Cathedral 'must be open to Muslim prayers’
Of course, this particular cathedral was once a mosque, only being converted in the 13th century, and one may therefore have sympathy with the Muslim demand that it (partially) revert to its former use. Yet the letter sent to the Pope, by the president of the Islamic Board of Spain, Mansur Escudero, is most curiously worded:
"We invite you to create a new example, to send a message of hope to the world. Do not fear. Together we can show the violent, the intolerant, the anti-semites, the Islam-phobes and also those who believe that only Islam has a right to remain in the world, that prayer is the strongest weapon imaginable."
It is curious because of its manifest ambiguity. A message of tolerance must be sent, but the Pope must send it. It must be sent to various ‘intolerant’ groups, and also to those ‘who believe that only Islam has the right to remain in the world’. What sort of message does it send to these? The Pope offends us, we riot and murder, the Pope apologises. We demand the right to pray in a cathedral, the Pope acquiesces. At the very least, Islam perceives the symbolic leader of the world’s Christians to be subject to its demands, and most compliant in the face of threats.
And what sort of prayers would be offered in this cathedral-mosque? The letter states quite clearly that they are ‘inspired by the optimism caused by the image of Your Holiness in the Blue Mosque saying a prayer shoulder to shoulder in Islamic style’. So there you have it. It is the Christians who will be expected to adapt their mode of worship to the ‘Islamic style’. It would not be too long before the Bible was replaced with the Qur'an, Jesus became Isa, and there was no mention of his divinity 'for fear of causing offence'.
They do, however, graciously confirm that they ‘do not intend to take control of the building or recover a nostalgic Al Andalus’ (the Islamic term for most of modern Spain), but rather they seek to restore the ‘spirit of Al Andalus’. And what is this ‘spirit’? It is the spirit of the dar-al-Islam; the spirit of Islamic religio-political supremacy; of territorial ownership; the spirit of total submission to Allah and his prophet Mohammed. One may quite rationally fear this ‘spirit’, which is not only intolerant of other religious practices; it is antithetical to the Enlightenment principles of Western civilisation.
Cranmer understands the letter is in the Pope’s in-tray. An outright rejection risks causing great offence, as seems to be very easily taken, and innocent nuns may once again be slaughtered by the barbaric masses. So Cranmer suggests a polite reminder to Spain’s Muslims that this site in Córdoba was, in fact, a church before it was a mosque, which the invading Moors destroyed in order to assert their political supremacy. Or how about a quid pro quo? We’ll give you back Córdoba’s mosque, if you give us back Istanbul’s 6th-century Byzantine Hagia Sophia Church, which was converted into a mosque when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453.
Deal or No Deal?