Spanish Muslims said on Tuesday they had appealed to the pope to be allowed to prostrate themselves in worship in Cordoba Cathedral, which was built as a mosque during Spain’s centuries of Islamic rule.
In a letter to Pope Benedict XVI, Spain’s Islamic Board said senior Spanish Catholic clergy had rejected requests for Muslims to be allowed to prostrate themselves inside the Cathedral, which was converted into a church in the 13th century.
“What we wanted was not to take over that holy place, but to create in it, together with you and other faiths, an ecumenical space unique in the world which would have been of great significance in bringing peace to humanity,” the letter said.
No one at Spain’s Catholic Bishops Conference was immediately available for comment, but earlier in December it issued a news release stating it “did not recommend” Muslims prayed in the Cathedral.
In the communique, quoted by newspaper ABC, it added that it was not prepared to negotiate the building’s shared use with other faiths.
Security guards often stop Muslim worshippers from praying inside the old Mosque, said the board’s general secretary, Mansur Escudero, who complained elements of the Roman Catholic Church felt threatened by Spain’s growing Muslim population.
“There are reactionary elements within the Catholic Church, and when they hear about the construction of a mosque, or Muslim teachings in state schools, or about veils, they see it as a sign we are growing and they oppose it,” he told Reuters.
Mansur said Muslims came from around the world to see Cordoba’s Cathedral, still known as the Cathedral-Mosque and built when much of Spain was the Moorish territory of Al-Andalus, a major center of Islamic thought and architecture.
Spain’s last Muslim territory fell with the conquest of Granada in 1492 after almost eight centuries of presence.
The vast majority of Spaniards still describe themselves as Catholics, although church-going has fallen off in recent years. But more than a million of Spain’s 44 million people are now Muslims, mainly recently arrived immigrants from North Africa.