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Jordi Moreras1

1 Muslim Populations

For Spanish society, the memory of the splendour of the culture and
civilisation of Al-Andalus is acting to some extent as a burden and an
interference with the present. There is no connection between the past
(although it is officially claimed as part of Spanish identity), and the
present of the new Muslim immigration. The new Islamic presence is
recovering the image of a historical cultural otherness. The contempo-
rary Muslim presence in Spain is the result of waves of migration that
started in the 1970s, but Spain has also had its own Muslim populations
in the cities of Ceuta and Melilla since at least the fifteenth century.
Today, Islam is one of the major religious minorities of Spanish society,
although the majority of Muslims are of foreign origin.
Article 16.2 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution, according to which
“no one can be forced to declare their ideology, religion, or beliefs”,
makes it very hard to establish a statistical census of religious faiths
in Span. For this reason, all that can be done is to attempt to develop
a series of estimates of the Muslim population, estimates that may at
times be biased and may not have an objective basis. The main source
for these estimates is the statistics on foreign residents from countries
where the majority of the population is Muslim, as well as figures for
the granting of Spanish nationality to such residents. These data pro-
vide a trustworthy approximation, at least for drawing a rough outline
of the Muslim population. However, despite the attempts made to
interpret these data, the religiosity of these groups can in no way be
inferred from them.
The following four categories succinctly summarise this presence:

Jordi Moreras is Professor of Sociology at the Faculty of Economic and Business
Sciences, University Rovira i Virgili (Tarragona, Spain), and member of Research Group
on Social and Organizational Analysis (ASO-URV). He is the author of Els imams de
Catalunya (Barcelona: Editorial Empúries, 2007) and Musulmans a Catalunya. Radiografia
d’un islam implantat (Barcelona: Institut Europeu de la Mediterrània, 2008).
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1. People with Muslim roots (including residents of Muslim origin in

Ceuta and Melilla, around 70,000 and 80,000 people);
2. Naturalised Muslims (between 1960 and 2006, 80,235 people of
Muslim origin—mostly Moroccans, but also Arabs from the Middle
East and Pakistanis- acquired Spanish nationality);2
3. New Muslims (Spaniards who choose the Muslim faith; the size of
this group is always difficult to establish, although the last report
of the Observatory Andalusí, UCIDE states that there are 33,750
Muslim converts in Spain,3 probably an overestimate);4
4. Foreign residents (including both people who are just passing through
Spain, such as businessmen and students, and especially immigrant
workers, mainly Maghrebian, African and Pakistani workers, whose
migratory cycles began in the decades of the 1970s and 1980s.
Data from 2008 indicate that they number some 860,755 people,
the majority natives of Morocco. It is necessary to add a certain
percentage to this figure to account for people whose legal situation
is irregular).

This gives a total of between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Muslims (repre-

senting 2.2% of the Spanish population).5
The regions where Muslims live in greatest numbers are Catalonia,
Madrid, Andalusia and Valencia.

Foreigners may apply for Spanish nationality after living in Spain for ten years,
while those born in Spanish overseas territories may apply after one year. In recent
years there have been cases of refusal of citizenship to people who follow Islamic reli-
gious practises but, when challenged, the refusals have been overturned in the Supreme
Court on the basis of the principle of religious freedom.
Observatorio Andalusí, Estudio demográfico de la población musulmana. Explotación
estadística del censo de ciudadanos musulmanes en España referido a fecha 31 de diciembre de 2007
Demographic study of the Muslim population. Statistical analysis of the census of
Muslim citizens in Spain conducted 31 December 2007) (Madrid: Unión de Comuni-
dades Islámicas de España, 2008).
Muslim converts are an active minority within Islam in Spain in areas such as
community representation, publishing and promotion of cultural activities. Their
doctrinal spectrum is very different from the Sufi communities, progressive Islam or
the doctrinal literalism.
1,145,424 Muslims in Spain according to the estimation of the Observatorio
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2 Islam and the State

The Spanish state is defined by a principle of non-confessionalism

(aconfesionalidad), which guarantees religious freedom and establishes
cooperative relationships with representatives of religious denomina-
tions (Spanish Constitution, Art. 16). There is no state religion, but the
Catholic Church enjoys some privileges not available to other faiths.
The General Directorate for Relations with the Confessions (Ministry
of Justice) is responsible for relations with these religious denominations.
At the regional level, there is in Catalonia a Department of Religious
Affairs. The Foundation for Pluralism and Coexistence (www.pluralis-, established in October 2004, is the public body
responsible for promoting religious freedom and establishing a line of
financial assistance to minority religious communities. In 2007, this
public funding amounted to €4,500,000, markedly less than the financing
that Spanish government provides for the Catholic Church, through
agreement with the Holy See of 1979.6 The Cooperation Agreement
signed in 1992 between the Spanish State and the Islamic Commis-
sion of Spain establishes the framework for the recognition of Islam
as a religion rooted in Spanish society.7 Seventeen years later, many
aspects of this agreement have yet to be developed, which impedes the
development and organisation of Islam in Spain.8

In September 2006, the Spanish government agreed to change the system by
which the Catholic Church is financed. The new model is based on allowing the
Catholic faithful voluntarily to allocate a portion of their taxes. It was estimated that
the church would receive €175,000,000 in 2006. The Spanish state is also committed
to eliminating the payment of VAT by the Catholic Church.
Motilla, Agustín (ed.), Los musulmanes en España. Libertad religiosa e identidad cultural (The
Muslims of Spain. Religious freedom and cultural identity) (Madrid: Trotta, 2004).
There are four reasons for the non-implementation of this agreement: 1) the
internal disputes between the two Islamic federations (FEERI and UCIDE), which
limited the role of the Islamic Commission of Spain as a representative body; 2) the
development of a centralised organisational model (the Islamic Commission) disre-
garding communal geographical distribution; 3) the lack of political will among the
political authorities to promote the development of this agreement, due to distrust of
the demands of Muslim communities; 4) the lack of interest expressed by Muslim com-
munities because of their ignorance of the contents of the agreement. Representatives
of the two federations have been unable to mobilise these communities in order to
bring about the implementation of some aspects of the agreement, such as religious
education and Muslim burials.
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3 Main Muslim Organisations

In 1992, the Islamic Commission of Spain was created, made up of

the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities (FEERI, La Unión
47, Málaga 29006, tel: +34. 629559273) and the Union of Islamic
Communities of Spain (UCIDE, Anastasio Herrero 5, Madrid 28020,
tel: +34.915714040, fax: +34.915708889, Both
federations are very heterogeneous with regard to both the national
origins of their members and the doctrinal guidance they provide.
However, FEERI have always had larger numbers of converts, while
the UCIDE attracts mostly Muslims from the Middle East, especially
Syria, and its board is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
There are currently 651 Islamic religious institutions registered with
the Ministry of Justice. Of these, 70% are affiliated to UCIDE and
10% to FEERI, while the rest are not affiliated. As a result of the stag-
nation of the Islamic Commission, new Muslim regional federations
have asked the Spanish government to allow them to become part of
it, which would necessitate a change to its statutes.

4 Mosques and Prayer Houses

It is estimated that in Spain has some 450 Muslim places of worship

(there is no official record), in addition to twelve major Muslim centres
(4 in Ceuta and Melilla,9 Marbella, 1981, Madrid 1983, Madrid, 1992,
Valencia, 1992; Fuengirola 1994, La Puebla de Don Fadrique 2001,
Granada, 2003, Málaga, 2007). These mosques have been financed by
Muslim states such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. In some cases, the
Spanish authorities have granted land for their construction. There
are other projects still under discussion in Seville and Barcelona. Most
of them are Sunni mosques. In 1982, the Ahmadi Mission opened a
mosque in Pedro Abad (Cordoba). The Cooperation Agreement of
1992 recognises the right of Muslims to open places of worship, but
since 1990 (the date of the first protest against the construction of a
mosque in Vic, Barcelona), there have been 50 conflicts concerning the

During the Protectorate period in Northern Morocco before 1956, the Spanish
colonial administration built mosques, prayer halls and other Islamic religious buildings.
The two main mosques in Ceuta (the Sidi M’barik Mosque) and Melilla (on Garcia
Cabrelles Street) are good examples of this.
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opening of mosques, 35 of them in Catalonia.10 The Catalan regional

parliament is debating a law on places of worship to establish condi-
tions regarding their location.11

5 Children’s Education

The only Islamic school in Spain is in Madrid. This is the Umm al-
Kura school, which forms part of the Madrid Islamic Cultural Centre
complex and was founded in 1992. It provides pre-school, primary and
secondary education and is a school accredited by the Spanish state.
According to the Islamic Centre, the school had 400 pupils in the year
2006–2007. Previously, there was an Iraqi school, attached to the Iraqi
embassy, attended by the children of Arab consular employees.
With regard to public schools, in 1996 the Spanish state and the
Islamic Commission of Spain signed an agreement to include Islamic
religious education in the national educational system.12 Despite the fact
that the agreement established that this teaching should have begun in
the 1996–97 school year, its application was in fact delayed until the
2003–04 school year, when the education began in some Autonomous
Communities (regional/provincial authorities) to which the transfer of
responsibility for education had not yet taken place (Ceuta, Melilla,
Aragon, Valencia, and Madrid). Parallel to the development of this
more formal Islamic religious education, the communities themselves

See Moreras, Jordi, Una mesquita al barri. Conflicte, espai públic i integració urbana
dels oratoris musulmans a Catalunya (A local mosque. Conflict, public space and urban
integration of Muslim places of worship in Catalonia) (Barcelona: Fundació Jaume
Bofill, 2009). The reasons for these objections are related to the increasing visibility
of the Muslim presence. The protests against mosques include arguments about the
status of immigrant groups, as well as the ‘problematic nature’ of Islam. A latent
Islamophobia generates social legitimacy for these protests. The fact that protests arise
more in Catalonia than in the rest of Spain is due to the prolonged and extensive
settlement of Muslims in Catalonia (with more than 180 mosques), and the challenges
this represents to the development of a social and political debate on the pluralisation
of Catalan society.
It is expected that this law will be approved during 2009. Basically, the law deals
with the administrative regulation of the places of worship of religious minorities (i.e.
not the Catholic Church) the provision of public land for the construction of religious
See Roson, Javier, Sol Tarrés and Jordi Moreras, “Islamic religious education in
Spain”, in Alvarez Veinguer, A., G. Dietz, D.-P. Jozsa and T. Knauth (eds), Islam in
Education in European Countries: Pedagogical Concepts and Empirical Findings (Münster/New
York: Waxmann, 2009).
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have put forward various religious socialisation initiatives, focused on

children, youth and women, and based on a traditional model of reli-
gious transmission (kuttab, or Qur’anic schools). Many of these initiatives
are considered by parents to be complementary to the education their
children receive in school, even though they are outside of the struc-
tured, formalised school environment. According to the Observatorio
Andalusí, in 2006 there were 119,994 Muslim students in the Spanish
educational system, and 41 teachers of Islamic religious education.13

6 Higher and Professional Education

As a result of the history of Al-Andalus, there is a long tradition of

Arab and Islamic studies in Spain, including in many departments in
Spanish universities and research centres (such as the universities of
Madrid, Granada, Barcelona, Sevilla and Alicante). A recent shift to
the study of contemporary Islam has generated new lines of training
and interdisciplinary research in other academic fields. The Coopera-
tion Agreement of 1992 recognises the right of Muslim communities
to open training colleges. The only example was the International
University Ibn Rushd of Cordoba, founded in 1992, but today closed
as a result of the loss of institutional and financial support, after the
death of its director, Ali Kettani, in 2001. This university offered Ara-
bic language and Islamic sciences taught by Muslim teachers. More
recently, since 2006, the UNED (Spanish public university for distance
education) with the Junta Islámica14 has run a course on Islamic culture
and religion.15
With regard to the training of imams, the first formal initiatives
began in the 1980s. After the Cooperation Agreement of 1992, the
Islamic Commission of Spain began an internal consultation to propose
a training programme for imams. No projects were completed because

Observatorio Andalusí, Informe anual 2006. Institución para la observación y seguimiento
de la situación del ciudadano musulmán y la islamofobia en España (Madrid: UCIDE, 2007),
p. 10. No official data are available on the number of students who have received
Islamic religious instruction. One of the problems for the development of this educa-
tion is the rejection by various regions of the implementation of these programmes.
This is the case in Catalonia, which has a Muslim student body of over 30,000 but
no teachers of Islamic religious education.
Junta Islámica was one of the founders of FEERI in 1989.
“Experto Profesional en cultura y religión islámicas (Professional expert in Islamic
culture and religion” (, accessed 27 May 2009).
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of internal disagreements. In Catalonia, the Islamic and Cultural

Council of Catalonia has run a training programme specifically for
imams since 2006, coordinated by the Moroccan Ministry of Religious
Affairs, with support from the Department of Religious Affairs of the
Generalitat of Catalonia.
In January 2009, the UNED, sponsored by the Pluralismo y Convivencia
(Pluralism and Coexistence) foundation,16 initiated another training
programme for Islamic religious leaders, under the title “Islam and
democratic principles”.17

7 Burial and Cemeteries

The need to provide space for the Muslim population in municipal

cemeteries has arisen recently, with the increasing settlement of Muslims
in Spain. Until now, the existing cemeteries were either those in Ceuta
and Melilla (whose Muslim cemeteries were managed by the differ-
ent communities in both cities), or historical cemeteries (like those in
Seville and Granada, opened in 1936 by the Franco regime to bury
Moroccan troops who fought in the Civil War), or cemeteries that
belonged to the governments of Muslim countries and were used for
their employees or citizens (such as the cemetery of Griñón in Madrid,
which has now reached capacity). In Andalusia, various groups of
Spanish Muslims have always called for spaces, which were ultimately
acquired and maintained by personal initiatives; they did not always
provide appropriate conditions and are filling rapidly. Since 1992, the
Cooperation Agreement has recognised the right of Muslims to make
use of sites in public cemeteries. There are reserved spaces in Ceuta and
Melilla, Seville, Granada, Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Benalmádena,
Zaragoza, Palma de Mallorca, Manresa, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
and Terrassa. However, there are not enough spaces and this leads to
a significant number of families returning the bodies of their deceased

“Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation is a foundation of the public sector, created
by agreement of the Council of Ministers of 15 October 2004, at the proposal of the
Ministry of Justice. Its purpose is to contribute to the implementation of programmes
and projects of cultural, educational and social integration of minority faiths that have
concluded cooperation agreements with the State or striking roots in Spain, as well as
promoting the full exercise of religious freedom” (text taken from their website, www
profesional/islam-principios-democraticos/index.html, accessed 27 May 2009.
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to their home country. Recognition of the right to an Islamic burial is

conditional on there being no contravention of other legal principles
which among other matters require the use of a coffin.

8 ‘Chaplaincy’ in State Institutions

Articles 8 and 9 of the Cooperation Agreement of 2002 regulates

Islamic pastoral care in public hospitals, prisons and the army. In 2006,
the Spanish government has developed the regulations that facilitate this
care. However, unlike that provided by the Catholic Church, Muslim
pastoral care is still inadequate and is offered on a voluntary basis. In
the case of hospitals, there are difficulties in the spiritual care of Mus-
lim patients, especially in the treaty of the bodies of the deceased. In
prisons, fear of the influence of radical imams who may visit prisoners
has led efforts to control pastoral care there. Prison authorities, with
the help of the Spanish National Intelligence Centre, have drawn up
lists of imams who are considered suitable for this task.

9 Religious Festivals

Article 12 of the Cooperation Agreement recognises the right to take

time off to celebrate the major Muslim festivals by prior agreement
between Muslim workers and their employers. Prisons organise cultural
and religious activities during the month of Ramadan. The celebration
of the major prayers for ‘Id al-Fitr and ‘Id al-Adha is becoming increas-
ingly visible in neighbourhoods and towns with a substantial Muslim
presence. City councils tend to assign public facilities or the use of
public streets for these celebrations.

10 Halal Food

The emergence of initiatives for producing and marketing halal prod-

ucts is beginning to take shape in Spain. In the neighbourhoods of
the large cities, where populations of Muslim immigrant origin are
concentrated, a good number of halal butchers’ and grocers’ shops
can be found as well as other types of establishment offering products
and services that specifically target the Muslim community. All these
commercial initiatives are in response to an incipient demand for these
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products on the part of the Muslim community, which then generates

an infrastructure of production and distribution. In view of the potential
of this new market, and as a way of guaranteeing the proper use of
the term ‘halal’ to describe these products (as Article 14 of the 1992
Cooperation Agreement states), the Junta Islámica has promoted the
creation of the Instituto Halal (Halal Institute, C/Arco, Nº13 Almodovar
del Río, 14720 Córdoba, tel: +34 902431937,,
which since 1999 has for the first time in Spain certified and regulated
the use of the halal label.18
Carrying out the ‘Id al-Adha sacrifice by families is banned on
health grounds, but the practice continues discreetly in some Muslim

11 Dress Codes

There is no legal restriction prohibiting the wearing of Muslim dress in

public places such as schools and workplaces. However, since 2002 there
has been some controversy regarding the wearing of hijab in schools,
as well as some complaints about the police’s refusal to photograph
Muslim women with hijab when preparing identity cards. In January
2007, the nationalist party Plataforma por Cataluña in the municipal
town of Vic (Barcelona) put forward a motion at the council plenary
to ban the wearing of the burka (regarded as including niqab). This
motion was rejected, but served to include the concept of burka/niqab
in the political debate, as being synonymous with radicalisation. In the
2007 elections, two Muslim women who wear hijab were elected to the
assemblies of Ceuta and Melilla.

12 Publications and Media

Ever since the appearance of the first Islamic religious associations in

Spain in the 1970s, there have been numerous initiatives to edit and
publish journals. Some have had a very short life span, and others have
been irregular. They include:

The Halal Institute is a proposal for companies to certify their products as halal,
but not to organize trade between the Muslim halal.
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– País islámico (1983–1985, quarterly, edited by the Islamic Com-

munity in Spain-Murabitun in Granada—one of the first Muslim
journals in Spain);
– Al-Yama’a (1994–1997, monthly, edited by the Islamic Commission
of Melilla);
– Insha Allah (1994–2002, quarterly, bulletin of the Insha Allah
Association of Muslim women in Barcelona);
– Verde Islam (1995–2002, quarterly, edited by the Centre for Docu-
mentation and Publications of the Junta Islamica in Almodovar
del Río, Cordoba);
– Islam (1999–?, irregular, edited by the Islamic Community of
Muslim community leaders appear only occasionally in the media, in
the context of conflicts that arise involving Islam and Muslim com-
munities. Since 1985, Spanish state television has broadcast “Islam
Today”, produced by Moroccan journalist Mohamed Chakor. More
recently, Catalan public television has broadcast live the final prayer
of Ramadan in 2006 and the ‘Id al-Adha prayers in 2007. Both pro-
grammes were discontinued in 2008. Muslim communities cannot be
involved in setting the agendas for Catalan public television, but are
sometimes consulted on certain topics such as Muslim women and the
hijab, or Islamism.
The Internet has been the alternative adopted by the Spanish Muslim
community to express their views. There is a significant Muslim blog-
sphere, while the web portal of reference is Webislam (www.webislam
.com) (created in 1997 by Junta Islámica). UCIDE also has its own website
( and a blog (

13 Family Law

The Cooperation Agreement of 1992 recognises the validity of a mar-

riage celebrated in accordance with the form established by Islamic law.
To ensure full legal recognition, the marriage must be registered in the
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths.19 Polygamy is not recognised
in Spanish family law, although some instances of polygamy have

Motilla, Agustín, El matrimonio islámico y su eficacia en el Derecho español (Islamic
marriage and its validity in Spanish law) (Cordoba: Publicaciones de la Universidad
de Córdoba, 2003).
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occurred, especially among groups of Gambian and Senegalese origin.

The main problems in relation to family law have to do with divorce
by repudiation (talaq), a practice that is not recognised in Spanish law,
which poses serious difficulties for divorced women.

14 Public Opinion and Debate

A long history of accumulated stereotypes explains the routine use of

a derogatory term such as moro. This historical stereotype is combined
with the current perception that Islam in Spain is the result of recent
immigration, which reinforces the presumption that Islam and Muslims
are ‘foreign’. Many people in Spain only discovered the existence of
Muslim communities and prayer halls in their cities after the 11 September
2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Public interest in Islam and
Muslims grew, particularly concerning their presence on Spanish soil.
This interest made these spaces for religious practice more visible and
consequently anxiety about them began to be publicly expressed.
The 11 March 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid were a real blow
to the public consciousness because they were so unexpected and so
indiscriminately brutal. Perhaps it was in response to what was felt as
blind and senseless hate that there was such a powerful and shocked
reaction, although just a year before there had been public demonstra-
tions in the streets against the war in Iraq. In the weeks after the attacks,
there were innumerable actions, demonstrations, initiatives and religious
ceremonies, in which the representatives of the Muslim community
openly expressed their rejection of these events. The media gathered
the statements of the main Muslim bodies, which unanimously rejected
the vindication in the name of Islam that had been proclaimed by the
authors of the attacks. Coinciding with the first anniversary of the atroc-
ity, the FEERI published a fatwa in which it declared the material and
intellectual authors of the attacks to be apostates for having gone against
the main principles of respect for life that Islam proclaims. However,
after the impact of 11 March 2004, the old stereotypes were replaced
in people’s minds by a sense of vague and unpredictable threat.
The Observatorio Andalusí has reported and condemned the increasing
Islamophobia among the Spanish public.20 The report of the European

Observatorio Andalusí, Informe anual 2006. Institución para la observación y seguimiento
de la situación del ciudadano musulmán y la islamofobia en España (Annual report. Institute
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Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (2006)21 has also provided data
on Islamophobia. During the year 2008, as in previous years, various
controversies have included a clearly xenophobic discourse in relation to
Muslims. New conflicts have arisen against the background of mosques
being opened. Some statements by politicians in relation to certain
Islamic practices, such as the wearing of hijab, have contributed further
to reveal a latent bias against the Muslim presence that is historically
rooted in the use of the pejorative term moro.
Police actions against suspected Islamist activists has further con-
tributed to a widespread perception of mistrust and threat in relation
to the presence of Muslims in Spain. However, according to a survey
of 2,000 Muslims prepared by the Ministry of Interior in December
2007, only 28% of respondents said that the Islamic religion is rejected
in Spain.

15 Major Cultural Events

Cultural events related to Islamic tradition tend to be linked to mul-

ticultural rather than specifically Islamic, initiatives. Since 2006, Casa
Árabe (Arab House)22 in Madrid has organised a musical and cultural
festival during the month of Ramadan. The city council of Barce-
lona has also joined this initiative with the cultural festival “Nights of
Ramadan” in 2008.

to observe and monitor the status of Muslim citizens and Islamophobia in Spain)
(Madrid: UCIDE, 2007).
Muslims in the European Union: Discrimination and Islamophobia (EUMC,
2006) available at, accessed
27 May 2009.
Casa Árabe ( is a public institution established in 2006 as a
centre for the study the Arab world and as a point of support for Spanish diplomacy
in relation to Arab countries. It is a consortium established through an agreement
between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Spanish International Cooperation Agency,
the Government of Andalusia, the Community of Madrid and the municipalities of
Madrid and Cordoba.