The Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque on Gibraltar's Europa Point, the southernmost tip of Europe (Shutterstock)
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The Rock of many faiths: Part III, Muslim and Baha’i

Gibraltar's religious communities speak out about the power of diversity 

 

For centuries, Gibraltar’s tiny population has been a religious melting pot. Here, members of the Gibraltar Interfaith Group, an organisation working to promote religious tolerance on the Rock, share the history of their communities and explain why diversity matters to them. 

Muslim: “Islamic rule in Spain was a period of tolerance”  

Gibraltar’s Islamic history began with the arrival of Tariq Ibn Ziyad in 711AD, a Berber Muslim and Umayyad general. He led his army into Spain via a city characterised by its distinct “rock”, which was thereafter known as Jabal Tariq (“mountain of Tariq”). Today, that city is called Gibraltar.  

The Muslims reigned over Spain for more than 800 years. At present, Muslims in Gibraltar constitute about 7 per cent of the local population, with the majority originating from Morocco. Some families are of Asian origin, mainly in the medical profession and in small businesses.  

Throughout the period of Islamic rule, al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) was itself a remarkable example of tolerance. It produced philosophers, physicians, scientists, judges, artists and poets, with libraries and research institutions growing rapidly. The British historian Bettany Hughes, who made the documentary When the Moors Ruled Europe, states that a key attribute of Islam was its dedication to the pursuit of learning. Gibraltar is a supreme model of tolerance and justice, with Jews, Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus and people of other faiths living in harmony within such a small area. This peaceful coexistence is due to the understanding of, and respect for, the faiths of local community members. For example, at Gibraltar’s southernmost tip, the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque lies within a few yards of a Catholic church, the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe.  

Dr Shehzada Javied Malik is a consultant paediatrician and treasurer of the Gibraltar Interfaith Group  

Baha’i: “Education is of paramount importance”  

The Baha’i faith is a modern religion that began in 1844 and has since become one of the most widespread religions in the world. The founder of the Baha’i Faith, Bahá’u’lláh (born in present-day Iran), taught that the fundamental purpose of religion was to ensure safety and unity, and to foster love and fellowship. The Baha’i faith has no priesthood, but is rather organised locally, nationally and internationally by elected bodies.  

The first Baha’is came to Gibraltar in 1992, 100 years after the death of Bahá’u’lláh. The faith teaches the unity of mankind, and works to bring the peoples of the world to an understanding that we are all one in our aims and purpose, and can work together co-operatively. In the words of Bahá’u’lláh: “Regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.”  

Gibraltar’s Baha’i community is delighted to live in such a diverse place that demonstrates tolerance and peaceful coexistence. As part of our participation in interfaith understanding, Gibraltar Baha’is offer a class for children. Through stories, arts, crafts and drama, children learn about virtues and how to apply them in their daily lives. To Baha’is, education is of paramount importance, the purpose of which is service to our fellow man. 

Ramin Khalilian is secretary of the Gibraltar Interfaith Group  

Read Part I: Anglican and Catholic

Read Part II: Hindu and Jewish

 

 

Photo: Getty
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Gibraltar - impact of Brexit

Last week our editor took a general overview of some of the scenarios for Gibraltar if Britain were to leave the Euro. This week, as the atmosphere in the British Conservative Party becomes ever more toxic, Michael Castiel, partner at Hassans lawyers on the Rock, goes into more detail (this piece written before the Iain Duncan Smith resignation and subsequent arguments happened).

However unlikely it may prove, the prospect of Britain's withdrawal from the EU sends shivers through Gibraltar's financial services, gaming and tourism industries, which are at the core of Gibraltar’s economy. For, if Britain leaves the EU, Gibraltar goes too, and, should Brexit occur, it is Gibraltar’s relationship with the UK that as in the past, largely will shape Gibraltar's future.

Gibraltar joined the European Union in 1973 as part of the UK. While rights to freedom of services across borders of EU member states apply between Gibraltar and the rest of the EU, because Gibraltar is not a separate member state (and is in fact part of the UK Member State) those rights do not apply between Gibraltar and the UK. Instead a bilateral agreement, formalised almost two decades ago, gives Gibraltar's financial service companies the equivalent EU passporting rights into the UK. Accordingly and pursuant to such agreement, where EU rights in banking, insurance and other financial services are concerned, the UK treats Gibraltar as if it is a separate member state.

This reliance on the special relationship with the UK is recognised by both the Government and the Opposition in Gibraltar, and when the territory (which in this instance as part of the UK electorate) goes to the polls on 23 June, the vote to remain in the EU is likely to be overwhelming. This may have symbolic significance but realistically seems unlikely to influence the outcome. In actual terms, although some non-EU jurisdictions use Gibraltar and its EU passporting rights as a stepping stone into Europe, almost 80% of Gibraltar’s business dealings are with the UK.

But whether or not Britain maintains the 'special relationship' with Gibraltar, if Brexit becomes a reality, other factors will come into play, with the ever-present Spanish Government’s historic sovereignty claim over Gibraltar topping the list.

Recently Spain's caretaker Foreign Minister Jose Maria Margallo went on record that if the UK voted to leave the EU he would immediately 'raise with the UK the question of Gibraltar.' If this was to come about it could take one or more of several different forms, ranging from a complete closure of the border between Spain and Gibraltar, demanding that Gibraltar passport-holders obtain costly visas to visit or transit Spain, imposing more stringent border controls, or a frontier toll on motorists driving into or out of Gibraltar. The latter idea was in fact floated by the Spanish Government three years ago, but dropped when the EU Commission indicated that any such toll would contravene EU law.

Here, again, imponderables come into play, for much will depend on which political parties will form the next Spanish government. A Spanish government headed by the right wing PP party is likely to take a less accommodating attitude towards Gibraltar (the Foreign Minister having recently indicated that in case of Brexit the Spanish Government may opportunistically push once again for a joint sovereignty deal with the UK over Gibraltar) whereas a left of centre coalition will likely adopt a more pragmatic and cooperative relationship with Gibraltar in the event of EU exit.

The most significant changes to Gibraltar's post-Brexit operation as an international finance centre are likely to be in the sphere of tax, and while Gibraltar has always met its obligations in relation to the relevant EU rules and Directives, it has also been slightly uncomfortable with aspects of the EU's moves towards harmonisation of corporate taxes across member states.

Although it was formed as a free market alliance, since its inception fiscal matters have been at the root of the EU, but Gibraltar's 'special relationship' with Britain has allowed considerable latitude in relation to what taxes it imposes or those it doesn't. However, as is the case with other member states, Gibraltar has increasingly found in recent years its fiscal sovereignty eroded and its latitude on tax matters severely curtailed.

As in Britain, Gibraltar has benefitted from several EU Directives introduced to harmonise and support the freedom of establishment, particularly the Parent-Subsidiary Directive which prohibits withholding taxes on cross-border intra-group interest dividend and royalty payments made within the EU.

As a stepping stone for foreign direct investment, should Brexit come about EU subsidiaries could no longer rely on these Directives to allow tax-free dividend or interest payments to their holding companies based in Gibraltar. In the case of the UK, bilateral double tax treaties will no doubt mitigate the impact of the non-application of any tax related Directives. Gibraltar, however, is not currently a party to any bilateral double tax treaties. Accordingly, Gibraltar would either have to seek from the UK the extension of all or some of the UK’s bilateral tax treaties to Gibraltar (subject of course to the agreement by the relevant counterparties) or it would need to negotiate its own network of bilateral double tax treaties with a whole series of EU and non EU Member States. To say the least, neither of these options would be straightforward to implement at short notice and would need the wholehearted support of the British Government

Whilst Gibraltar’s economy is likely to be adversely affected should Brexit occur, there may be some potential benefits. An EU exit would result in fewer regulations and possibly may provide Gibraltar with greater exposure to emerging economies.

From a tax perspective, an EU exit would probably enable Gibraltar to introduce tax rules and incentives that are contrary to EU tax laws and would provide the Gibraltar Government more freedom to adopt competitive tax regimes that may be considered contrary to EU state aid rules. How possible or effective any such strategy would be is doubtful given the OECD driven anti-tax avoidance climate affecting all reputable jurisdictions whether within or outside the EU.

In this as well as other possible change much will hinge on any post-Brexit relationship with the UK - an issue which the Gibraltar Government addressed recently in a paper sent to Westminster's Foreign Affairs Committee. It stressed not only that 'EU membership has been an important factor in the development of Gibraltar’s economy' but also the importance of 'clarity as to the rights the British Government will protect and defend for Gibraltar in the context of its own negotiations.'