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  1. Newstatesman Gibraltar
5 January 2015

The Rock of many faiths: Part III, Muslim and Baha’i

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

By New Statesman

 

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.  

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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