have sent an e-mail to the Swedish news agency TT and the Security Service in which he referred to the presence of Swedish troops in Afghanistan and the Swedish artist Lars Vilks’ drawing of Muhammad as a roundabout dog. The letter furthermore said: “Now will your children, daughters and sisters die the same way our brothers and sisters die. Our actions will speak for themselves. As long as you don’t end your war against Islam and degradation against the prophet and your foolish support for the pig Vilks.” The message ended with a call to “all Muhajedin in Europe and Sweden. Now is the time to strike, wait no longer. Go forward with whatever you have, even if it is a knife, and I know you have more than a knife. Fear no one, don’t fear prison, and don’t fear death.”

December 29, 2010 four men were arrested in Denmark suspected of planning an attack on the newspaper JyllandsPosten in Copenhagen. Three of these came from Sweden. Later a fifth man connected to the plot against the Danish newspaper, which published the Muhammad cartoons five years back, was arrested in Stockholm. The arrest was preceded by intelligence work by as well the Swedish (SÄPO) and the Danish (PET) Secret Police. According to Jacob Scharf at PET, Several of the suspects could be described “as militant Islamists with connections to international terror networks.”

The arrested men where a 37-year-old Swede of Tunisian background, a 44-year-old Tunisian, a 29-year-old Swede born in Lebanon, a 30-year-old Swede and a 26-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker.  “We learned that people in Sweden were planning a terror crime in Denmark. We’ve known about it for several months. These people are known to the police in Sweden. We contacted our Danish colleagues. We’ve had people under intense surveillance,” SÄPO head Anders Danielsson said later.

One of the men arrested in Denmark, a 29-year-old Swede of Lebanese decent, have been arrested two times earlier. In 2007 he was arrested in Somalia together with several other Swedes, including his then 17-year-old fiancée, on suspicions of having fought on the side of Islamic forces in the ongoing battle in Somalia. He was also arrested once in Pakistan two years later. Also detained were, again, his fiancé and the couple’s toddler son, and Mehdi Ghezali. Ghezali is a former inmate of the US-operated Guantánamo Bay prison, who was released in 2004.

Also the man arrested in Stockholm in connection to the plot against JyllandsPosten in Copenhagen has a previous record. He was arrested in Pakistan last year and spent 10 days in a Pakistani prison for having entered the country illegally. According to Säpo, the man was involved in the planning of the Copenhagen attack, but decided to remain in Stockholm for reasons as yet unknown. ((News Agencies))

Bias and Discrimination

As showed above Muslims are being discriminated on the Swedish labor market, and as discussed under the heading “Media and Public Perception of Islam” below there are tangible evidence of discrimination against Muslims in Sweden. There are, writes Susanne Olsson (2009) a structural discrimination aganinst Muslims consisting in a cultural racism depicting Muslims as “the Other” in Swedish society:

Studies show that islamophobia has been increasing in Sweden since 2001, and a Committee against Islamophobia (KOmmitén mot islamofobi) was created in 2005. The Swedish Islamic Literature and Media Watch (Svensk Islamisk Litteratur och Mediebevakning (SILOM)), is a Muslim network that has been formed in to work against stereotyped and negative images of Islam and Muslims in the media and thus promote integration. ((Olsson, Susanne Religion in the Public Space: ‘Blue.and-Yellow Islam’ in Sweden. Religion, State and Society, No 3, 2009 Routledge))

Islamic Practice

There are about 250 Muslim national organizations in Sweden, usually occupying so called “basement mosques”. ((Klausen 2005:113)) Out of these six are purpose built mosques, four of which are Sunni (in Malmö, Stockholm and Uppsala), one Shi’ia (Trollhättan), and one Ahmadiyya (Göteborg). ((For litarature on mosques in Sweden see: Eva Vikström, Rum för islam – moskén som religiöst rum i Sverige. Stockholm: Riksantikvarieämbetet (2006) and Pia Karlsson & Ingvar Svanberg: Moskéer i Sverige. En religionsetnologisk studie av intolerans och administrativ vanmakt. Tro & Tanke (1995).))

May 2008 the Swedish Government appointed a commission to investigate the need and possibility for a Swedish education of Imams. The commissions report was published in June 2009 and promoted two proposals: 1, to do nothing or, 2, to do more of what is already being done. ((SOU 2009:52

There are few studies of lay Muslims religious and spiritual everyday life in Sweden, but in 2007 Pia Karlsson Minganti successfully defended her thesis, titled “Muslima. Islamisk väckelse och unga muslimska kvinnors förhandlingar om genus i det samtida Sverige”. Miganti is focusing on young Muslim women’s engagement in an Islamic revival in Sweden, showing how they seek gender empowerment through the Qur’an.

Some Muslim traditions and practices are becoming more visible in Swedish everyday life. One example, as discussed in Jenny Berglund and Simon Sorgenfrei’s Ramadan – en svensk tradition (Ramadan – a Swedish Tradition) published in 2009, is the month of fasting during Ramadan and the following celebration of Id al-fitr or Bayram which today is being more recognized as a religious tradition amongst others in Sweden. Super markets and grocery stores has become more attentive to Muslims as customers – 2008 Swedish Muslims are estimated to have been shopping for skr – and prayers and celebrations connected to Id al-fitr are usually being broadcasted in Swedish television. (Berglund and Sorgenfrei 2009). In 2010 Jonas Otterbeck – Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Lund – published Samtidsislam – unga muslimer i Malmö och Köpenhamn (Contemporary Islam – Young Muslims in Malmö and Köpenhamn) in which he portrays nine young Muslim’s thoughts on religion, belief and identity. Otterbeck’s informants are all 17 or 18 years of age and of Arabic, Persian or Pakistani ethnic origin.

Otterbeck states he has two political objectives with his book. He wants to present contrasting images to the dominant negative stereotype of Islam and Muslims, and he wants to show how these young Muslims own the right to define their religiosity and how it is to be expressed (or not, one could add). It shows these nine youngsters have got different, but overlapping, relations to their religion and that their religiosity to a far degree complies with the surrounding majorities. Many of them avoid pork and alcohol – but some do not. None of them express their Muslim identity through visual symbols such as hijab or a beard. None of them prays regularly, and just a few visits the mosque to pray now or then. Using statistical surveys Otterbeck show how his young informants rather strong faith in God differentiate them from the majority in Sweden and Denmark, while their individualised religiosity – with a strong focus on ethics and intention – is rather typical for their time, place and age. Religion has become a private matter actualized at home with the family or through visits with relatives in their counties of origin.

In their everyday life in the larger community Islam is not as present. But, Otterbeck emphasizes, because of their ethnicity they are identified as Muslims by the surrounding society – while they are expected not to use Islam as a standard impinging on their behaviour or values. They are forced to live with expectations and demands which differentiate them from their ethnic Swedish and Danish peers.

Media and Public Perception of Islam

Most representation of Islam and Muslims in the media and other important areas of social discourse, writes Larsson and Sander (2009:211), “appear one-sided, ethnocentric, sensational and derogatory, confirming rather than challenging negative stereotypes, clichés and prejudices.” The general picture (regarding Sweds perception of Islam and Muslims), Larsson and Sander conclude, “is quite easy to summarize: the percentage of negative responses has varied from fifty to seventy-five percent, and the percentage of positive responses has varied from five to almost fifty percent.” (Larsson and Sander 2009:215f). They base this claim on a rather large body of research. ((See Larsson and Sander 2009, footnote 220, also pps 224-232)) The general opinion among Swedish scholars is that the media, as well as the popular discourse on Islam and Muslims in Sweden, promotes an essentialistic notion about Islam, allowing generalizing about Muslims as a homogeneous group. This has been recognized and acknowledged in recent media reports about Islam and Muslims in Sweden.

((e.g and

The subject of islamophobia has been discussed, amongst others, by Göran Larsson in Muslimerna kommer. Tankar om islamofobi (2006), Jonas Otterbeck Islamofobi – en studie av begreppet, ungdomars atityder och unga muslimers utsatthet (2007) ((An english summary of the study is available here: and in Andreas Malm’s Hatet mot muslimer (2009).

Most representation of Islam and Muslims in the media and other important areas of social discourse, writes Larsson and Sander (2009:211), “appear one-sided, ethnocentric, sensational and derogatory, confirming rather than challenging negative stereotypes, clichés and prejudices.” The general picture (regarding Sweds perception of Islam and Muslims), Larsson and Sander conclude, “is quite easy to summarize: the percentage of negative responses has varied from fifty to seventy-five percent, and the percentage of positive responses has varied from five to almost fifty percent.” (Larsson and Sander 2009:215f). They base this claim on a rather large body of research. ((See Larsson and Sander 2009, footnote 220, also pps 224-232)) The general opinion among Swedish scholars is that the media, as well as the popular discourse on Islam and Muslims in Sweden, promotes an essentialistic notion about Islam, allowing generalizing about Muslims as a homogeneous group. This has been recognized and acknowledged in recent media reports about Islam and Muslims in Sweden. ((e.g and

The subject of islamophobia has been discussed, amongst others, by Göran Larsson in “Muslimerna kommer”. “Tankar om islamofobi” (2006), Jonas Otterbeck’s “Islamofobi – en studie av begreppet, ungdomars atityder och unga muslimers utsatthet” (2007), Andreas Malm’s “Hatet mot muslimer” (2009) and in 2010 by professor Mattias Gardell in a book entitled ”Islamofobi”.

In comparison to some other European countries the political discourse on Islam and Muslims in Sweden has been comparatively civil. Between 1991 and 1994 populist Ny demokrati got elected to using xenophobic, and in many cases islamophobic, politics. In 1993 Vivianne Franzén, leader of Ny Demokrati between 1994-1997, pronounced a fear of Sweden’s future children being forced to turn their faces towards Mecca. The -00s have seen the growing popularity of another populist right-wing party – Sweden Democrats (SD) (founded in 1988 by individuals from other nationalist, xenofobic and/or neo-nazi organizations and parties). November 19 2009, Sweden Democrats’ leader Jimmie Åkesson published an article in Aftonbladet, one of Sweden’s main tabloids, where he talked about “the dangers of Islam and Islamization”, “as the greatest foreign threat to Sweden since World War II… ” January 2010 politicians and others have been debating the possibility of banning the burqa and niqab from public space in Sweden. So far none of the governing parties are promoting a law against burqa and niqab in Sweden.

In the national elections of 2010 the Sweden Democrats was made king makers in the Swedish government. The debate on Islamism discussed above ) in which they did not want to discuss other sorts of extremism, i.e. far-right or far-left) is one of a number of examples of how they been able to put forward a negative discourse on Islam in Sweden.

In a bibliography entitled “Islam and Muslims in the Swedish Media and academic research : with a bibliography of English and French literature on Islam and Muslims in Sweden”, Göran Larsson concludes that:

“while public debates and the media have both been occupied with preecceptional cases of violence, the academic study of Islam and Muslims in Sweden has mainly focused on questions such as organizatinal streuctures, historical aspects and freedom of worship. However, both journalists and academics have neglected the fact that secularim is also present among immigrant with Muslim cultural background and that ‘Muslims’ also take part in ordinary activities that are not related to religion alone.” ((Larsson 2006
The full text is available at:”