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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Anarchy in the UK(‘s) most famous fortress – part 2

Last week we left Gibraltarian workers fascinated by the beliefs of anarchists. Gareth Stockey, Chris Grocott and Jo Grady continue with the story.

The result was a noticeable increase in labour agitation on both sides of the frontier. The tactics adopted by local workers confounded local employers and the Gibraltar authorities, not least because anarchism proved remarkably successful at encouraging boycotts of businesses and ‘sympathy’ strikes in favour of fellow workers in disparate industries. When necessary, anarchists were also willing to adopt ‘direct action’ to combat what they perceived as the inherently violent practices of the bosses and local political authorities who protected them. The rhetoric of meetings gives us a flavour of this new-found militancy, with one worker threatening to ‘eat the liver’ of a local tobacco merchant during a strike in 1902. Following an earlier dispute in October 1901, a local anarchist newspaper urged its readers to remember the long-term goal of ‘total and definitive emancipation […] the abolition of private property with all its consequences, state, religion, militarism, magistrates […] a great work, larger than the massive Rock we have in our view’. Crucially, anarchists were willing to act as well as to talk. Several local bosses were assaulted during industrial disputes in the period – so much so that Gibraltar’s employers occasionally resorted to using firearms in self-defence – and ‘scab’ workers had stones thrown at them as they attempted to cross picket-lines.

Arguably what offended local businessmen more than the threat to their person was the very real challenge that anarchism offered to their economic interests. If we might dismiss as hyperbole, in the context of a heavily garrisoned British colony, the question posed by one local businessman to the Governor of Gibraltar in 1892, ‘are our goods and chattels safe?’, we can nonetheless point to several successes of anarchist militancy at the turn of the century. Across numerous industries, wage settlements favoured workers thanks to the effectiveness of strikes, boycotts and the occasional spot of physical intimidation. Most impressive of all, employers were forced to concede the dream of the ‘tres ochos’ (three eights) to many local workers – that is to say eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep and eight hours for leisure. Committed to improving living as much as working conditions, local anarchist groups also made up for the absence of state provision by offering schooling to hundreds of local children, as well as myriad cultural initiatives to bring learning to the local working classes.

Gibraltar’s employers were so shell-shocked by the growth and success of anarchism that they offered to pay the salary of a British union official who had been sent to the Rock in 1898. In his memoirs Lorenzo Quelch, who had been sent by the nascent Social Democratic Foundation, left a vivid account of his time in Gibraltar, but he decided not to take up the employers’ offer. The culmination of all of this activity was a ‘general strike’ of industries in Gibraltar in 1902. This time, having prepared meticulously and coordinated their response to the dispute, the employers emerged victorious. On the Spanish side of the frontier, the anarchist movement was to face worse, as the local political and military authorities staged a bloody massacre of local militants in October 1902, closing down workers’ centres and confiscating their funds.

Much work needs to be done, but this brief account of the infancy of labour organisation in Gibraltar highlights the intimacy of relations across the frontier. Many years later, in 1919, Gibraltarian workers would formally attach themselves to a British gradualist, rather than Spanish anarchist, form of organisation through the TGWU. But as we have noted, the Gibraltar TGWU retained strong links with its counterparts in the Campo for several decades and workers continued to fight side-by-side for better living and working conditions. The early successes of Gibraltarian and Spanish anarchists shows just how much workers on both sides of the frontier stood (and stand) to gain by recognising common grievances and acting collectively to address them.

Gareth Stockey is lecturer in Spanish studies at the University of Nottingham. He has published widely on the history of Gibraltar and Spain, including (with Chris Grocott) Gibraltar: a Modern History (University of Wales Press, 2010).

Chris Grocott is lecturer in Management and Economic History, and Jo Grady is lecturer in Industrial Relations and Human Resources Management, at the University of Leicester.