Francisco Franco Is Dead. Allahu Akbar.
September 16, 2023 10:08 AM   Subscribe

The origins of Granada's resplendent Mezquita Mayor. The Mezquita Mayor of the Spanish city of Granada traces its beginnings to a curious meeting on Portobello Road in London, on the very same day in 1975 that Francisco Franco died.

Generalissimo Francisco Franco was the proud co-author of the violent deaths of hundreds of thousands of people during the Spanish Civil War and was dictator of Spain for several decades. One of the first sweeping changes after Franco came to power in 1936 was the abrogation of the freedom of religion established in the Republican government’s 1931 constitution. This edict reinstated state Catholicism with the type of virulent zeal that would have made Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand swoon. These of course were the royals responsible for expelling Muslims and Jews from Spain starting in 1492 and establishing Catholicism for several centuries as the kingdom’s creed and “moral authority.”

But even the seemingly all-powerful Franco was mortal, and early in the morning of November 20, 1975, he met his Maker, destination unknown. That evening, three young Spanish men were out and about in London on what they thought would be a brief tourist holiday. (It’s likely they knew about Franco’s death by nightfall, since the death appears to have made headlines that same day.) But their trip to London was about to take a turn that would change not just their lives but the course of world history.

While the men were making their way down Portobello Road, they suddenly heard chanting whose words they could not decipher and whose sound was utterly different from anything they’d ever heard before. Mesmerized, they found their way into the low-slung residence from which the chanting appeared to originate. They came upon a small group of people who greeted the young men and introduced them to their teacher, a tall, lean, bushy-eyebrowed Scot whom they called Abdalqadir as-Sufi.

Sidi Abdalqadir had been christened Ian Dallas in 1930, and as a young man he took up a successful career as an actor and screenwriter. But his own life was transformed after he visited Morocco in the 1960s. In 1967 he reverted to Islam at the centuries-old Qarawiyyin Mosque in Fes, and then joined the Darqawi Sufi order as a student of the revered Sufi master Muhammad ibn al-Habib. He spent time in the United Kingdom after that, establishing a mosque and taking on students there.

Sidi Abdalqadir immediately began to instruct the Spanish newcomers in Islamic creed and practice as well as Sufi practices of chanting diwan and wird which he’d learned in the Darqawi order. It was not long before the young Spanish men professed their faith in Islam, witnessed by Sidi Abdalqadir and his group. Their reversion, and the Islamic Sufism of Sidi Abdalqadir, would be linchpins in the rebirth of Islam in Spain.

It’s interesting to observe that Sufi masters with deep roots in what is now Morocco were relatively commonplace in Muslim Andalucia. One of the leading, albeit controversial, lights of Sufism in al-Andalus was ibn Arabi, who was born in the Spanish city of Murcia but whose mother was probably Amazigh, a group of people indigenous to what is now Morocco. So the expulsion of Muslims in 1492 forced a lengthy, but temporary, pause in Sufi Muslim practice on the Iberian peninsula.

One of Sidi Abdalqadir’s new Spanish students made his way to the zawiya of Sidi Muhammad ibn al-Habib in Fes. The other two returned to Spain, settling for a time in Córdoba, the city that was the seat of the very first caliphate of al-Andalus. Their joy in their newfound faith influenced many of their friends to revert to Islam, and as the group grew in numbers, Muslim prayer was re-established (at least on occasion) at Córdoba's immense mosque, part of which is now a Catholic cathedral.

In 1980, after a time in Sevilla, the young men and many of their friends settled in the city of Granada, seat of the last Muslim ruling dynasty in al-Andalus, the Nasrids. There, the centuries-old Alhambra palace of the Nasrids sat, neglected but still stunningly beautiful, a silent beacon.

A few months into 1980, the Alhambra’s gardens saw the first celebration in nearly five centuries of Eid al-Fitr (the feast day that ends Ramadan) in the city of Granada. At that point, the small but ever-growing Muslim community in Granada made international news, and momentum began to build to re-establish a permanent mosque within the city.

The forces set in motion in 1975 and well underway by 1980 would bring about, some 23 years later, the opening of the Mezquita Mayor, or Great Mosque. The Mezquita Mayor sits atop a hill in the barrio Albaicin, immediately across from the hill that is home to the restored and imposing Alhambra. The mosque, its community of believers, and its own beautiful garden influence an ever-growing number of people each year to revert to Islam (this MeFite included). But a more detailed account of how the Mezquita Mayor was planned, financed, fought for, and built will have to wait for future posts.
posted by rabia.elizabeth (5 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Very interesting post. Also visiting the Alhambra is a must do.
posted by CostcoCultist at 11:01 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]

This is fascinating. I've been to the Alhambra, it's beautiful, and I had no idea of this part of the story. Thanks for posting.

However, I think it's important to remember that Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.
posted by chavenet at 12:32 PM on September 16 [5 favorites]

Great links, thanks, I'm enjoying the photographs while listening to Albeniz .
Blessings be upon you.
posted by hortense at 1:08 PM on September 16

great post. my intial thought was, wait Franco is already....d'oh.
posted by clavdivs at 1:44 PM on September 16

i actually uttered the phrase, "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead" last night. strange zeitgeist.
posted by lapolla at 4:20 PM on September 16 [3 favorites]

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