MADRID – Suffering from economic crisis and chronic unemployment, Spanish people found their only joy in replaying a bitter war between Muslims and Christians over eight centuries, agitating Muslims memories about the fall of Andalusia after centuries of prosperity.
"We Spaniards have little cause for joy nowadays, other than that garnered by the national football team and (tennis player) Rafael Nadal, among others," Ahmed Bermejo, the imam of the mosque in Granada, told Aljazeera on Wednesday, May 14.
Recalling that Spain has suffered from an economic crisis and chronic unemployment since 2008, the imam asserted that the festival was motivated by yearning for bygone glories of the Spanish Empire rather than hatred towards Muslims in Spain.
The imam was speaking about festivals that run in dozens of Spanish towns and villages to re-enact the eight-centuries-long struggle for control of the country.
In one of these festivals, held in Petrer town which lies 40km inland from the Mediterranean port of Alicante, costumes are already on display in shop windows.
The festival is the 400th anniversary edition of the festivities which will take place between May 15 and 19.
Highlighted annually, the festivals are seen by the Muslim community as an uncomfortable reminder of how non-Christians were once persecuted and forced to leave their Islamic faith.
"Of course, we don't support celebrating the festivals and believe there should be no room for them in modern Spain," imam Bermejo said.
“But we all know that the Catholic Church still holds sway in our country and it is very difficult to change tradition.”
At the festival, a tenth of Petrer's population of 35,000 belong to 10 groups known as comparsas, half of whom dress up as Moors, the other half as Christians.
Moving in two parades, each for four hours, the rest of the town turns out in force.
In the first parade, the Moors symbolically come out on top, in the second, the Christians win.
As Muslims expressed uneasiness, Spain Christians assured that the festival was held to re-enacting the history in which their country is steeped.
"The Moors and Christians festivals are staged as a historical representation of what happened in Spain - and in particular, in our town, eight centuries ago, without trying to take it out of context," Antonio Torres, a spokesman for the Petrer festival's organising committee, said.
“It's our history, although a party is still a party.”
One of these festivals in held annually nearby Cartagena to revisit days back in 285 BCE when Hannibal stopped off there before leading troops mounted on elephants in their famous bid to conquer Rome.
Local historical novelist Veronica Martinez, from the city of Petrer, originally named by Muslims as Bitrir, defended the festival as respecting both groups in the festival.
"There was no battle at all. While there had been a revolt by the town's Muslims because their customs weren't respected in accordance with an earlier treaty, the two sides parleyed and reached a deal," she said.
"Both groups have equal standing in the festivals. There is respect all round."
Muslims ruled much of Spain for centuries starting from 711 to 1492.
Their last king was defeated by Catholic king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1492.
After that Muslims mosques were either left to ruin or converted into churches.
There are nearly 1.6 million Muslims in Spain, making up 3.4% of the country’s 47 million population, according to an Andalusian Observatory.
About 1.1 million of Spain's Muslims are foreigners, while 464,978 are Spanish Muslims.
Islam is the second religion in Spain after Christianity and has been recognized through the 1967 law of religious freedom.
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