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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Looking to the future

In our last regular article on Gibraltar for a while, Gibraltar Chronicle editor Brian Reyes looks to the economic and political outlook for the short and medium term.

At the beginning of March, over 150 members of the local business community gathered in the World Trade Center construction site for a ‘topping out’ ceremony. As the last beam was placed on the structure, guests heard speeches about Gibraltar’s resilient economy, its potential for international growth and the need to offer global businesses the necessary working environment to remain competitive.

The EU referendum and the prospect of a so-called Brexit are dominating the headlines, and much of the coverage is gloomy. But in the background, Gibraltar’s private sector continues to drive projects which, in the long term, will help attract international investors to the Rock.

Earlier that same day, Gibraltar’s Development and Planning Commission heard submissions from well-known British architect Jonathan Manser, who leads the design team behind Eurocity, another major development that has its eye on Gibraltar and a prosperous future.

There are other schemes too, some still on the drawing board, some already under way. The MidTown Development, a mix of offices and top-end flats, is funded by a local consortium on a prime site in the heart of town. On the east of the Rock, the ambitious Bluewater project promises a mix of luxury and affordable homes alongside a marina. There are plans too for a former Ministry of Defence site named after Admiral Rooke, while in the Old Town, developers and individual home owners are breathing life into this run down but charming warren of steep, narrow alleyways.

Elsewhere, work is progressing on key infrastructure that will be essential for Gibraltar’s future, in or out of the EU.

Experts are finalising the environmental impact assessment for a facility that will store liquefied natural gas for Gibraltar’s new power station, already under construction. Work should resume too on the airport tunnel project, vital to freeing up Gibraltar’s clogged roads. A new sewage treatment plant, although still some way off, is also in the pipeline, a critical and long-overdue element of Gibraltar’s infrastructure.

There are new attractions for tourists - the opening of the Upper Rock rope bridge and sky platform is eagerly awaited by locals too - and important developments in culture and education, where the University of Gibraltar is building strong academic links across the community and beyond.

And against the background of uncertainty over the UK’s - and by extension Gibraltar’s - membership of the EU, the Gibraltar Government is leaving nothing to chance. A team of economists is analysing the different possible permutations of membership of the EU, EFTA or the EEA, including the potential effects on the Rock’s export economy of membership of the Common Customs Union. 

Despite the combative nature of Gibraltarian politics, there is unity on this question. Both the Gibraltar Government of Gibraltar and the Opposition agree that the UK and Gibraltar should remain in the EU and that Brexit could undermine the Rock’s economic model, creating uncertainty that Spain will undoubtedly seek to exploit. They add that the UK must factor Gibraltar into any post-Brexit negotiation with the EU.

Gibraltar’s long-term economic future will also be placed under scrutiny locally this year by the 2025 Committee, which brings together the public and private sectors and unions to draw up 10-year strategies for the different sectors of the economy, identifying challenges and opportunities in areas as diverse as e-gaming and shipping. A key element of this will be to find new opportunities for business in emerging markets in Asia, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa.

In parallel, a cross-party select committee of the Gibraltar Parliament will analyse various aspects of the 2006 Constitution ahead of a constitutional conference with the United Kingdom on a date yet to be determined. Along with the UK’s referendum on EU membership, the constitutional review will dominate much of parliamentary and political activity during 2016 and likely into 2017. If any changes are proposed as a result of the review, they will first have to be put to a referendum before they can be adopted.

Gibraltar is keeping a wary eye too on Spain, which has yet to swear in a government following an inconclusive general election last December. The future of cross-border relations will depend not just on whether the UK remains within the EU, but on the outcome of the post-election wrangling in Spain.

But even as Spanish politicians try to hammer out a coalition pact in a bid to avoid a return to the polls in June, there is grassroots contact across the border.

The Cross Frontier Group, which brings together business and union interests from Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar, is forging ahead with a proposal to access EU funding for cross-border initiatives. Separately, the government continues to maintain contact with Spanish politicians ranging from PSOE senators to the mayor of La Linea, Juan Franco.

The hope is that, having cleared the EU referendum hurdle, Gibraltar will be able to develop positive dialogue with Spain, irrespective of who is in government. There is much to be gained through practical cooperation in areas as diverse as commerce, culture and sport.

There is, inevitably, a degree of caution. Spain’s acting Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, has signalled that if Britain left the EU - and if his party remained in power - he would seek to revive the joint sovereignty proposal robustly rejected by Gibraltar in 2002. 

It would be a move doomed to failure because Gibraltar will have nothing to do with such a a proposal, and neither will the UK. Their shared view is that nothing can be decided on Gibraltar’s future without the agreement of the Gibraltarians.

When he was sworn in as Gibraltar’s new Governor last January, Lieutenant General Edward Davis reaffirmed the UK’s double-lock commitment to the people of Gibraltar, underscoring their inalienable right to self-determination and the UK’s commitment to secure their consent in all matters that pertain to the sovereignty of Gibraltar.  

In doing so, he was reflecting the words of one of his predecessors, General Sir William Jackson.

“Gibraltar is neither Spain’s to claim nor Britain’s to give,” Sir William wrote, in a sentence that resonates to this day and sums up the situation succinctly.

“It is the rock of the Gibraltarians.”

This will be the last item on the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub for at least a while. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed bringing you insights and hopefully greater understanding of the issues affecting the Rock as well as its politics, culture, geology and a great deal else. We would like to thank our sponsors the Gibraltar government, our many writers and above all our readers.

Charlotte Simmonds, editor, March 2014-March 2015

Guy Clapperton, editor March 2015-March 2016

Brian Reyes is the editor of the Gibraltar Chronicle.