GRANADA, Spain – Across a valley of fragrant cedars and orange trees,
worshipers at the pristine Great Mosque of Granada look out at the
Alhambra, the 700-year-old citadel and monument to the heyday of Islamic
Granada’s Muslims chose the hilltop location precisely with the view, and
its unmistakable symbolism, in mind.
It took them more than 20 years to build the mosque, the first erected here
in half a millennium, after they conquered the objections of city leaders
and agreed, ultimately, to keep the minaret shorter than the steeple on the
Catholic Iglesia de San Nicolas next door.
Cloistered nuns on the other side of the mosque added a few feet to the
wall enclosing their convent, as if to say they wanted neither to be seen
nor to see.
Many of Spain’s Muslims long for an Islamic revival to reclaim their
legendary history, and inaugurating the Great Mosque last year was the most
visible gesture. But horrific bombings by Muslim extremists that killed
nearly 200 people in Madrid on March 11 have forced Spain’s Muslims and
non-Muslims to reassess their relationship, and turned historical
assumptions on their head.
“We are a people trying to return to our roots,” said Anwar Gonzalez, 34, a
Granada native who converted to Islam 17 years ago. “But it’s a bad time to
be a Muslim.”
Spain has a long, rich and complex history interwoven with the Muslim and
Arab world, from its position as the center of Islamic Europe in the last
millennium to today’s confrontation with a vast influx of Muslim immigrants.
For more than seven centuries of Moorish rule, “Al Andalus,” or Andalusia,
was governed by Muslim caliphs who oversaw a splendid flourishing of art,
architecture and learning that ended when Granada fell to Christian
monarchs Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in 1492.
Muslims were expelled or exterminated in the Inquisition that followed, but
the legacy of the Moors is seen throughout Andalusia, Spain’s southern
tier, in its language, palaces like the Alhambra, and food