“This place belongs to Muslims and Christians”
CÓRDOBA, Spain – A Cathedral hymn, a Muslim woman in scarf in the building’s Muslim section, European tourists admiring a set of Islamic arches describes the beauty of Cordoba’s Mosque.
Cathedral’s multiculturalism made it a world-renowned symbol of knowledge and religious coexistence in medieval times.“This place belongs to Muslims and Christians,” says Muhammad Anggia Muchtar, a Muslim university lecturer from Indonesia who is visiting as part of a two-week trip around Europe.
A short documentary by Salman Ghazi displays the beautiful history and interior of the Masjid.
“Here, people from different religions socialized in harmony and lived in peace,” he says, adding that the “Mosque-Cathedral preserves history and that ‘when you know your history, you know your roots’”
Fierce dispute disturbs Córdoba’s legacy of religious tolerance :
A hot afternoon,a shade in the monument’s inner courtyard, a large, tranquil space filled with orange trees and birdsong. But despite this calm scene, the Mosque-Cathedral is currently the focus of a fierce dispute pitting local activists against the Catholic Church and casting a shadow over Córdoba’s legacy of religious tolerance. It has even become a hot-button issue in local elections here amid accusations that the Mosque-Cathedral’s Islamic past is being airbrushed out of history.
History of Córdoba Masjid :
Drawn by its unique history, 1.5 million people visit the monument each year from around the world. Its construction began in 785, at the start of several centuries of North African Muslim presence in Spain and Portugal.
By the 10th century, the Great Mosque had helped Córdoba become a hugely influential hub of learning. It was the home to Catholic and Jewish communities, who were tolerated by the majority Muslim population.
When Christians re-conquered Córdoba, they built a Catholic cathedral, completed in 1236 in the heart of the Great Mosque. The entire building has since then been administered by the local Church authorities and only Christian worship is allowed inside.
Describing the Great Mosque as ‘an irreplaceable testimony of the Caliphate of Córdoba and […] the most emblematic monument of Islamic religious architecture’ UNESCO awarded the monument and its surrounding neighborhood ‘World Heritage Site’ status in 1984.
Two decades ago, it was described as the “Mosque-Cathedral” in official literature and tourist brochures, a term that acknowledged its shared heritage. In 1998, the Catholic authorities changed that to the “Cathedral (former Mosque)” and since 2010 it has been simply “Córdoba Cathedral.”
“They have tried to change the history of the monument, the name of the monument and to appropriate the monument’s symbols,” says Miguel Santiago, a local high school teacher who heads a grassroots association, La Plataforma Mezquita-Catedral, patrimonio de [email protected] (The Mosque-Cathedral, a heritage for all), which has been campaigning against the changes since early 2014.
“The really fundamental thing about the monument is its Islamic-Andalusian art, but the literature describes this as if it were merely an Islamic intervention.”
Catholic Church has taken the Mosque-Cathedral out of public hands by taking advantage of a loophole in property legislation and registering itself as the sole owner of the building.
Santiago and his fellow campaigners have gathered nearly 400,000 signatures to “save the Córdoba Mosque” on change.org. Signatories include British architect Norman Foster and acclaimed Spanish novelist, Juan Goytisolo.
Political shadow :
The issue has also entered the domestic political arena. In the campaign ahead of May 24 municipal elections, four leading candidates for mayor of Córdoba debated the status of the Mosque-Cathedral. Of the main parties, only the conservative Popular Party, which governs Spain and Córdoba and has close links to the Catholic Church, was absent.
All four candidates criticized the Church’s actions, with the most outspoken, Rafael Velazquez, of the left-leaning Podemos party, drawing parallels with George Orwell’s “1984” as he lambasted the “rewriting of history” in Córdoba.
Also mentioned in the debate was the Mosque-Cathedral’s brief name change on Google Maps last November, when it mysteriously became simply “Córdoba Cathedral,” before being swiftly changed back to “Córdoba Mosque-Cathedral” after a public outcry. The Church denies any knowledge of the glitch, while La Plataforma Mezquita-Catedral suspects it was deliberately engineered.
Holding fast to maintain Peace :
But according to the Catholic Church, the entire controversy has been whipped up artificially and with no foundation. “The name change is not important, as his parishioners tend to describe the building as both “the cathedral” and “the mosque” anyway”
“We haven’t had any confrontation over religious issues here since the [Christian] re-conquest,” he says, adding that the Church fully respects the building’s Muslim heritage.
Jiménez attributes the campaign against the Church’s actions to anti-Catholic feeling. “In Spain, in the democratic period there have been movements, always on the political left, which are hostile to everything the Church represents,” he says.
“This could lead to a split, or give the impression that the peaceful coexistence between religions has been broken,” he says.
In December 2014, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), with 52 member states, described the name change as “an attempt to obliterate the landmarks of Islamic history in Andalusia and a provocation for Muslims around the world, especially Muslims of Spain.”
“In the next few years, it is estimated that more than two million Muslims could move to Córdoba and other cities in Andalusia in order to reconnect with their past and their culture,” says a bogus woman news reporter, wearing a headscarf.
Enrique Rubio, a Córdoba-based Vox politician, says his party is determined that the Mezquita-Cathedral should remain Catholic and that the ongoing polemic “is driven by political motives.” He adds: “There are those who say there could be Islamic states behind all this – Iran or Saudi Arabia, for example.”
Amid all the arguments what once cannot deny is that the monument’s beauty still draws visitors from around the world which displays the beauty of harmony in a world of religious terror.