A group of 204 Muslims, all from the region of Ceuta, are unable to travel to Mecca and participate in the Islamic obligation of Hajj due to traveling visas. The victims, which included many women, held a rally before the government and headquarters of the local government to express their frustrations. The affected Muslims have asked for authorities to intervene in the failure by the travel agency to secure their visas.
Persons in Spanish occupied territories of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco have declared themselves to be enemies of the Spanish state, asking for several demands, including mosques, schools, Islamic professors, and sovereignty of the population. More than 30,000 Muslims live in Ceuta, where they comprise almost half of the population in the Spanish enclave, similar to Melilla. In response to surfacing tensions, Spain first settled in Melilla in 1496 and Ceuta in 1580. Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rabalcaca said on public television these two towns are Spanish, and Spanairds who live there want to see their king.
Morocco considers that the Royal trip of Don Juan Carlos and Dona Sofia to Ceuta and Melilla as an endangerment to the relations between the two countries. This reaction represents a much higher critique than the one presented to the visit of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in 2006. Moreover, it has opened up bilateral tensions once again focusing on the Spanish territories in the North African region.
The Education and Science Ministry of Ceuta has issued a report that forces a local school to accept two girls wearing the hijab in class. The Ministry declared that education according to the Spanish Constitution comes before other matters. The prohibition to wear the veil was part of an agreement to deny student’s access to the institution if they wear certain items of clothing.
On Tuesday December 12th, in the enclave of Ceuta, the Spanish police arrested eleven people supposed to belong to an islamist cell in the process of formation, according to the Spanish minister of the interior. The group is made up of ten Spaniards and one Moroccan. Among them were two brothers of Hamed Abderrahmane, called the “Spanish Taliban” because he had been detained for two years in the American prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Returned to the Spanish authorities in 2004, he was sentenced to 6 years in prison for belonging to al-Qaida, then pardoned in 2006 for a lack of proof. Since the beginning of the year, 45 people suspected of links to Islamic terrorism have been arrested in Spain.
MADRID – Nearly one hundred thousand students wish to receive classes on Islam, according to numbers issued by the Comision Islamica Espanola (CIE). According to a 1992 agreement with the Ministry of Education, instruction in the subject must be provided if at least a tenth of the students request it. To date, 28 teachers of the subject work in Spain, mostly in Andalusia, Ceuta and Melilla. However, budget appropriations for teaching staff in the Canary Islands and Aragon have already been approved, and the same is expected in Madrid, Valencia and Catalonia.
By Emma Ross-Thomas MELILLA, Spain (Reuters) – It’s Ramadan in Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla and as tempers fray, a group of shopkeepers argue about how Spanish they are. “I am a Spanish Berber,” one fasting shopkeeper shouts in Spanish, repeating it in the Berber language Tamazight. Mimon Mohamed Amar shouts back: “Come on, all of us Muslims have family in Morocco … we all migrated from Morocco.” Melilla, nestling on Morocco’s northeast coast, has been Spanish since the late 15th century but Morocco claims it, along with Spain’s other enclave of Ceuta. Insecurities about Melilla’s status as a Spanish city or colony — never far from the surface — have re-emerged in recent weeks amid an immigration crisis in the city and residents in both enclaves held pro-Spanish demonstrations last week. “The Melillans will fight however we can so that it is not surrendered,” said 56-year-old health worker Maria Dolores Gongora. The hundreds of African migrants who have tried to enter Europe by storming the enclave’s heavily guarded razor-wire border have a limited impact on the city as they are regularly flown to the mainland but the crisis has sparked tensions between Melilla and Madrid and between the enclave and Morocco. Several local and national newspapers have suggested Morocco was turning a blind eye to African migrants crossing the razor-wire border fence in order to put pressure on Spain to ditch the enclaves — Europe’s only land borders with Africa. “Our southern neighbor is using these thousands of desperate people as a tool … so that we do not forget that they want Ceuta and Melilla for themselves,” an editorial in a Melilla newspaper said. A piece in a nationalist Moroccan newspaper fueled that by saying Spain could rid itself of the immigration problem by leaving the continent. Morocco has since reinforced police and military units around the enclaves, arresting hundreds of migrants. Moroccan troops killed six Africans who were trying to get into Melilla last Wednesday. Some Melilla residents — a large proportion of whom have relatives in the army or civil guard police — said they felt abandoned by the Socialist central government which was not doing enough to stop the migrants clambering over the fences. They also felt Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero did not feel strongly enough about keeping Melilla Spanish. “The new (Socialists) I think aren’t very keen. They make a lot of agreements with the Moroccans, they talk a lot with the Moroccans,” said a 46-year-old civil servant who gave his name only as Antonio. Melillans were angered by press reports Zapatero failed to answer a question on Melilla’s sovereignty at a news conference with his Moroccan counterpart and he was forced last week to state his commitment to the territory staying Spanish. The city is home to Muslims, Christians, Jews and Hindus who are broadly united in wanting the city to be Spanish. Like Britain’s colony Gibraltar off Spain’s southern coast, the enclave is much richer than the surrounding area. It is full of civil servants who earn more than their mainland counterparts. Melilla enjoys low taxes and swathes of the population live off border trade. “I don’t want Morocco to take over Ceuta and Melilla, it would mean ruin,” Mohamed Dris, a 70-year-old shopkeeper, said. “Ceuta and Melilla are Morocco’s, of course they are, but Spain has taken them and I don’t want Morocco to ruin everything.” Many of the Muslims in Melilla, like the shopkeeper who declined to give his name, are Berbers, a group traditionally repressed in Morocco and therefore less keen on Moroccan rule. “This is Spain, whoever wants it to be Moroccan can go off to Morocco,” said the shopkeeper, who sells Moroccan gifts, clothes and ornaments. Multicultural Model? Just over half the residents are of Christian descent but the Muslim community is growing faster. Of the 90 births in the city in July, 63 were to families with Muslim surnames, a National Statistics Institute official said. Residents say Melilla — where veiled women are a common sight and minarets dot the skyline amid the traditional Spanish architecture — is a model of tolerant multi-culturalism. “We get on famously. We have Jewish friends and we have dinner with them and Muslim friends who have parties we all go to,” Gongora said. Some Muslim residents are less sure of the Christians’ tolerance and residents of Spanish descent, while denying accusations they are racist to their Muslim neighbours, feel uneasy about becoming the minority. Antonio Sanchez says that when that happens, the Christians will abandon Melilla. “We will have to leave here … the mayor will be Moorish, the councillors will be Moorish, this will be Moorish.”
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.