CAIRO – Representing an era of religious tolerance, Cordoba mosque has become the center of recent debates, following attempts by the Catholic Church to control the building, used currently as a Cathedral hosting Christian prayers only.
“The Mezquita [or Great Mosque of Córdoba] is a global symbol of the meeting of cultures and today more than ever the world needs symbols like this,” Antonio Manuel Rodríguez, a professor of civil law at the University of Córdoba, told Irish Times.
The Great Mosque of Cordoba, or Mezquita, was built between 784 and 786 during the reign of caliph Abd al-Rahman I.
Serving as a place for Muslim prayers for five centuries, the mosque was consecrated as a church since Ferdinand III, the king of Castile, took Cordoba from the Muslim rulers in 1236.
However, the place is still being called by both Spaniards and tourists as mosque, not cathedral.
The mosque became the center of debates recently after Catholic Church efforts to take it out of public hands were made public.
Fierce debates erupted after it emerged that the local archbishopric is in the process of registering itself as the owner of the entire building – which is public property – a move that will be irreversible by 2016.
Many in the city believe this is part of an effort by the Córdoba Catholic authorities to suppress the monument’s Islamic identity.
In a recent conference, Prof Rodríguez accused the Córdoba archbishop of jeopardizing this symbolism by attempting to appropriate the property.
He added that a loophole in land ownership laws dating from the dictatorship of Francisco Franco was being exploited and that the archbishopric was “administrating the monument in an abusive way”.
Moreover, he warned that the historic centre of Córdoba even risked losing its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site if the “Christianization” of the Mezquita continued.
Back in 2010, archbishop of Cordoba, Demetrio Fernandez, called for referring the building as “the Cathedral of Cordoba” on street signs and tourist brochures.
The request was obeyed, allowing tourist brochures to describe the historic mosque as “Córdoba Cathedral”.
The website address contains the word “cathedral”, but not the word “mosque” as well.
Deeming the mosque as an important Islamic symbol around the world, Spanish Muslims expressed anger over the Catholic Church moves.
“It’s a historical heritage belonging to all Spaniards,” Isabel Romero, director of the Islamic Junta, which represents Muslims in Spain, told Irish Times.
“It’s very strange that it should pass into private hands.”
In 2010, two Austrian Muslims were arrested there after grappling with security guards who had stopped them from praying.
In the early 1970s, Franco considered a plan to “transplant” the cathedral brick by brick to another city, reportedly with financing from the Saudi royal family, to separate the Catholic and Muslim temples.
The archbishop of Córdoba at the time vetoed the project.
There are nearly 1.3 million Muslims in Spain, making up 3 percent of the country’s 45 million population.
Muslims ruled much of Spain for centuries starting from 711 to 1492.
Their last king was defeated by Catholic king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1492.
After that Muslims mosques were either left to ruin or converted into churches.