Spain’s Muslims: Living On Society’s Edge

Though Islam is woven into the fabric of the country’s history, Moroccans and other Arabs living there today are struggling to find their place in society as well as their role in the Muslim world. Mustafa Bougrine is a Moroccan who has lived in Spain for 19 years. He’s married to a Spanish woman and runs a restaurant. He fears that a new feeling of Islamophobia may be growing in the Spanish population. “When people hear the word ‘Islam’, they think about Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein or Gaddafi, but that’s not Islam,” he says. “I’m against every form of fanaticism, suicide bombers and everything that is referred to as ‘jihad’. Muslims here in Spain believe in democracy and peaceful coexistence between Christians, Jews and Muslims.” Change is definitely brewing among Madrid’s Muslims. The city’s Lavapies neighborhood (see related link below), where many immigrants live and the suspected culprits of the March 11 terrorist attacks ran a telephone shop, has practically come to a standstill. The mosque on the M30 highway beltway is the largest in Madrid. But these days it’s conspicuously empty. Before last Thursday’s terrorist attacks on the city, as many as 1,000 would come at a single time to pray here. Now it’s difficult to find more than 50 people who have come here to pray in the direction of Mecca. Many Muslims are staying home and out of the public eye as Spanish investigators shift their focus from Basque separatists toward the attack’s suspected Moroccan culprits. Spanish newspapers are reporting sources alleging links between Thursday’s terrorist attacks and bombings in Casablanca last May that also killed dozens of Spaniards. The developments have sent shockwaves through Spain’s Muslim community, which is struggling to establish its own identity in a staunchly Catholic country. An influx of economic refugees Close to 600,000 Muslims live in Spain, with the majority originating from northern Africa’s Maghreb countries, mostly Morocco which is located just kilometers across the Straight of Gibraltar. Islam is not a new religion in Spain. No other European country has as many traces of the religion in its history. For several hundred years, right up till the end of the 15th century, Islam was a dominant presence on the Iberian Peninsula. Most of those living here today came during the 1980s. Their numbers grew in the 1990s as they took jobs in Spain’s growing agricultural, construction, hospitality and service industry. They are the silent majority of Spain’s Muslims. Many of the dominant voices heard in Spain are those of Spanish Islam converts or leaders of Islamic cultural centers financed by the Saudi Arabian government — groups that play a prominent role in negotiating the rights and duties of Muslims within the Spanish state. Finding their place But for most Moroccans, eking out a living is the most important aspect of daily life. Through countless grassroots associations, Moroccans in Spain are fighting for their economic survival as well as the construction of mosques in their neighborhoods. Muhammad Chouirdi works for the Association of Moroccan Workers and Immigrants. He finds alarming the miserable circumstances under which his fellow countrymen are forced to fulfill their religious obligations. Strapped for cash, the temptation to take money from other Arab groups is tempting, but the political dangers are considerable. Moroccan Muslim leaders like Chouidiri are also wary of other branches of Islam, which they fear are being accepted uncritically by Moroccan immigrants. “We suspect that small Moroccan living-room mosques on the outskirts of Madrid are already receiving Saudi Arabian money,” Chouirdi explains. “By doing so, Saudi Arabia is trying to spread its form of Islam and practices — primarily Wahhabi Muslim. The probelm is that Moroccan immigrants have a low level of education and there’s a danger that they will not recognize the danger of these religious practices. For them, practicing Islam means praying give times a day and following many rules. What we get from the outside world — in this case from Saudi Arabia — is accepted with out critical discussion.” Islam from Saudi Arabia, with its fundamentalist characteristics, has spread in Spain in recent years. All the big representative mosques in Spain were built with Saudi money. And frequently the Saudis have also sent imams who interpret the Quran according to the Wahhabis. Wahhabism rejects all modernity, any dialogue between religions, any opening up to other cultures. The breeding ground for last week’s attacks could have been here. For both the culprits in the Casablanca bombing in 2003 and the alleged perpetrators of the Madrid attacks belong to terrorist groups that have been influenced by Wahhabi ideologists. A religious border Now people are asking themselves how a minority in the Muslim community could have become susceptible to Islamist propaganda. The disparities between Spain’s Catholic and Muslim societies could provide some clues. A look at Ceuta, one of the two Spanish cities on the Moroccan Mediterranean coast, is revealing. Ceuta is the gateway to Europe. The border between Africa and Europe, between Islamic Morocco and Catholic Spain, is here. Half of Ceuta’s 72,000 residents are Christian, while the other half are Muslim, mainly of Moroccan origin. The chairman of Islamic Community of Ceuta, Abselam Hamadi, says that many Muslims still feel like second-class citizens, that they don’t have the same opportunities Christians have. “Only few Muslims get jobs in Ceuta’s state administration. The response is always the same: professional qualifications lacking. That’s not the truth, of course. But if more Muslims were accepted, there would be more Muslims than Christians in the administration one day, and that scares the Christians.” The fact is, Ceuta’s Muslim residents have dramatically lower standards of living and levels of education than Christian residents. They mainly live in the El Principe district, a poor, entirely Muslim neighborhood right on the border to Morocco, where integration doesn’t exist. Young Muslims born in Spain to Moroccan parents live here. They don’t feel Moroccan, but they aren’t fully accepted by Spanish society either. Many fear the promises of the “real Islamic message” may be received with open arms in communities like Ceuta, creating the kind of dangerous backdrop that could breed future terrorism.

Prayers And Fears Of Madrid’s Muslims

By Dominic Bailey Muslims in Spain are worried. Exactly who was behind the Madrid train bombings is still not certain but three of the five being questioned are Moroccan, one of whom is reported to be linked to attacks in Casablanca last year. There is a large Moroccan immigrant community in Spain and many fear reprisals against their families, businesses and places of worship. Islamic leaders in Spain were quick to denounce the 11 March Madrid attacks, even though the finger of blame was initially pointed at Basque separatists Eta. At least eight Muslims were among the 200 people killed and more than 40 among the hundreds of injured. But talk of al-Qaeda links has again muddied the perception of Islam and made ordinary Muslims feel insecure in the land they have happily made their home. Rumours of repercussions The white stone and marble Cultural Islamic Centre and mosque stands out against the backdrop of high-rise flats along the M-30 motorway out of Madrid. For a Muslim to kill a person unjustly is to kill everyone. There is no justification to kill Inside it is a cool oasis of serenity that echoes with the imam’s call to prayer. But the number of prayer times has been reduced and entrance to regular visitors is restricted. The centre’s secretary, Mohamad Saleh, says the safety precautions are necessary. “We are worried about the repercussions that there may be against Muslims,” he said. After 11 September eggs were thrown at the mosque and some Muslims were sacked from their jobs simply because of their religion. There are already reports of abuse on the street, Arab businesses having windows broken and rumours of demonstrations outside the mosque being planned. Moorish memories “We felt for the victims, the same as everyone, this sort of desperate terrorism affects all areas,” said Mr Saleh. “But people shouldn’t punish a religion or country because of who commits a crime. If a Christian kills, are all Christians blamed? Are the Basques blamed if ETA attack? Moroccans in Spain Moroccans are the largest immigrant group in Spain In 2003 there were 333,000, 20% of all legal immigrants The number of illegal immigrants is unknown Thousands cross the eight-mile Straits of Gibraltar every year on rafts or small boats In 2003 24,146 people were repatriated to Morocco Many work as cleaners, farm labourers or building workers Polls show that Moroccans are Spain’s least-liked immigrants “These people are terrorists and terrorists are criminals wherever they are from. “They cannot have real faith or know God. For a Muslim to kill a person unjustly is to kill everyone. There is no justification to kill.” A banner reading “No to terrorism. Solidarity and condolences to the victims and their families” hangs under the arch of the centre’s entrance. There are about 500,000 Muslims in Madrid and on Fridays between 1,500 and 2,000 faithful pray at the mosque. Most are from Morocco, Algeria and other Arab states. Spain has a long, if bloody, history with its Arab neighbours to the south. Many Arabic dishes, words and architecture survive in modern Spain, remnants from the Moorish conquest of the peninsula which ended in 1492. ‘Good people’ But now, many immigrants who have made the country their second home don’t feel safe. A 46-year-old Algerian, who would not give his name, said there had been threats and people were afraid. “Here in Madrid there is a mix of everyone, Jews, Muslims, Christians – it is like a big family and we all have our way of life.” “I feel one of the people here and feel for them but I don’t like the way they now look at us in the street,” he said. “A friend of my wife’s came home pale and frightened the other day after a group of kids threatened her, shouting ‘Dirty disgusting Moors’.” But he said the Spanish were genuinely good people and hopefully would move on with their lives. Moroccan immigrant Rabii, 26, playing draughts with bits of cardboard outside the mosque, said it still had to be proved that al-Qaeda was to blame. “The people coming over here are not here for jihad, they are coming here to find a better future. But now we can’t go to the mosque and they are stopping us praying.” A greater concern for him was that the difficult task of finding a job would be made harder after the attacks. After the pain, peace Businessman Ahmed Jbari, 53, from Tangiers, says the adverse reactions are down to ignorance. “Here in Madrid there is a mix of everyone, Jews, Muslims, Christians – it is like a big family and we all have our way of life. “But people who break the windows should be blamed, not others. Here 29 pay for what one has done.” Moroccan street-seller Abdellate Fechaaui, 30, was among the hundreds of Muslims who joined the march of millions against terrorism after the Madrid attacks. Abdellate and his colleagues had one message for the Spanish people and the bombers: “We are with the Spanish people and are feeling the same pain as everyone. We want peace.”

Police ‘Identify’ Madrid Bombers

Spanish police are reported to have identified six Moroccans who they believe carried out the Madrid bomb attacks that have killed 201 people. Five of the suspects are still at large but one is in custody, the Spanish newspaper El Pais quotes security sources as saying. The man, named as Jamal Zougam, is reported to have been identified by people who survived Thursday’s blasts. Mr Zougam was arrested on Saturday with two other Moroccans and two Indians. The number killed in the attacks has risen with the death of a 45-year woman. The figure is one short of the 202 people killed in Bali in October 2002 when a nightclub was bombed. Moroccans in Spain Moroccans are the largest immigrant group in Spain In 2003 there were 333,000, 20% of all legal immigrants The number of illegal immigrants is unknown Thousands cross the 13km (8 miles) Straits of Gibraltar every year on rafts or small boats In 2003 24,146 people were repatriated to Morocco Many work as cleaners, farm labourers or building workers Polls show that Moroccans are Spain’s least-liked immigrants Security sources told El Pais that the six Moroccans might have formed only part of the group behind the attacks and that militants from other countries might also have been involved. An interior ministry spokesman Juan de Dios Colmenero told the Associated Press that he could not confirm the reports in El Pais. The BBC’s Chris Morris in Madrid says the investigation is still in its infancy but there are already suspicions that the blasts could be linked to the leading Islamic militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is wanted by the United States for a series of attacks in Iraq and elsewhere. Meanwhile, police in the Basque city of San Sebastian have arrested an Algerian man who in January allegedly threatened to massacre people in Madrid, but initial reports suggest he is not a prime suspect. Solidarity The focus is falling increasingly on Morocco; Moroccan security officials are helping Spanish police. The BBC’s Pascale Harter in Tangier says there is great anger among Moroccans as the Spanish investigation seems to be leading back to their country. A state-organised demonstration is due to take place in Tangier later on Tuesday, which is expected to be well attended. People want a chance to express their solidarity with Spain, our correspondent says, especially after the funerals of a 13-year-old girl and a 24-year-old man from Tangier who were killed by the blasts. As Spaniards also continue to bury their dead, a memorial service is to take place in Madrid’s cathedral on Tuesday evening at 1900 GMT. Officials have also announced that a state funeral for the victims will be held in Mardrid on 24 March. The Spanish people are also continuing to digest Sunday’s shock election result that saw the Popular Party turfed out of office. The Socialists, who won the biggest bloc of seats, are now trying to form a coalition with smaller parties to form a government. ‘Al-Qaeda links’ Survivors of the attacks are reported to have identified Mr Zougam from photographs but police sources have said they are treating the witnesses’ statements with caution. One of the allegations against 30-year-old Mr Zougam is that he has links with the Salafia Jihadia group, held responsible for attacks in the Moroccan city of Casablanca last May that killed 45 people. He is also said to have connections with Imad Yarkas, alias Abu Dahdah, the alleged leader of an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, who is awaiting trial in Spain on charges of taking part in the 11 September plot. Mr Zougam was detained with Mohamed Bekkali, 31, and Mohamed Chaoui, 34, all from Morocco. Two Indians, named as Vinay Kohly and Suresh Kumar, were also arrested. These five men were arrested in connection with a mobile phone which was found inside a bag containing explosives that failed to go off. Investigators believe mobile phones were used to detonate 10 bombs hidden in backpacks on the four trains which were targeted. Formal charges have not yet been presented.

French Muslims Protest Arson Attacks On Mosques

Hundreds of French Muslims held Saturday, March 6, a silent demonstration protesting two arson attacks on mosques in southeastern France a day earlier. The first fire in the city of Seynod engulfed an entire 800-square meter prayer hall, the pulpit and the library, French Le Monde daily reported. The second seriously damaged the heating system of a mosque in the city of Annecy before fire fighters got the situation under control. Security sources said the arson attacks were likely plotted by right-wing extremists, who harbor hatred towards the Muslim community in France . There were no immediate claims of responsibility.

Founder Of The PCP Steps Down

Jean-Fran_ois Bastin, (alias Abdullah Abu Abdulaziz) the founder of the “Parti Citoyennet_ et Prosp_rit_” which received in the elections in May 2003 more than 8000 votes, resigned from its current position of the Party leader. The official reason of his resignation is ‘the doctrinal reorientation of the Party’. His name will not appear on the election lists in the coming regional elections in June. Sheikh Bastin claims that his departure from the Party has nothing to do with the accusation of his son Muhammed el Amin Bastin of involvement in the terrorist attacks in Turkey in November 2003. The new leader of the PCP becomes imam Bassam Ayachi, who is the administrator of the website assabyle.com.

Crackdown By Police Is ‘Driving Muslims To Extremists’

Heavy handed anti-terrorist policing is driving British Muslims into the hands of al-Qa’ida and other Islamic extremist groups, David Blunkett and Scotland Yard have been warned. The Muslim community is increasingly alarmed at the number of people being arrested for suspected anti-terrorist offences, but released without charge. Extremists, such as the supporters of al-Qa’ida and al-Muhajiroun, a radical Muslim organisation, are attempting to exploit this unrest and recruit new members in Britain, the Home Secretary and the police have been told. The warning by Muslim leaders follows the arrest of 537 people by the Metropolitan Police under anti-terrorist legislation since the 11 September attacks in 2001. Of those detained, 94 have been charged with terrorist-related offences and six have been convicted.

Former Imam Of Finsbury Park Mosque Has Lost Appeal

The Former Imam Of The Finsbury Park Mosque, London, Has Lost His Appeal Against Detention Without Trial. Abu Qatada, described as an “inspiration” for terrorists both here and abroad, has been held for more than a year under emergency powers introduced after the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York.