CATHOLIC, MUSLIM TURF WARS OVER CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL IN SPAIN
Hilaire Belloc predicted the resurrection of Islam.
"In Islam there has been no such dissolution of ancestral doctrine --or, at any rate, nothing corresponding to the universal break-up of religion in Europe. The whole spiritual strength of Islam is still present in the masses of Syria and Anatolia, of the East Asian Mountains, of Arabia, Egypt or North Africa.
The final fruit of this tenacity, the second period of Islamic power may be delayed:- but I doubt whether it can be permanently postponed."
Here we have a battle at ground zero. Excerpts from Los Angeles Times:
"The 1,200-year-old architectural wonder that is one of Spain's most renowned landmarks is at the center of a turf war over religious space, cultural recognition and rivalries that are both ancient and contemporary.
Known as La Mezquita in Spanish and the Great Mosque in English, its spectacular forest of striped arches and jasper-and-marble columns constitutes one of ancient Islam's most iconic legacies. But La Mezquita has served as a consecrated Catholic church for nearly 800 years — ever since Spain's Catholic monarchs ejected Islamic forces that had ruled most of the Iberian Peninsula for more than five centuries.
The scuffle over La Mezquita is echoed throughout Spain these days as members of each faith tests the other's tolerance in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country with a fast-growing Muslim minority. Tensions were further inflamed when Islamic militants blew up commuter trains in Madrid three years ago, killing nearly 200 people.
The dispute has special resonance in Cordoba, an Andalusian crossroads that beginning more than a millennium ago was the capital of Moorish Spain and one of the Western world's greatest centers of intellectual and artistic culture.
Escudero, a Spaniard who converted to Islam 28 years ago, has been fighting to gain prayer rights here for much of his life. He decided to try again, inspired by the journey to Istanbul last fall of Pope Benedict XVI, who stood alongside an imam in that Turkish city's famous Blue Mosque, faced Mecca and prayed.
Escudero and the Islamic Council of Spain that he heads took the case straight to the Vatican, writing the pope to suggest that the site in Cordoba become a "singular and unique ecumenical space" in which both Christians and Muslims could pray.
The pope did not write back.
However, the bishop of Cordoba, Juan Jose Asenjo, was more than happy to respond. Far from fostering peace, he said, the sharing of places of worship would only "generate confusion" among the faithful.
In an interview afterward, Father Manuel Perez Moya said that because the building was consecrated as a cathedral, it is impossible to permit Muslim worship of any kind. Had it not been converted to a church, he added, the Great Mosque might have suffered the fate of other conquered property and been destroyed.
"It is thanks to this being a living cathedral that such a beautiful reality could be protected," he said.
Church leaders also note that, in a reflection of the centuries' cultural layering, a Visigoth basilica stood on the site before the mosque was built.
What really worries many priests, however, is the specter of Spain's Muslims wanting more than an occasional prayer.
"The problem is you let them pray, and then maybe they will try to take territory," Perez Moya said.
"Sure, let them — the day I can pray in a mosque," Luis Recio Mateo, 61, a self-described historian and tour guide dressed in a dapper gray suit, said as he left Mass. "If I go into a mosque in Morocco or Mauritania or Constantinople, they'll tell me I'm an infidel. Nor should Muslims pray in my cathedral."
Depending on who's counting, at least 1 million Muslims live in Spain (a country of 40 million people), and only about 1,000 Muslims live in Cordoba, a city of 320,000.
In numerous cities, local Catholic groups have protested and in some cases blocked plans to build mosques or expand Islamic cultural centers.
Escudero says that over the years, authorities in Cordoba occasionally allowed a visiting Muslim dignitary to pray in the Great Mosque — including Saddam Hussein in 1974. But in the last decade or so, church officials have been increasingly against the idea, he said, perhaps in reaction to the expanding Muslim presence in Spain.
Whereas Escudero thinks of the pope's appearance in the Blue Mosque, it's another Istanbul landmark that priests here might cite: the Hagia Sophia, a 6th century Byzantine church that was converted to a mosque by the Muslim Ottomans in the 15th century. In theory, it is today a museum and no one is allowed to pray there, although Muslims occasionally do.
When Escudero learned of the Cordoba bishop's rejection of his latest plea, he protested. On a gray morning, he stood outside the Great Mosque's Door of Pardon, spread a small carpet on the sidewalk, knelt and prostrated himself in prayer.
News photographers snapped many pictures. And police held a tiny group of yelling protesters at bay.