Ashifa Kassam, Guardian (London), June 25, 2014
The site of a former bullfighting ring in Barcelona could one day house the largest mosque in Europe, members of Barcelona’s Muslim community have said after announcing they have found a backer willing to cover the €2.2bn cost of the ambitious project.
Mowafak Kanfach, of the Islamic Federation of Catalonia, said Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, had expressed interest in buying La Plaza Monumental, a former bullfighting ring that has sat largely unused since hosting Catalonia’s last bullfight in 2011.
Since the region’s ban on bullfighting came into effect, several plans have been batted around for the imposing century-old neo-mudéjar building, including a street market, luxury flats and a green space.
Kanfach told the Spanish daily 20 Minutos that a purpose-built mosque was desperately needed for Barcelona’s large Muslim community. Current plans envision a renovation that would take five years and employ an estimated 4,000 people. Kanfach said the mosque would have a capacity of up to 40,000 worshippers under its 300-metre minaret.
The space would also house a Qur’an study centre for 300 students, an art museum and a study centre focused on Spain’s Muslim history. The mosque could become a “high-level tourist attraction”, said Kanfach, with regular exhibitions open to the public, as well as restaurants and shops. “Residents of Barcelona should be proud that Muslims want to transform the pain of bullfighting into a spiritual centre,” he said.
The emir’s offer to fund the project is a step forward but the plans are still in the initial phases, pending the sale of the bullfighting ring by the current owner and the approval of the city of Barcelona.
Kanfach said the process was likely to be boosted by the roots that Qatar already has in the city. Qatar Airways sponsors Barcelona football club, and the investment arm of the Qatari armed forces recently bought a five-star hotel in central Barcelona.
Still, the plan to build one of the world’s largest mosques blocks away from the Sagrada Família basilica has attracted criticism. On Wednesday, the leader of the People’s Party of Catalonia, Alberto Fernández Díaz, rejected the idea of a “mega-mosque”, saying it was not suitable for a city like Barcelona.
In particular, Fernández Díaz worried about undertaking a project of such magnitude with “people and countries” who may “have values that collide with our own”.
This is the second time Barcelona has flirted with the idea of turning a bullfighting ring into a mosque. In the early 2000s, the city’s then mayor, Joan Clos, studied the possibility of building a mosque in Las Arenas bullfighting ring.
Disagreements with the financial backers, based in Saudi Arabia, led the project to be cancelled. Instead, the bullfighting ring became a shopping centre.