Is Spain threatened by its Muslim community?

Friday 3 June 202206:11 pm
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"هل تشعر إسبانيا بالخطر من الجالية المسلمة؟ "... المحكمة الدستورية الإسبانية تنتصر لعائلة مسلمة

Is it possible for the conditions of Muslim immigrants in Spain to change as a result of a political party’s control within a province, or can a country’s constitution that is based on secularism protect minorities?

This question was posed in Spain, a European country that’s politically organized into autonomous provinces and regions in which each province has the right to enact its own laws — laws that may change according to the left or right of the ruling party there.

The question was finally raised after a woman turned to the courts to raise one of the unspoken issues about the status of immigrants following the victory of the far-right Vox party and its control over the southern provinces. The effects of this control were quite evident in the education administration within the city of Murcia, after it refused to teach Islamic as a subject to members of the Muslim community there.

This exclusion, which was done in an arbitrary manner, is in violation of the constitution, which recognizes religious pluralism and respect for beliefs, which includes allowing the teaching of a religious subject in public education.

In its ruling, the Constitutional Court of Spain recognized that the educational administration that is run by the Vox politician Maribel Campothano in the city of Murcia, had violated one of the constitutional principles regarding the ideological and religious freedom of citizens and the right of parents to choose whether their children receive religious and moral education in accordance with their beliefs.

The Catholic religion is taught as a subject in government schools, and schools have recently agreed to teach Jesuit theology as well. So what’s the issue with teaching Islam in schools?

Accordingly, the court recognized the right of a Muslim family to have its children receive an Islamic education in the county’s public schools. According to data collected by the Islamic Commission of Spain, the province includes 23,000 Muslims who are at the basic education age and entitled to public education in Murcia with no center or institute to teach it. According to standard guidelines, it is enough for a school to receive 10 requests to teach any religion in order to teach the subject. And if the Catholic religion is taught as a subject in government schools, and schools have recently agreed to teach the Jesuit religion as well, then what’s the issue with teaching the Islamic religion as a subject?

Based on this question, the woman who had raised the case filed a large number of complaints to the education administration in order to understand whether the reason is a lack of teachers for this subject, a lack of readiness of the school, capacity-wise, to provide classes to teach the subject, or whether the issue falls within the scope of discrimination based on religious grounds, along with the administration — which represents the Vox political party — refusing to acknowledge Islam and Muslim citizens? While emphasizing that she is not the only one who made this request, and that there are fifty requests filed by other families to demand including this subject in the public education of their children, she wonders what’s the benefit of students being Muslim while studying the Catholic religion? With the intransigence of the education administration, she took the next step to resort to the justice system, not only for the sake of her son or the other children, but for the sake of the 140 thousand Muslims that make up the Muslim community in Murcia, according to what the woman told the Spanish newspaper El Pais. This woman, who asked to remain anonymous since she did not want to be harassed by supporters of the Vox party, had moved to raise the case because she knows that many immigrant Muslims face hardships but do not do anything about them, either because they do not know their constitutional rights, or because they do not know Spanish. As a Spanish Muslim, she sees her role is to stand up for this minority.

The court ruling indicated that the state constitution and the law on cooperation with the Islamic Commission had, since 1992, established the right of the family to have its children be taught the religious subject that goes with their beliefs, and indicated that the mother did not even request that her three children study Islam in a specific school, but rather in any school that meets the agreed upon conditions. For its part, the Islamic Commission of Spain, which is a legal representative of the Muslim minority, sent the administration of Murcia a list of teachers who meet the required conditions. But, according to the same newspaper, the educational administration had ignored publishing the list and did not send any response saying they were accepting or rejecting the names of the list. After the court established the right to teach Islamic religion as a basic right for Muslim children in government schools, it condemned the stance of the education administration, and ruled that it must pay for the expenses of the lawsuit.

 Fears and an attempt to reassure

There is no doubt that the educational administration in the Spanish city of Murcia fears Islam, and perhaps the fear has increased this time and is encased with Islamophobia because the ideological basis of the Vox party is to hate everything that isn’t Spanish Catholic. Therefore there is a desperate defense of the Catholicism of Spain and its national purity, even its ethnicity! But this does not cancel out that other citizens who are far from the extremist party also have a fear of Islam and associate it with terrorism. They remember the Barcelona attacks and, years before that, the bombing of the Atocha train, the largest main station in Madrid (also known as the 11M), in addition to a media rhetoric that is not characterized by balance and does not know the difference between Islam and terrorism, along with the almost complete absence of Arabists from the most influential media outlets.

Citizens who are far from the extremist party also have a fear of Islam and associate it with terrorism. They remember the Barcelona attacks and, years before that, the explosion of Madrid’s Atocha train

For all these reasons, the Islamic Commission has provided the education administration with a list of teachers’ names along with their CVs, as well as the educational curricula taught to students, whether they’re textbooks or other materials.

The attempt at reassurance that the law society did, remained unanswered. All attempts to meet the officials failed following endless procrastination, according to what Ihab Fahmy, the official spokesman for the Islamic Commission, told the El-Diario newspaper. He adds that he believes that, “Introducing the subject of the Islamic religion will achieve more integration into society and normalizing social life among people of different religions. And there is no better place than school to make this happen.”

Despite the court ruling condemning the education administration and granting Muslim families their right, the administration will study the ruling in a legal context without declaring whether it will implement it. It claims that Spain does not have an Islamic institution in its government apparatus that’s equivalent to the Catholic Patriarchate, which is charged with setting the Catholic religion curriculum and nominating teachers. This same pretext reveals other fears of a legally licensed Islamic association, the Islamic Commission.

Fear and distrust of the curricula that is being taught to students, and the quality of the teachers, are what’s initially causing them to to be stigmatized with terrorism until proven otherwise. The education administration trusts the Catholic Patriarchate, but it does not trust the Islamic Commission. The problem here is not with the language. The Islamic religion will be taught in Spanish and its texts can be reviewed. It is also possible to rely on Arabs to review the texts themselves or to take over the responsibility of monitoring and inspection.

The education administration’s position brings the question of identity back into the light, and the question of secularism itself as one of the foundations of the state.

And perhaps the most important questions of all are: Is it possible, in cases of peril, to abandon the basic principles that pertain to the values ​​of freedom, including freedom of expression and belief in particular? Does Spain really feel threatened by the presence of a Muslim community, most of whom are peaceful, who had fled their countries to escape death, poverty, and persecution to enjoy the quiet without any bombings?

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