Observing Islam in Spain pools multidisciplinary research experiences on Islam, providing original and explanatory findings on the social processes that have developed in recent decades around the new presence of Islam in Spain.
Islam in Spain has been transformed from a historical to a social matter in recent decades, attracting the attention of experts from a variety of disciplines. However, contributions to the field have been somewhat disperse. The multidisciplinary nature of the research done -mainly by specialists in Islamic Studies, Anthropology, Sociology and Law- has not been conducive to debates between specialists or to the publication of comprehensive works that recognize the wealth of views and findings.
Observing Islam in Spain contains the keys to understanding current debates about the presence of Muslim citizens in Spain with regard to symbolism and public space, the law, ritual, the question of re-Islamization and the association-building and political participation of young people and women.
When the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz published Islam Observed in 1971, it opened a debate about the relationship between religion and culture that continues today. In his book, a benchmark text since it first appeared, he compares Islam observed in two contexts – Morocco and Indonesia – showing that although the practice of Islam may be slightly different in these two geographically and culturally removed societies, the practices are clearly based on the same pattern of symbols (Geertz 1971). However, despite sharing these symbols, the Islam practiced in the two contexts has resulted in disparate social ways of being. While in Morocco the practice of Islam was associated with moralism, activism and intense individuality, in Indonesia, on the contrary, Islam emphasized asceticism and inwardness, and was thus observed by the anthropologist. Following Geertz, then, the question guiding this book is: what is Islam like in Europe? Or, rather: what are Muslim individuals in Europe like?
Answering this question is not a simple task. Firstly, it is not easy to analyse cultural contexts in a Europe that is as complex as it is today. Secondly, the question of religion continues to polarize debate on the ‘old continent’. Although the wars of religion of the early modern period of history may now seem far behind, perhaps they are not so far away after all.
At the risk of simplifying, in the Spanish case at least, two particular issues lie at the basis of this topic. The first is that, paradoxically, well into the twenty-first century, the Spanish population is still considered culturally Catholic, at a time when religion is losing its ability to structure society (Pérez Agote 2014). The second relates to the fact that observing Islam requires observing individuals who are part of a religious minority that is frequently invisibilized or, rather, hidden in the category of migrant and all too often presented as a closed community, outside the rest of society (Bravo López 2012). Lately, of course what some perceive as, the permanent risk of radicalization is an added factor.
In academic terms, the study of Islam in contemporary Spain is a relatively recent area of specialization. Traditionally, Islam has been studied by historians as part of the history of Spain, and it is only recently that it has begun to attract the attention of experts from a variety of disciplines (Planet 2014). Research done on Islam in Spain, once in debt to the work carried out in France, has moved on – to a perhaps excessive extent – to the formulated conceptualizations of the Anglo-Saxon context, which are forced at times to apply to the ‘Spanish case’. The chapters in this book are based on research projects presented during a seminar hosted by the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid at the university’s La Cristalera headquarters in the town of Miraflores de la Sierra in the summer of 2015.2 The seminar was the site of a vigorous debate that reconsidered, described and critically analysed the research done in Spain on Islam and Muslim populations. The individual chapters present the main results of research into topics that have, from the outset, been configured as the ‘gatekeeping concepts’ of Islam or ‘prestige zones’ regarding studies of the Arab and Islamic world. The chapters break to some extent with tradition, offering new perspectives on classic topics and issues in the study of Islam in Europe. They also challenge the traditional forms of constructing these questions with, of course, the epistemological discussion at the core.
In the different chapters in this book, the Muslims living in Spain are not observed a priori as either immigrants seeking to integrate (Muslims of foreign extraction and their generations of descendants) or as Spaniards embracing a faith (converts). Although a significant number of the Muslims in Spain arrived from other countries, nationality laws and demographic and political processes make it difficult to continue to maintain this separate category. This is expressly discussed in both the first chapter and in Oscar Salguero’s study of Melilla, which presents an interesting section of the country’s Muslim community from the historical perspective provided by that city. Likewise, the analysis of the legal framework does not focus on laws on foreigners or migration policies, but on religious freedom and the protection of the fundamental rights enshrined in Article 16 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978.
Neither is the aim of the book to present a snapshot of Spanish Muslims, their spaces of worship or the infrastructures they use in their religious practice. Instead, the institutionalization process is analysed in all its complexity. This involves both the legal process of recognizing individual and group rights and a social process that is not devoid of difficulties. The studies show that this entails a process of accommodation at various levels that is no longer perceived when it is viewed from the sole perspective of Islamophobia. In this respect, two chapters focus on the controversial issue of the place of women in Islam, seen by the mainstream as an obstacle to citizenship for Muslim women. The question of re-Islamization is revisited in the light of a study done with men and women, in which social class was shown to be particularly important for the women. Different possibilities for political participation in Spain by women who express themselves as Muslim and, who, in their dual capacity as both women and Muslims, participate in projects not on an individual basis, but as leaders of associations and working inside political parties with different ideologies are also presented.
The book is structured into seven chapters. In the first, written by project editor Ana I. Planet, Islam in Spain is explored over a long period of time. As an essential feature of the Spanish past in the form of al-Andalus and, consequently, the subject of study for numerous historians, it has now become the focus of social science analyses and a part of social debates. A centuries-long dispute exists in Spain about the country’s Arab and Islamic roots. The debate is framed by social and political moments in Spanish history that must be understood in order to appreciate the cultural, political and social processes that have marked the country. At the end of the twentieth century, labour migration from North Africa, especially Morocco, brought renewed attention to the question. While debates and analyses focus on the alleged unintegrability of some immigrant groups, from a political policy point of view, the legal framework regarding religious freedom as it affects minority religions and the management of religious pluralism continues to improve. At the same time, spaces for participation have multiplied, including participation in elections, political parties and various associations, some of which are working to combat the increase in Islamophobia.
In the second chapter, José María Contreras provides an in-depth analysis of the legal status of Islam in Spain to determine how far the exercise of religious freedom extends for Muslims. In Spain today there are around 1,200,000 Muslims, approximately 2.6% of the Spanish population. Moreover, this is a critical point in time, when what has been an ‘Islam of foreigners’ seems to be evolving into an Islam made up of people who live and are going to have to live as both citizens born in Spain (i.e. Spaniards) and as Muslims alongside those Spaniards who have freely made the choice to convert to Islam. As a result, Muslims at this time are experiencing a moment of flux, but also a situation of normalization, stability, visibilization and institutionalization. These new circumstances have been accompanied by new needs related to spaces or places of worship, cemeteries, religious personnel, religious leaders and the like.
However the spaces of Islam in Spain in historical times were not only related to the centuries of Arab/Berber domination of the Iberian Peninsula. As Chapter 3 demonstrates, organized Islam has existed since the nineteenth century in the city of Melilla. This city, located in North Africa but an integral part of the Spanish state (like Ceuta on the Strait of Gibraltar), is a complex one. Thanks to its geographic location and history, it provides a site to study interactions between religious communities, places of worship and the worshippers themselves in the public space of Melilla during the twentieth century and up to the present day. The chapter by Óscar Salguero draws on the reflexive and critical practice that underlies social research in general and anthropology in particular, applying a spatial and urbanistic perspective to the current composition of Islam in Melilla and to the sometimes controversial influence of state control and the security apparatus on local daily life.
In Chapter 4, a team of authors (Marta Alonso, Khalid Ghali, Alberto López, Jordi Moreras and Ariadna Solé) looks at the transformations that have taken place in the ‘invisible’ ritual practices of Muslim communities in Catalonia as an example of (relatively) successful accommodation to the European religious field. These rituals are shown to elicit very little controversy in a context of increasing pressure with regard to Islamic religious practice in Europe. The chapter shows that, despite the validity of the ritual practices, this pressure is directly related both to growing discretion surrounding the rituals – to the point of limiting the practice at times to the private sphere – and to a progressive compliance with legal requirements inspired to some extent by a secular sensibility that proscribes the execution and exhibition of acts involving bloodshed in the public space. These restrictions and controversies have particularly affected the ceremonies associated with Ashura and, of course, the Eid al-Adha sacrifice, two rituals that have aroused particular suspicion in recent years.
Chapter 5 focuses on young Muslims in Spain. Using the existing literature on this question in other European contexts as their point of reference, Virtudes Téllez and Salvatore Madonia discuss the Spanish context, in which their visibilization is quite low, and the public debate, where their only representation in recent years has resulted from an interest in radicalization. Two successive ethnographic experiences are drawn on to understand the evolution of the associative process of young Muslims in the Spanish context and identify their sociocultural and political dynamics, analysing whether they are reactive or active regarding contemporary social processes and thus questioning reductionist culturalist and/or security focuses.
In Chapter 6, Ángeles Ramírez and Laura Mijares analyse the result of a research project (2011–15) on the relationship between gender and Islam in Madrid. They examine the presence of Islam in male-female relationships based on an analysis of the discourse in four discussion groups, all supported by extensive prior ethnographic experience. One of the project’s objectives was to identify the processes of re-Islamization in Spain, on par with what the literature has shown for the rest of Europe. According to the research carried by the authors, it cannot be said that a similar situation is developing in Madrid. The chapter shows that, while the idea of living Islamically is identified as a model for Muslims, what truly determines relationships between Islam and gender are social positions. For Muslims in privileged positions, Islam becomes a social resource for both men and women. However, further down the social scale, while Muslim men also use Islam as capital in domestic and social bargaining, the same cannot be said of the women in this group. For them, Islam does not have this value and is identified, among other things, as part of the structure of domination in which they are the weak element.
In the discussion of political Muslim women in Chapter 7, Aitana Guia challenges conventional views that primarily consider Muslim women victims of patriarchal interpretations of Islam and targets of anti-Muslim racist stereotypes. Many devout Spanish Muslim women are using a strategy of visibility and engagement in the public sphere as a way to protect their community and shape what it means to be a Muslim Spanish woman. The author shows that some devout Muslim women are choosing to actively participate in politics, religious organizations and women’s groups in order to challenge Islamophobia and European perceptions of Muslim women as oppressed, promote women’s rights and defend the religious rights of Spanish Muslims. For Guia, devout Muslim women have become key players in the struggles for women’s rights and against anti-Muslim prejudice in Spain.
Clifford Geertz asserted that the practice of Islam in Morocco was associated with moralism, activism and intense individuality and in Indonesia, with asceticism and inwardness. And in Spain? As the editor, I hope that the works in this book help to construct a mental framework between the Islamic religion and Spanish culture – with all the essentialist content inherent in the use of the two terms today – that is more plural and varied and that, to a large extent, banishes the single framework of immigrant Islam or violent, radicalized Islam.
As the reader can see, young Spanish Muslims, to whom this book is dedicated, have a great deal of work ahead of them. However, despite the fact that these young people will guide the way forward for Islam in Spain, for now they continue to run up against a glass ceiling in their community. Religious associations and dialogue on religious issues continue to be controlled by members of older generations, and the incorporation of younger members of the community – much like the incorporation of women – has not been to anyone’s satisfaction. However, the social activism of new organizations made up of young Muslims is transforming the public presence of Islam in Spanish society at great speed.
This task, however, is not only the responsibility of young Muslims. They live their lives in a social and political, local and national context that is clearly affected by both global dynamics and local policies. Meanwhile, the security dimension of some public policies must be considered within the general context surrounding individual actions. Reactions to this situation and questions about how this new element of tension will be handled ensure that the future development of a Spanish Islam will be marked by uncertainty, especially after the violent attacks that occurred in August 2017 in Catalonia. These studies can lead to understanding and observation that see beyond the terror.
Finally, this book is also dedicated to the new generations of researchers who are working on these crucial questions from the perspective of very diverse disciplines. They also find themselves limited by their own glass ceiling and by the material limitations that characterize working conditions for so many young scholars today.
Contributors are Marta Alonso Cabré, José María Contreras Mazarío, Khalid Ghali, Aitana Guia, Alberto López Bargados, Salvatore Madonia, Laura Mijares, Jordi Moreras, Ana I. Planet Contreras, Ángeles Ramírez, Óscar Salguero Montaño, Ariadna Solé Arraràs and Virtudes Téllez Delgado.
About the Editor
Ana I. Planet Contreras, Ph.D. (1997) is Professor of the Sociology of Islam at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. She has published numerous works on Islam in contemporary Spain, including ‘Islam in Spain’ in Handbook on European Islam (OUP, 2014).
Table of Contents
1 Islam in Spain: From Historical Question to Social Debate by Ana I. Planet Contreras
2 Muslims in Spain: The Legal Framework and Status by José María Contreras Mazarío
3 A Diachronic View of the Spaces of Islam in Melilla by Óscar Salguero Montaño
4 Invisible Rituals: Islamic Religious Acts in Catalan Public Space by Marta Alonso Cabré, Khalid Ghali, Alberto López Bargados, Jordi Moreras, Ariadna Solé Arraràs
5 Visibilizing ‘Invisibilized’ Spanish Muslim Youth by Virtudes Téllez Delgado & Salvatore Madonia
6 Rethinking Re-Islamization: On Muslims and Gender in Spain by Ángeles Ramírez & Laura Mijares
7 Political Muslim Women: Citizenship and Feminism in Democratic Spain by Aitana Guia
Title: Observing Islam in Spain: Contemporary Politics and Social Dynamics
Editor(s): Ana I. Planet Contreras
Length: 192 pages
Pub. Date: 9 May 2018