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Spain’s Escalating Mosque Wars

by Soeren Kern

Police in Spain have forcibly removed Muslim activists from an illegal mosque in a small town in Catalonia, an autonomous region in northeastern Spain that is home to the largest Muslim population in the country.

The eviction ends — for now, anyway — a highly public one-year standoff in which Muslim immigrants in the Catalan town of Mollet del Vallès openly and aggressively challenged the authority of municipal officials to evaluate and determine the proper location of new mosques based on established urban planning regulations.

The dispute over the unauthorized mosque is the latest in a growing number of mosque-related conflicts resulting from efforts by towns and cities across Spain to relocate overfilled mosques from congested downtown areas to uninhabited industrial parks.

Catalan police ended the standoff in Mollet del Vallès on October 2 by conducting an early morning raid on the property, which was being illegally occupied by up to 50 Muslims from North Africa who were angry over a decision by the town council to prohibit the premises from being used as a mosque.

The confrontation began in July 2012, when the Al Huda Muslim Community told the town council that their existing mosque on Sant Ramon Street in downtown Mollet del Vallès had become too small for the swelling ranks of Muslims who gather for weekly prayers each Friday.

Al Huda — one of two Muslim communities in this town of 50,000 inhabitants, near Barcelona — went on to tell municipal authorities that the group was interested in purchasing an old factory building, also situated in the downtown area, in order to convert the property into a mosque.

In response, the mayor of Mollet del Vallès, Josep Monràs, warned Al Huda that the building in question was zoned for commercial use only and, in accordance with the Municipal Management Plan dated 2004, could not be used as a mosque.

As an alternative, Monràs offered to provide Al Huda with a much larger property in an industrial park located two kilometers from the downtown area. This location would not only accommodate a greater number of worshippers, it would also serve to avoid the noise and parking problems associated with hundreds of Muslims gathering in the cramped downtown area.

In any event, Monràs argued, the Islamic Council of Mollet del Vallès, the other Muslim community in town, had accepted a similar offer and was already operating a mosque in the same industrial park without any problems.

Al Huda rejected the mayor’s alternative offer, calling it a case of “Islamophobia” and alleging that the municipality was eager to “banish” all Muslims from the downtown area. “We are not some merchandise that should be in an industrial park,” a member of Al Huda told the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia.

Rejecting the mayor’s warning, Al Huda went ahead and purchased the old factory building in June 2013. Shortly thereafter, Al Huda demanded that the town council change the zoning regulations so that the property could be converted into a mosque. The town council refused this demand.

The conflict escalated when members of Al Huda began construction work to convert the new building into a mosque — in defiance of the town council, and despite lacking a building permit. On July 10, 2013, the town council sealed off the old factory building, due to urban planning violations, thus prohibiting Al Huda from continuing its illegal construction activities.

Al Huda responded by ordering more than 400 Muslims to hold five prayers each day in front of the town hall (photos herehere and here). “We will be one or two months or however long it takes. We will not leave until the town council gives us back our site,” said the president of Al Huda, Ahmed Balghouch.

 

Members of the Al Huda Muslim community stage a public prayer protest in Mollet del Vallès, Spain.

 

The “pressure tactic” ended up disrupting normal daily activity for non-Muslims in downtown Mollet del Vallès for three months, from July through September.

Mayor Monràs refused to back down, however, saying he would not give in to Al Huda’s “blackmail” tactics. “The [Al Huda] Muslim community knew that they could not purchase the property in order to convert it into a mosque because it would be a breach of municipal planning regulations. Yet, they have launched a number of protest actions that are illegal. The rules of the city and the country are mandatory for everyone and Mollet del Vallès will be uncompromising toward any kind of radicalism or blackmail,” Monràs said.

After the daily prayer ploy failed to force the town hall to budge, Al Huda escalated the conflict still further….

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