Although Spain is peppered with the remnants of ancient mosques, most Muslims gather in dingy apartments, warehouses and garages like the one on North Street, pressed into service as prayer halls to accommodate a ballooning population.
The mosque shortage stems partly from the lack of resources common to any relatively poor, rapidly growing immigrant group. But in several places, Muslims trying to build mosques have also met resistance from communities wary of an alien culture or fearful they will foster violent radicals.
Distrust sharpened after a group of Islamists bombed commuter trains in Madrid in March 2004, killing 191 people, and in several cities, local governments, cowed by angry opposition from non-Muslims, have blocked Muslim groups from acquiring land for mosques.
The North Street prayer hall faced opposition from the outset. Marta Roigé, head of the local neighborhood association, said residents tried to block it five years ago by renting the garage themselves, but backed down after the landlord started a bidding war. They have since sued the local council to close it down on the basis that it is a health and safety hazard.
“The tension has grown as the numbers have grown,” Ms. Roigé said. “They’ve set up shops, butchers, long-distance call centers and restaurants.” These businesses, catering to Muslim immigrants, line the surrounding streets.
She added: “They are radicals, fundamentalists. They don’t want to integrate.”
Muslim leaders, however, say the lack of proper mosques is one barrier to integration. And Spanish authorities and Muslim leaders say the potential for extremism would be easier to monitor at fewer, larger mosques than at the 600 or so prayer halls scattered throughout the country.
The muslim communities are organizing and trying to acquire leases to land to build, though they still face opposition. Given that the majority of muslims in Spain, like the rest of Europe, are laborer class, funding is also a severe obstacle. There is a bill proposed in Spain's legislature to set aside land for all faiths to build places of worship, however the Christian leaders argue that all faiths are not equal and freedom of religion is only for some, not for all:
Cardinal Luis Martínez Sistach, archbishop of Barcelona, opposes the bill, which would entitle all religious groups to land on an equal basis. He argues that Catholicism requires different rules.
“A church, a synagogue or a mosque are not the same thing,” he said, according to the conservative Spanish newspaper ABC. The bill, he said, “impinges on our ability to exercise a fundamental right, that of religious liberty.”
While no law on religious land use exists, the wealthy Catholic Church faces no difficulty acquiring land, experts in law and religion say.
Ah, Western values! This is tremendously short-sighted, because this attitude will further prevent integration by the muslim community, facilitate extremism, and also leave a gaping void for resources which other undesirable forces may fill. Does Spain want the wahhabis to fund a mega-million dollar mosque and appear the saviors of Spanish Islam in the face of committed Christian opposition?