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Andalusia: the Return of Islam to Europe

Andalusia. Historical places

By Iskander Nabiulin | Islam Magazine / Makhachkala / 2011

There is no way not to fall in love with Andalusia, and the Moors knew where to build their state ...

Anti-Muslim sentiments are rapidly developing in Western Europe today: the media represent Islam as something alien to the European culture, although formerly Islam was really flowering there: Southern Spain had been the most developed country in Europe for eight (VIII - XV) centuries. The Europeans used to come to study in the universities of Andalusia and it is there that such luminaries of theological and philosophical thought as Ibn Arabi, Ibn Rushd and others were born.

Architecture in the times of Moors used to shine with its splendor, and it still remains an object of tourist attraction. Our correspondent visited modern Andalusia and got acquainted with the cultural heritage of the Moors and the life of today's Spanish Muslims.


Today, the tourists' attention is riveted on the two cities of the Moorish era: Granada and Cordoba. It turned out that Granada became the main point of my sojourn in Andalusia.
Granada is situated in a picturesque location at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, near the Mediterranean coast. The city's population is about 400 thousand. I came to Granada from Barcelona, a cold place for a Muslim heart, and the city impressed me quite differently – this is another Spain, indeed. Although five centuries have passed since the end of the Reconquista, but the cultural influence of the Moors can still be seen today: in the architecture, clothing, everyday life.

Symbolically, Granada lies on the border between Western and Eastern civilizations, and the atmosphere of the Orient runs through the city. This is true to even larger extent in the historic city center – in the old Moorish area of Albayzin. Narrow random streets with specific architecture, smell of oriental incense from Arab shops and cafes – everything here reminds of a Moorish past. The area is located on a hill opposite to the Alhambra - the palace of the emirs of Granada. Therefore, many tourists walk up here to enjoy the wonderful views of the Alhambra itself, snow-capped Sierra Nevada and the colorful sunset over the city.

Numerous expatriate Moroccans tint the area with the Oriental spirit. Apart from them, lots of hippies and Rastafarians can be met here, who create an atmosphere of freedom and ease.

The main attraction of Granada is the Alhambra palace complex on the hill at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. The palace, which also served as a fortress, was built in the XIV century by the representatives of the last dynasty of the Moorish emirs of Andalusia. It reflects the tradition of the late Moorish architecture and their culture. Today, the Alhambra is one of the main sights of Spain, attracting thousands of tourists, and is a reminder of the country's Muslim past. Later on, Christian emirs used to make small alterations to the shape of the complex, but the foundation laid by the Moors, has been preserved to this day. The walls of the fortress are of the red colour, this is where the name "al-hamra", “red” in Arabic, comes from. One should walk up to the walls of the Alcazaba fortification, where he can enjoy the city views, or visit the Nasrid Palace. While a little above is the Generalife - a garden complex of the Moorish emirs with colorful fountains.

Muslim community of Granada

Today, Granada is a city where the largest Muslim community of Spain lives. Formed in the last couple of decades, it has been a powerful source of Da'wah and has been attracting new Muslim converts from Spain as well as from the other countries. The city is also a home to quite a large number of immigrants - Muslims from Northern and Western Africa.

In the summer of 2003, Granada saw the opening of a mosque, the first in Andalusia over the past 500 years, and built with the financial help of the Spaniards who embraced Islam. The mosque is located in the Albayzin district of the city. It features a beautiful garden with fountains, made in a classic Andalusian style – anyone may come here to have a rest. As local Muslims note, Granada mosque symbolizes the return of Islam to Western Europe and highlights the topicality of the message of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) for the modern world.

The Centre for Islamic Studies, which holds the courses on the foundations of Islam and the Arabic language, functions under the mosque. There is a rich library with books in Spanish, English and Arabic languages. A newspaper is published bimonthly which covers the life of Muslims in Spain and Europe. During the Muslim holidays and the month of Ramadan, the believers carry out multiple activities aimed to attract the attention of local people to Islam. The mosque and the center are open to anyone interested in Islam.

In 2005, a Muslim educational center with the enrollment of Muslim children opened in Granada. The lessons are taught by Muslim teachers who give the children a wholesome and proper upbringing according to the Shariah. The ummah of Granada increases every year, and the demand in such a school came as far as in the early 1990s. However, at that time Muslims confined themselves to teaching their children to the basics of Islam only outside the school walls. And now, the opportunity has emerged for Islamically appropriate comprehensive education for their children.

In Granada, I lived in the house of Thomas (Muslim name - Khalid) who had moved here with his family from Barcelona. His wife, named Tasneem, is a native Spanish, also Muslim, they have two children who receive an Islamic education. For me, it was amazing to meet a house in remote Spain, where ... Muslim comfort is created. According to Thomas, his parents have also converted to Islam. "Although we are Spanish, but Islam is a part of our life", he told me. Apart from the family of Thomas, other Spanish Muslims have been also moving to Granada.

Local Muslims follow the Maliki madhab. In addition to that, Tasawwuf has become widespread in Granada, and most local Muslims adhere to the Qadiri-Shaziliya Tariqa.


Another historic town of Andalusia, Cordoba, was founded as far back as in the ancient times, but has mostly been known as the capital of the famous Cordoba caliphate. In X-XI centuries, it was one of the cultural and economic centers of the world, and perhaps the most populous city in Western Europe. The current population of the town, however, is a little less than 400 thousand people. Under Islamic rule, Cordoba was a university center of Europe - many Europeans used to come here to receive education. But later, the greatness of Cordoba has shaded, and the city became one of the provincial towns of Spain.

Nonetheless, the architectural heritage of the Moors continues to attract tourists, and Cordoba has been recently declared by UNESCO as one of the candidates for the European Capital of Culture in 2016. Unlike Granada, this city is somehow more Spanish. Only the famous mosque, built by Andalusian emirs, currently the main sight of the city, reminds of its Islamic past. Originally, there was a Christian church instead of the mosque, but one of the first Moorish caliphs, Abd al-Rahman I, built the mosque here. Later on, succeeding emirs continued to build it on until it has grown into one of the largest mosques, and has become one of the symbols of the Islamic world.

The temple is known primarily by virtue of the unique giant arches and columns it posesses. One can say, that the famous arches became a symbol of Cordoba. An interesting feature of the mosque is that it is directed not towards the qiblah, but to the south. Historians attribute it to the fact that the caliph Abd al-Rahman I, who built the mosque, was assuming that he was in Damascus, the then capital of the Umayyad state, which has the strong south qiblah direction. According to another source, the Maliki scholars allow deviation from the qiblah up to 89 degrees while praying, what may explain the misdirection of the Cordoba mosque.  

After the capture of Cordoba in 1236, the mosque was transformed into a church. However, the Spanish were so astonished by its splendor, that they decided to keep the mosque in its original form. Now, it serves as a museum and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spanish Muslims have recently tried to get permission to worship in the mosque, but at no success. Still, you may pray here: I laid down a travelling prayer rug and performed my prayer inside the temple at my ease, no one ever bothered me. Although, I think, if such prayers become frequent at the Cordoba mosque, perhaps, some action will be taken.

Muslims left Andalusia more than 500 years ago, but the rich heritage they had left is charming. And it is somewhat sad that we have lost this magnificence. Although, as local Muslims note, Islam is returning to Andalusia.

I was returning home via Seville, Andalusia's largest city, where I got acquainted with Mikael, a Belgian. He moved to Andalusia last year and now works there as a teacher of English. "When I came here for the first time a few years ago, I fell in love with Andalusia", he explained to me his resettlement. In fact, there is no way not to fall in love with Andalusia, and the Moors knew where to build their state ...

By: Iskander Nabiullin
Source : Spiritual and educational magazine “Islam”, № 26 (02), 2011


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