Modern days Moors on the White Island
By D. Landa
|Saladi Costa Schreiner and friend in Restaurant Bismillah Santa Eulalia|
The Muslim community of Ibiza has a connection to the island and the larger community that few other migrant communities can claim. They are uniquely unaware of discriminatory sentiments and are appreciative of the open society in which they find themselves. It is unfortunate that these sentiments are not always mutual.
In the eighth century the Moors, originating from North Africa, conquered parts of the Iberian Peninsula, calling it Al Andalus, and occupied parts of the area for 800 years or so. Eight centuries is not a long time in the scheme of human history but it was long enough for the Moors to leave behind an indelible mark before being driven out. Moorish, Islamic and Arabic influences can be seen in Spanish architecture, language, cuisine and art. The two cultures share an intimate history which continues to this day.
According to a census taken in 2008 there are approximately 25,000 practising Muslims living in the Balearic Islands. The majority originate from Morocco followed by West Africa and a few from the Middle East. There are just over 5000 living in Ibiza and it is a lively and dynamic community.
If you find yourself regularly strolling the streets of Santa Eulalia then you will no doubt have come across Saladi Costa Schreiner. He is hard to miss. Tall, with a long grey beard, wire frame glasses, long robes in muted greens and browns and skull cap, Saladi occupies a special place in the Muslim community. By day he works for the Santa Eulalia council as a Mediador Intercultural, the equivalent of a link worker in Britain, the rest of his time is spent being the father of four children, the President of the local Muslim community of Santa Eulalia, the Spokesman of the Regional Balearic Federation of Muslim Communities and the proprietor of a recently opened Moroccan restaurant in Calle Historiador Clapes, Santa Eulalia. He is a busy and determined man.
Moroccan food stall Santa Eulalia market
Born to an Ibicenco father and German mother, Saladi spent his formative years studying in Germany where he mastered German, Arabic and French to go with his already fluent Ibicenco and Castilian. Like many young men Saladi spent a lot of his youth looking for answers. He tried Zen Buddhism, the counter culture, psychotherapy and Christianity until one day in London he had a spiritual awakening and found Sufism. A mystical branch of Islam, Sufism attempts to seek wisdom and God through love, devotion and selflessness. Saladi describes it as a living tradition, Islam being the shell and Sufism the pearl.
Claiming Ibiza’s long history of acceptance and tolerance of others as one of the reasons the community is thriving Saladi emphatically states that ‘the Ibicencos are special’. He continues that the Imams of Ibiza are moderate, highly respected and pious. They teach common sense and mainstream Islam and that there is no contradiction between the truth of Islam and living under democratic rule; fanaticism is inviolable. The same is not said of the Muslim community in Mallorca which is rumoured to be plagued by political infighting and narrow mindedness.
Our interview is interrupted momentarily when Saladi jumps out of his chair to greet the Bishop of Ibiza who has been giving a talk in the adjacent room. A strong mutual respect is apparent as they greet each other heartily. Saladi feels that all believers must join together to ‘make publicity for faith’ because ‘faith is connected to the most beautiful things like love and peace and understanding, forgiveness and compassion, our society urgently needs these beautiful gifts’ regardless of the brand. Even so, clearly a man of action, he finds his enthusiasm is often dampened by what he perceives as a passive position by the Catholic Church and their lack of vision, he would like to see more initiatives between Catholicism and Islam in Ibiza.
Diki Kahmmal Abdehak came to Ibiza over thirty years ago from Morocco. For nine years he has been the Treasurer and Spokesperson for the Muslim community of Ibiza Town. When we meet he is in the middle of organising the inaugural conference of the Union of Islamic Communities of the Balearics. A one day event open to all and titled ‘Islam: The Vanguard of Integration’. The conference includes talks from imminent Spanish and German scholars, the president of the Union of Islamic Communities of Spain, local politicians and authorties.
|Left to right Fatima, Malika and Amina meet almost daily|
The talks cover such diverse topics as Women in Islam, the Duties and Rights of the Immigrant and the Future Challenges of the Next Generation. It’s the first event of its kind in Ibiza and has attracted interest far and wide; people are travelling from Mallorca and various points in Europe to attend. Like Saladi, Diki cites Ibiza’s history of openness as one of the reasons the Muslim community is so successful here. ‘Ibiza is international’ and for that reason there has always had respect for those from other parts. Like many I speak to he has trouble thinking of any incidents of racial tension or discrimination against the community. He admits that of course there is intolerance but it’s not noticed as much as in other parts of Europe.
However, it is not just Ibiza’s history as an open society that has created this atmosphere of tolerance. The Balearic government has described the Muslim community of Ibiza as a ‘model community’ and an example to all other migrant communities. It is evident that the Muslim community here is extremely active and proud of their ties to the island. There seems to be constant activity, meetings, events, fund raisers, there is after school Arabic classes among many other initiatives all of which are subsidised by the community and a small grant of a few thousand euros a year from the national government.
The Muslim community of Ibiza were recently the first in Europe to organise a mass donation of blood to the local Blood Bank. More then 200 Muslims showed up to the mosque at Puig de Molins which had been specially fitted out for the occasion. A representative from the Blood Bank said that they obtained four times more blood then on a normal donation day. Diki reiterates that practising Muslims are pacifists, that the laws of Islam promote giving and that it is the actions of a few fanatics that has tarred the reputation of Muslims worldwide.
After dinner mint tea ritual
Diki also spends his time on the long term project of building a new mosque to accommodate the growing community. Land has been found land near Can Fita and the project will include a library, conference centre, Arabic language school and gardens. Through personal contributions and fund raising events the community so far has managed to raise 170,000 euros of the 300,000 required to purchase the land. Funds will also be needed for design and materials, the labour being made up of volunteers. The esteemed Canadian architect Rolf Blakstad will design the complex. He is well known in architectural circles as an expert in Moorish and Ibicencan architecture and also happens to be a resident of the island.
Almost every day in a cafe on Isidor Macabich in Ibiza Town a group of women congregate to gossip and drink coffee. On the day that I join them there is an air of excitement. It has been two days since the conference and the community is in high spirits. Expecting around 400 people to show up the organisers were surprised to count 900 participants on the day. Nine women cooked 200 hundred chickens, 200 kilos of beef and five whole lambs for the hungry mass not to mention the gallons of mint tea and tonnes of sweets. Diki personally purchased the 600 loaves of bread required for the luncheon. Plans for the next conference are already underway.
Today the women are joined by Ivone Puig, a PhD student from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Ivone is writing her thesis on the Muslim community of Ibiza and has been coming to the island on study trips for the last three years. She is not herself a Muslim. It is clear she has formed close relationships with the women and says there is a solidarity amongst them that she has not seen in many other communities. Although the women protest, insisting that they and their community are like any other. It is a theme that they return to often, as if to establish that their lives fall in the spectrum of what is considered normal.
They are keen to separate themselves from the common image of an Islamic woman; that of a woman at the mercy of her male relatives, forbidden to work, study and to live a free life. The women agree that this image has stemmed from hard line Muslim countries in the Middle East, where faith has been politicised. There is no doubt that women in strict Islamic countries are oppressed but the Muslim women of Ibiza say that slowly Muslim societies around the world are changing and it’s the women who are facilitating and benefiting from those changes.
When it comes to love once again the women insist that the process is like in any other community. Although, Ivone begs to differ, she intimates that finding love for Ibizan Muslims is a little more chaste and traditional although there are no arranged marriages. She says that the women remind her of ‘the Spanish women of the 1950s’. There has been much intermarriage and when asked if these unions are tolerated the answer is a unilateral shrug of the shoulders, it depends on the family, some are more tolerant then others. One of the women, Hafida, has a female relative who converted for marriage and has become ‘more Muslim than anyone else in the family’. Other women have married outside the faith and lost the strength of their beliefs when faced with the wills of their new families, other families seem not to mind.
The concern in mixed marriages is when children are raised with little knowledge of their heritage. Another woman, Karima, tells of how she has raised her children, chooses not to wear a veil, has a job of which she is very proud and supports herself and her family as any other modern woman might, the message is that she is in control of her own life and not answerable to her husband or any other male relative.
Ivone thinks that the support the women show each other is entirely different to other communities. She cites several examples; when someone is in hospital every single household visits and takes food for the patient, when there is a naming ceremony, some other festivity or a death each woman contributes in some way, if someone has a sick relative in Morocco each household gives what they are able. Ivone says she sees values that have been lost to a large part of modern society and that she, personally, has never witnessed such a strong sense of communal obligation.
The comments on the El Diario web page following articles about the conference and the new mosque show that not all islanders follow the Ibizan tradition of acceptance and openness or appreciate the historical connection with Islam and its importance to Spain.
But just as moderate Muslims maintain that fanaticism is the provenance of the few and tolerance the provenance of the many, Ibiza, as usual, will generally open its arms to those who are seen to lead good and fruitful lives as part of the larger community.
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