Muslims arrested for trying to pray in Córdoba’s former Great Mosque
Two Muslim tourists were arrested when they tried to pray inside Córdoba’s famous former mosque, breaking a ban imposed by the Roman Catholic Church.
Half a dozen Austrian Muslims knelt to pray at the same time in the vast marble building, which was converted to a cathedral in the 13th century after Muslims were driven from Spain.
Security guards stepped in and “invited them to continue with their tour or leave the building”, according to cathedral authorities.
When two refused a scuffle broke out and police were called. Two security guards were seriously injured. Spanish media, citing police sources, said that one of the Muslims arrested had been carrying a knife.
The two men who were detained were part of a group of 118 Austrian Muslims on an organised tour for young European Muslims. All bought tourist tickets for a tour of the cathedral on Wednesday.
The six who started to pray faced charges of disturbing public order when they appeared before a judge in Córdoba.
The clash happened as the building was filled with tourists visiting the cathedral during Holy Week when thousands flock to the town for the parades of penitents in coned hats and long robes carrying huge images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
In a statement Catholic authorities condemned the incident: “They provoked in an organised fashion a deplorable episode of violence.”
After being asked to stop praying, it added, “they replied by attacking security guards, two of whom suffered serious injuries”.
The Great Mosque of Córdoba was converted into a Christian church in 1236 after King Ferdinand III of Castile recaptured the city from the Moors. The building later became the modern-day Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.
Muslim organisations have long campaigned for the right to pray inside the building, which was once one of the biggest mosques in the world.
However, Demetrio Fernández González, the recently appointed Bishop of Córdoba, reinforced a ban on Muslims praying in any part of the 24,000 sq m (260,000 sq ft) building, saying that canon law did not permit it.
A statement from the bishop’s office said: “The shared use of the cathedral by Catholics and Muslims would not contribute to the peaceful coexistence of the two beliefs.”
The Roman Catholic Church cited archaeological reports that said before the Mosque was built in the 8th century remains of an earlier Christian temple had stood on the same spot.
Despite the prayer ban, the rules have been bent for a number of high-profile Muslim dignitaries, as well as some notorious members of the faith.
Saddam Hussein and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi both stopped off at Córdoba to prey at the former mosque, which comprises 300 yellow and red arches and 1,300 columns.
Mansur Escudero, of the Junta Islamica group, which has been pressing for Muslims to be allowed to worship at the mosque, condemned the incident. He said: “Our organisation has made reiterated petitions in a peaceful way and from a strict respect for law so they would permit the shared ecumenical use of the temple. We would have avoided what happened yesterday.
“They publicise the building as a mosque because that brings in tourists but they do not allow the Muslims who pay money to go inside to pray.” He added that if a space were provided for Muslim prayers it would not convenience visitors or disturb the cathedral and could promote understanding between the two religions.
Alexander Osman, spokesman for the the Association of Young Austrian Muslims, said: “We would like to sincerely apologise to the Christian authorities for what happened.”
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