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 and Europe: caught in the slipstream?

The British papers are full of who has the lead in the European in or out campaigns – Guy Clapperton considers the fallout for the smaller territories

Let’s start by acknowledging that there is no clear pattern emerging in the Europe debate, as long as we understand “Europe debate” to mean whether the UK should stay in or leave the European Union. This week alone we’ve seen Boris Johnson “warning Obama off” (as the BBC put it) getting involved in the debated, the same London Mayor and MP having a radio spat with Chuka Umunna involving telling each other to man up and various insults traded as either side accuses the other of scaremongering or making it up as they go along.

Divining who’s going to win is more difficult. The Daily Telegraph reports that “out” has it by a tiny margin but, crucially, the anti-Europe vote is likely to be more motivated so will actually show up on the day, expanding the margin by which it will win. Meanwhile the Times’ daily Red Box email points to Elections Etc. whose research suggests a 58% “remain” vote but with a plus or minus 14% error margin; so somewhere between 44% and 72% will go for staying in the EU. This, readers will note, tells us precisely nothing.

So the outcome, even if there weren’t 100 days in which Presidents and world leaders will offer counsel, claims and counterclaims will be made and the “leave” campaign will eventually decide who the official “leave” group actually is (there are two factions at the moment, doing the best impression of the Monty Python Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea that they can manage), we wouldn’t want to call a snap referendum even if it were to be called this afternoon.

What’s clear is that the outcome will ripple beyond the British mainland’s shores, and the ramifications of an “out” vote are already being felt on Gibraltar. Anyone doubting this should check today’s Times (subscription required), in which the Gibraltarian Chief Minister Fabian Picardo highlights recent Spanish statements about what would happen in the event of a Brexit.

Spain actually caused a few eyebrows to raise and some other people to panic just a little with its recent statements. Essentially the country’s foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, suggested that there would be conversations on the sovereignty of Gibraltar the “day after” an announcement of a British exit, according to the Daily Mail and other reports. He also said (much, much further down the report) that he didn’t want Britain to leave: “God forbid” is the phrase he uses.

He raised the idea of joint sovereignty once again more recently, reports the Gibraltar Chronicle, this time suggesting that if Britain leaves Europe then Gib could do what it nearly did (he says) in 2002 and start transitioning towards Spain. This is an interesting definition of “nearly” when 98.48% of the electorate actually voted not to do so, but remaining British when this might exclude the Rock from Europe would inevitably raise different issues if not a different final outcome.

Outside Gibraltarian interests the effect could be more severe than that. SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made no secret of her wish to make a fresh case for Scottish independence. The once-in-a-generation referendum on this was lost in 2014 but should Britain exit Europe with a majority of Scots clearly demonstrating that they want to stay in, the case becomes stronger (although the collapse of the oil price would blow the original blueprint out of the water).

So we could end up with Scotland as well as Gibraltar wanting to remain in Europe while Britain made its exit. Whether this would be legally possible if both stayed tied to Britain is untested as yet – and with Spain eager to enter talks the day after an exit is agreed but the Gibraltarians implacably opposed to becoming Spanish, the way forward would not be clear.

Guy Clapperton is the freelance journalist who edits the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub. You can also find him in the Guardian, Computer Business Review and Professional Outsourcing which he edits.