Sat, Jul 12, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Spain opens first new mosque after end of Muslim rule

EMOTIONAL PROJECT For the first time in 500 years, the faithful were called to a new mosque built for Spain's growing Muslim population


The cry of a muezzin echoed from a hilltop overlooking the Alhambra as Spain got its its first new mosque since Muslim rule ended more than 500 years ago.

Dignitaries from Arab and Muslim countries worldwide gathered at the former seat of Moorish government for the opening on Thursday of the Great Mosque of Granada, crowning a fitful and emotionally charged project that began in 1981.

With repeated shouts of "Allahu Akbar" (God is great), Sheik Sultan bin Mohammed al-Qassimi of the United Arab Emirates, which paid half the cost of construction, drew back a blood-red curtain to display a stone plaque inaugurating the building.

Later, a muezzin clad in white climbed atop the mosque's thick, square minaret and called Muslims to prayer for the first time in their new house of worship.

"This is a moving day for Muslims all over the world," said Hassan Seddadi, a 25-year-old Moroccan who lives in Granada.

It also comes at a sensitive time in Spain's relationship with its Muslim population, and with neighboring Muslim states across the Straits of Gibraltar. The worldwide hunt for terrorists since the Sept. 11 attacks has led to arrests of Muslims in Spain, and the Spanish government has angered many Muslims with its robust support for the war in Iraq.

The mosque commands a sweeping vista of one of history's prime pieces of real estate: the Alhambra, the reddish 14th-century palace and citadel from which Moorish caliphs governed in scented splendor until King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled them in 1492, ending 800 years of Muslim rule in southern Spain.

These days, Granada has a Muslim population of about 15,000, one of Spain's largest, but until now its half-dozen mosques were makeshift affairs in apartments, storefronts or garages.

The new, US$4.5-million building is Granada's first purpose-built mosque since the last Moorish king, Boabdil, rode into exile 511 years ago. His humiliation ended a dynasty that oversaw a culture rich in art, poetry, music and architecture.

From a mountain vantage point, Boabdil is said to have looked back on the Alhambra one last time, the morning sun shining brightly on its towers and embattlements, and wept.

"When did misfortune ever equal mine?" he wailed from a spot now known as The Pass of the Moor's Sigh.

The new mosque is a white brick building with a red-tile roof, tucked between a Roman Catholic nunnery and church in Granada's old Moorish quarter, the Albaicin. The ceremony was held in blazing heat in a garden dotted with pink and purple touch-me-nots, orange chrysanthemums and miniature palm trees.

"I want to praise and thank God, who let us finish this project and launch a new and fascinating era that begins today," Malik Abderrahman Ruiz, president of the foundation that runs the mosque, told the audience of several hundred.

Spain's Muslims say that after decades of keeping their faith quiet in a predominantly Roman Catholic country, they are growing in both numbers and transparency.

A government census says Spain has 500,000 Muslims -- about 1.2 percent of its 40 million people.

"Islam has gone from being something hidden or invisible in Spanish society to something visible," community spokesman Abdul Haqq Salaberria said.

The mosque property was purchased with Libyan money in 1981, six years after the death of General Francisco Franco.

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