The municipality of Salt, a town near Barcelona where Muslim immigrants now make up 40% of the population, has approved a one-year ban on the construction of new mosques. It is the first ban of its kind in Spain.
The moratorium follows public outrage over plans to build a massive Salafi mosque that is being financed by Saudi Arabia. Salafism is a branch of revivalist Islam that calls for restoring past Muslim glory by forcibly re-establishing an Islamic empire (Caliphate) across the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Europe such as Spain, which Salafists view as a Muslim state that must be reconquered for Islam.
Much of Spain was ruled by Muslim conquerors from 711 and 1492; Salafists believe that the territories the Muslims lost during the Spanish Reconquista still belong to them, and that they have a right to return and establish their rule there – a belief based on the Islamic precept that territories once occupied by Muslims must forever remain under Muslim domination.
Sacrificing common sense on the altar of multiculturalism, the previous Socialist government in Salt secretly gave permission to the Salafi Muslims to build the mega-mosque, which, with four stories comprising 1,000 square meters (11,000 square feet) accompanied by towering minarets, would be the largest Salafi mosque in Europe.
The secret deal was only discovered after the Socialists were ejected from power in May 2011. Angry natives began pressuring the new town council – now ruled by the center-right Convergència i Unió (CiU) party – to prevent the mosque from being built. On August 24, the council approved the one-year ban on the building of new mosques in order to provide "some time for reflection."
The Salafi mega-mosque may still be built, however, because the construction permit was issued before the non-retroactive moratorium took effect. The building permit, which is valid for a period of six months, expires at the end of September 2011.
Muslim radicals associated with two Spain-based Salafi groups, Al Hilal Islamic Cultural Association and Magrebins per la Pau Association, are now asking groups in Saudi Arabia to advance the funds needed to begin construction of the mosque within the next few weeks, before the building permit expires.
The Catalan nationalist party Plataforma per Catalunya (PxC) – which opposes not only the mosques but also Muslim immigration – attempted to hold an anti-mosque protest in Salt on August 27. PxC spokeswoman María Osuna said the party, which has some 70,000 active members, did not want Salt to become "the new Mecca of the most radical Islamism."
But provincial law enforcement authorities banned the PxC demonstration after learning that Muslims from across Spain were organizing a counter-demonstration in the town on the same day. Fearing the risk of violence, the provincial interior ministry issued a statement saying that the anti-mosque demonstration would be banned because it could "hurt the religious feelings of the majority of Muslims in Salt." Around 12,000 of Salt's 30,000 inhabitants are Muslim immigrants.
Salt and other towns in the north-eastern region of Catalonia have become ground zero for Salafi Islam in Spain. The movement is based in the Catalonian city of Tarragona, but Salafi Islam also has a major presence in the municipalities of Badalona, Calafell, Cunit, El Vendrel, Lleida, Mataró, Reus, Roda de Bara, Rubí, Salt, Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Sant Boi, Torredembarra, Valls, and Vilanova, not to mention Barcelona, which hosts five Salafi mosques.
Salafi preachers in Catalonia teach that Islamic Sharia law is above Spanish civil law. They also promote the establishment of a parallel Muslim society in Spain. Salafi imams have set up Sharia tribunals to judge the conduct of both practicing and non-practicing Muslims in Spain and to punish those who fail to comply.
The leaders of Salafi Islam in Salt are the "Caliph" Mohammed Attaouil and his right hand man, the cleric Rachid Menda. They are two of the most effective anti-Western propagandists in Spain, and have been able to create a Salafi stronghold in Catalonia by employing the twin strategies of spreading fear and proselytizing.
In December 2009, for example, nine Salafists kidnapped a woman, tried her for adultery based on Sharia law, and condemned her to death. The woman just barely escaped execution by fleeing to a local police station.
In January 2010, a Salafi imam in Tarragona was arrested for forcing a 31-year-old Moroccan woman to wear a hijab head covering. The imam had threatened to burn down the woman's house for being and "infidel" because she works outside of the home, drives an automobile and has non-Muslim friends. Bowing to political pressure to prevent "a social conflict," a court in Tarragona on August 2 absolved the imam of all wrongdoing.
Much of the Salafi proselytizing occurs by means of conferences which are attended by thousands of followers, many of whom also provide the movement with an important source of financial support. Speakers at the conferences often include Salafi luminaries from Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, as well as from Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. As many of the latter have European passports, they do not require visas to enter Spain and are free to move about the country as they please.
Salafi conferences in Spain are almost always scheduled during Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter with the objective of directly challenging the majority culture. Conference attendees are warned that Muslims should not integrate into the "corrupt" Western society.
The Madrid-based ABC newspaper estimates that there are more than 100 Salafi mosques in Spain where radical imams preach to the faithful each Friday. The newspaper says some imams have established religious police that harass and attack those who do not comply with Islamic law. ABC also reports that during 2010, more than 10 Salafi conferences were held in Spain, compared to only one in 2008.
From Catalonia, Salafists are planting roots in other parts of Spain, including the Basque Country, Madrid, and Valladolid as well as all along the Mediterranean coast. In Guadalajara in central Spain, hooded Salafists have assaulted at least six native Spaniards with rocks since July. Local citizens' groups are protesting the opening of a Salafi mosque in the city.
The mayor of Salt, Jaume Torramadé, says Muslim immigrants in his town have become noticeably more radicalized in recent years. In an interview with RAC1 radio, Torramadé told listeners: "A few years ago, the Maghreb women were more westernized, but nowadays one sees much less of that. The large numbers of Muslim immigrants in Salt have attracted imams who are enforcing conduct and dress codes. Muslim women used to wear blue jeans, but now they cover their hair. These imams are not promoting coexistence."