Friday, November 5, 2010

Conflict in Cordoba

A long time ago, the Romans built a temple in Cordoba. In the 7th century, Christians built a church there, incorporating stones from the old temple. In the 8th century the Muslim rulers of Spain bought the site and built a grand and enormous mosque. In the 13th century, Christians conquered Cordoba, and they converted the mosque into a cathedral. As you can see in the picture above, they sort of cut a hole in the center of the immense hall of prayer and stuck a gothic church in the hole, leaving much of the famous pillared prayer hall standing around it. The prayer hall (below) is the main attraction of the site, which now draws more than a million tourists a year.

The meaning of the site's religious changes has recently been debated in America, in regard to the proposed Cordoba Center in Manhattan. And now there are disputes about the building in Spain as well:

Today, signs throughout this whitewashed Andalusian city refer to the monument, a Unesco World Heritage site, as the “mosque-cathedral” of Córdoba. But that terminology is now in question. Last month, the bishop of Córdoba began a provocative appeal for the city to stop referring to the monument as a mosque so as not to “confuse” visitors.

For now, the matter is largely semantic because the mayor says the city will not change its signs. But the debate goes far beyond signs. It is the latest chapter in the rich history of the most emblematic monument in Christian-Muslim relations in Europe — and a tussle over the legacy of “Al Andalus,” when part of Spain, under the Muslim caliphs, was a place of complex coexistence among Muslims, Christians and Jews. . . .

The bishop, Demetrio Fernández, published an Op-Ed in October in which he said,

There’s no problem saying that the Muslim caliphs built this temple to God. But it is completely inappropriate to call it a mosque today because it has not been one for centuries, and to call it a mosque confuses visitors.

Apparently Muslims sometimes try to pray there, and according to the diocese Muslim radicals occasionally call for the site to become a mosque again:

“Every time some Islamic fundamentalist, in a video on Al Jazeera or other channels, calls for the re-conquest of Al Andalus, the old Muslim dominion, people show up here calling for the use of the cathedral as a place of Islamic worship,” said the Rev. Manuel Montilla Caballero, who oversees the diocese’s nighttime tours of the monument.

I wonder if maybe the Catholics and the Muslims couldn't get together to try to preserve the religious character of the site, adopting a common religious platform to oppose its treatment as just another stop on the tour of ancient architectural wonders. Surely the Imams and the Bishops can agree on that, creating a real opportunity for inter-faith action. Isn't secularism a bigger threat to Spanish Catholicism than Islam is? Spain's long history includes centuries when people of different faiths got along fairly well and centuries when they persecuted each other, and managing the mosque-cathedral as a holy place for both faiths would be a way to emphasize the positive heritage rather than the history of intolerance and inquisition.


Joey said...

You need to look up dhimmi to understand what was going in Spain under the Caliphate. Christians were oppressed and second class burdensome additional taxes, no access to leading positions in society and unable to express their faith publicly, their greatest churches plundered and destroyed.

The illusion of happy coexistence under Muslim rule is a myth. Otherwise the reconquest would not have been necessary.

John said...

As it happens, I know a lot about the situation of Christians under Muslim rule in Spain. I never said it was good. On the other hand it was better than the situation of Muslims under Christian rule, who were offered the choice of conversion, exile, or death. Does that make a Muslim reconquest "necessary"?

In the Middle Ages, everybody was nasty to everybody else. (Roughly speaking, of course.) Do we have to keep being nasty, just because our distant ancestors were? Or should we maybe looking for better ways to get along?

vivek said...

To Joey: Yes, Christians had to pay a tax under Muslim rule, but so did Muslims and Jews. Muslim tax is called Zakat- so everyone paid taxes. Christians and Jews were not oppressed at all, they were not forced to convert, in fact this was the Golden Age of for the Jews. The churches were not destroyed, the Cordoba Mosque was PURCHASED.Do not spread false statements. The best of Spain is what the Moors left behind-and till today the main industry is tourism thanks to the Moors. Look at this great history that Christian Inquision left for mankind