Despite being rebuffed by the local bishop and the Vatican, Muslims are still trying to retake the Cordoba cathedral. “Catholic-Muslim turf war still resonates at Cordoba cathedral: The scuffle over La Mezquita is echoed throughout Spain these days as members of each faith tests the other’s tolerance” is a weepy piece by Tracy Wilkinson in the Los Angeles Times (thanks to all who sent this in), lamenting that Muslims can’t pray there. It never seems to occur to her that there are innumerable churches all over the Islamic world that were turned into mosques, and no one is agitating in Constantinople for the Hagia Sophia to be opened again for public Christian prayer, or in Damascus for the Umayyad Mosque, built atop a demolished church dedicated to St. John the Baptist, to be opened to Christians.
And why is that? What makes Cordoba different from Istanbul or Damascus? Does Tracy Wilkinson know? Does Tracy Wilkinson care?
CORDOBA, SPAIN “” Mansur Escudero knew the answer before he asked.
Approaching the guard at Cordoba’s majestic once-a-mosque, now-a-cathedral, Escudero posed the question: May I say Muslim prayers inside?
The slightly startled Spanish guard gave an emphatic no. This is a Catholic church, he said, and as such it is absolutely prohibited to pray in any other faith. Escudero persisted, but the guard was firm.
This is a cathedral, the guard repeated, growing more agitated: “A CA-THO-LIC CHURCH.”
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.
Some of today’s Muslims may long for Islam’s glorious past, but Mansur Escudero insists he just wants a place to pray.
“We could be an example for the world,” he said, “awakening the consciences of both Christians and Muslims and showing it’s possible to put aside past conflicts.”
Great. Restore the Hagia Sophia as a cathedral, and we’ll talk about Cordoba.