26 May 2004

Whose edifice is this? Spain peels back the layers of its identity

Many non-Muslim Cordobans, however, support the Mezquita proposal. 'Anyone should be able to pray there,' says Jos� Raval, a high school teacher. 'The Mezquita has been named a heritage site for humanity, and aren't Arabs part of humanity?'

While fear of terrorism complicates Spain's efforts to integrate Muslims, many here still hope that a more generous public spirit - such as existed in the age of 'convivencia,' when Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived in relative harmony across the Iberian Peninsula - will prevail, and that a new, more inclusive, national identity will flourish.

Earlier this month, the bishop of Santiago de Compostela removed from that city's cathedral a 14th-century statue of Saint James 'the Moorslayer,' citing a wish to avoid 'offending the sensibilities of some visitors.'

It is a gesture that Isabel Romero, who directs the Halal Institute outside C�rdoba, can appreciate. Spaniards have a habit of thinking of Muslim Spain as something foreign, she says. 'We don't recognize that the Muslims were from here, that they were Andalusians too, that they are our roots.'

And she sees the proposal to open the Mezquita to Muslim worship as a step in the right direction. 'What remains from Al Andalus are not just the Mezquita's stones, but our culture itself,' says Ms. Romero. 'We have to reconcile ourselves with our history.'

There could be a quid pro quo at the other end of the Mediterranean where many Byzantine churches were rededicated as mosques, just as the Spanish reconquistadores rededicated mosques as churches. Allowing Christians and Muslims to pray in both sets of buildings would be a small step, but a good step.

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