Cultural Clash or Ethnic Accord

What happens when a Catholic and Muslim culture live side-by-side?

Spain is a strong Catholic country but Arabic and Moorish civilizations have left a permanent mark on Andalucía and Granada in particular. As a tourist, it is fascinating to explore the impact of these cultures in terms of language, cuisine and architecture but what affect does it have on the people of Granada and the spirit of the city?


Here GI gives you the basics but also takes a closer look behind the tourist facade and what it means to live in and share a city that has such a varied and interesting past.


Officially Granada has 297,000 residents but as a university town this number swells accordingly in time with the academic year and doesn’t include many of the temporary residents that are outside the official statistics.


It is hard to get a firm figure on this but from a straw poll of the Albayzín, many are here for only a number of years and then intend to return home to northern Africa. When asked why they wish to hope to return to their country of birth, the overwhelming reason is family. “It’s where I belong and I need to take care of my parents,” one young 26-year-old Muslim explained. “I am here now and I love it. The way of life is good and I have a good job, but it is not forever.”


This response, although positive and appreciative of life here, does highlight how integration between the two cultures can be hard to achieve and for some, they will never see Spain as home. It is also easy to see the differences when looking at basic characteristics of each culture, such as food and drink.


Halal and jamón

Serrano ham is part of the national pride of Spain. When travelling Spaniards are asked what they miss most when abroad, ham more often than not gets a mention. And when chatting to local Muslims this is one area of integration that is rarely approached.


“No I do not eat jamón but I’ve had some funny experiences where I have accidently eaten it.” Another explains to me that it’s like his body rejects it and if he accidently eats some, he can tell. He jokingly says that perhaps he has special skills and can get a job working in customs or as some sort of jamón detective!


Infusions Vs cereveza

Alcohol is another cultural battle ground but one that appears to have softer boarders. Most Muslims interviewed did drink small amounts but always stayed away from hard spirits.  And it doesn’t take long for tourists to see that the alcohol-dry teterias fulfil the same social function as a bar or pub. It is very social to sit, ‘take tea’ as many referred to it as and a hookah pipe (or as it’s called in Egypt, sheesha pipe).


Rightly or wrongly, drinking among Muslims is sometimes viewed as a temporary indulgence like smoking. More than once locals explained that they will “clean up” their lives in the future and will once again be a “good Muslim”.


This is another stark contrast to Spanish culture where drinking and smoking are strongly linked and are a key part of any celebration or gathering.


Celebration but not for all

On a slightly more serious note and one that originates from the past, each year on the 2nd January, Granada celebrates the Fiesta de la Toma (Festival of the Capture). This festival re-enacts to some extent the day in 1492 when the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel and Fernando, came to Granada and the last post of the Moorish empire surrendered.


The royal flag is raised at the town hall and the day includes a procession. Granadinos also ring the bell at the Alhambra as it would have back in 1492.


It is not unusual that this day is commemorated as similar events would be in other countries but last year the structure of the celebrations where debated at the council. Some described the celebration as a “hangover from the past” and felt it was inappropriate to re-enact a day that signified a period a persecution of Spain’s Jews and Muslims.


Injustice and reality

When asking local Muslims what they think of the celebrations, opinions vary from strident injustice to a response that is firmly grounded in reality.


“There are many festivals here, many that are important, many to do with religion and many I don’t celebrate but this is a Catholic country. As a shop-owner, tourism is the most important thing and I am aware that the festivals attract tourists. That is what I want. ”


This is just one individual comment and although not representative, is one that you could expect from a minority group. And this is precisely what Muslims are. It is estimated there are between 1 – 1.5 million living in Spain, a country of some 46 million in total.. While their ancestors’ impact on history and culture of Spain is evident, like any ethnic group, contemporary Muslims have a proportionate amount of power or ‘say’ that is aligned to their minority status. This characteristic is one that can be found in any country that has suffered war or been invaded, but the positive thing is how the country has benefited, like Spain, from the cultural richness that diversity brings.


There are also other cultures that make Granada such a vibrant city. The old Jewish (Realejo) and Gypsy (Sacromonte) quarters contribute to the diversity and where would we be without the thousands of university students from around the world that give the city colour?


This is why it is so important to remember and enjoy the differences of Granada and to cherish the uniqueness and strength that come from this diversity.


Granada was once the crown jewel in the Moorish empire of Al-Andalus. This culture has infused all parts of Spanish life. Here’s what to look out for:

  • The Albayzín is the ancient Moorish quarter of the city. The Plaza de San Nicolas is well worth the walk for its stunning view.
  • Food – southern Spain’s food has always been influenced by northern Africa and they introduced lots of produce to the peninsula. As they introduced rice, you could argue that eating paella is a necessary history lesson for you. Dig in!
  • The Teterias in the Albayzín serve amazing fragrant teas and lovely speciality dishes.
  • Alhambra – OK if you’re in Granada and haven’t heard of this, you must have been living under a rock. Are you familiar with the internet? Did you know mobile phones are now rather popular too?
  • Arabic baths – Cleanliness is next to godliness and it’s a great way to spend a lazy afternoon.
  • Architecture – Look out for the horseshoe arch and ornate decoration.

Article written by Linda Burridge

Author: Mark

Mark spent a number of years living in Spain and more recently in London he is now back in his home town of Dublin, where he is a website designer and blogger amongst a number of other professional and social interests. He runs his own website design agency and digital consultancy - Digial Chief, drop him a line or check out the site: Digital Chief

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