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Inside Muslim summer camp in southern Spain
August 18th, 2010
03:54 PM ET

Inside Muslim summer camp in southern Spain

CNN’s Atika Shubert filed this report from Spain:

Islam is often called the fastest growing religion in Europe, thanks to the tremendous growth in migration and a galloping birth rate in Muslim communities.

But Islam is not new to Europe. The religion has been a part of the European cultural fabric for hundreds of years.

You can see it in the majestic Islamic architecture that graces the landscape of southern Spain. It thrives in the Muslim majority nations of Bosnia and Albania. And, of course, there is Turkey, the bridge between Europe and the Middle East.

Then there are the growing Muslim communities that have come from abroad to settle in Europe: Pakistani and Bengali-run shops are commonplace on the streets of London; the many dialects of Arabic from Morocco to Somalia compete to be heard from Stockholm to Amsterdam.

It’s clear that a “European Islam” is emerging from the interaction of all these communities.

In Spain, “new Muslims”–converts to Islam–are clustered in the country's southern Andalusia region. They practice a more liberal interpretation of Sufi Islam that takes its inspiration from Spain’s Muslim history.

I got the chance to spend two nights at Al-Madrassa, an Islamic center founded by new Muslims in Andalusia's Alqueria de Rosales. Every year, the center host a two-week summer camp for kids of all faiths aged 8-16.

This year, the last two days of camp coincided with the beginning of Ramadan. For many of the younger children, it was an opportunity to try fasting for the first time.

We got up before sunrise for a bleary-eyed breakfast of honeyed doughnuts and coffee at the canteen and then quickly made our way to the mosque for prayer at dawn.

At prayer, I couldn’t help but notice how children here looked like any other streetwise kids you would see in Europe. One had a tilted baseball cap that he quickly removed; a set of flashy white headphones permanently hung from his neck. The girls chose to cover their heads with brightly coloured scarves inside the mosque, but fashionably wrapped the cloth around their shoulders when they left.

Their daily routine was much like any other camp, with a few modifications: Archery lessons mid-morning, Arabic class in the afternoon. Sometimes, they did ceramics learning how to make the famous Moorish tiles of Southern Spain. Other times, they headed outdoors for horse-riding, hiking or camping.

During Ramadan fasting, there was plenty of down time for kids, conserving their energy during the hottest time of the day.

The call to prayer sounded five times a day, but children were not required to be at every one. Non-Muslim children did not participate in the prayer, but sometimes lingered in the mosque to join their friends before and after.

The kitchen remained open for anyone who wanted to eat or drink during Ramadan fasting, including Muslim children. The idea was not to force anyone to participate in the fasting but to encourage spiritual reflection, even if only for a few hours.

“This place is about learning and understanding. Above all, this is the most important to us,” Abdussamad Antonio Romero the camp’s director told me.

He and his wife are Muslim converts and they founded Al-Madrasa 17 years ago. The idea was to create a haven for a uniquely Spanish view of Islam that follows a liberal Sufi ideology of Islamic learning and tolerance of other faiths.

Al-Madrasa now has visitors from all over Europe, but also the U.S. and Canada and has become a popular stop on Muslim tours of Spain. It has quietly become one example of this “European Islam” now being forged.

I’ll be doing several stories for CNN’s Muslim in 2010 series looking at how Islam in Europe is growing. And Al-Madrasa, it seems, is a fine place to start.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Europe • Islam • Muslim

soundoff (254 Responses)
  1. AK

    I have 24 years active duty. I am Catholic. I know Muslim men, US veterans, who because they looked the part and spoke the lingo, were put in deadly undercover situations in terror cells. Risking their lives in the most frightening way imaginable, one slip...

    Good men, who if they got thoughts of putting mama in a burka or administering a whipping on a daughter, would find their genitals rearranged and they know it.

    As a historian, I have seen and read the anti-Catholic tracts common in the late 19th and early 20th century, with the same 'immigrants, they're breeding us good all-American native Protestants out of existence" thread one sees today about Muslims. One doesn't even think of it today. Bottom line is if all Muslims adhered to the supposed jihad ideal the whole world would be aflame.

    I rather think the Islamic majority is like the men I know....and until I see otherwise....

    August 19, 2010 at 12:23 am |
  2. Reality

    More teachings for the topic summer camp:

    What drove the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? The koran, Mohammed's book of death for all infidels and Muslim domination of the world by any means. Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the Gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed. Then we can talk about the location, safety of mosques, summer camps and what is taught therein. Until then, no male Muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere.

    August 18, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  3. Mark from Middle River

    I am interested in the non-Muslim children not having to participate in "every" call to prayer. That is a interesting turn to think about.

    August 18, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  4. Justina

    I think Islamic West is much better than present chaotic, hedonistic West. It's time the West learns what the hellish world they'll be in when they lose the Judeo-Christian sanity as a society.

    August 18, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
  5. F Daniel Gray

    Ah Muslims; the new savages. Cannot be redeemed; only converted. They all, "terrorist" or not, are a scourge upon the earth. They certainly are not the "chosen people," such as the Jews claim they are. Christianity, led by Catholics (the originals) who don't believe women are equal to men (ineligible for the priesthood) came to this continent from Europe, claiming, in their ignorance the inhabitants (now identified as the First Nation by the at least respectful Canadians) were "indians." And still use that racist term, even though the people identified themselves as Mohawk, Cherokee, Aztec, etc. We christians commenced the ritualistic killing of innocents by random bombing in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan long before 9/11. It continues. My "white" ancestors kidnapped my "black" ancestors to lay the foundation, for free, of the now economically powerful US. Failed to enact complete equality (there is no other kind) after the Civil War. It's still a 'goal." Yet we are bogged down in a discussion about insensitivity by Muslims who legally have the right to build anything as long as it conforms with the building codes? Judeo/Christian hypocrisy is riding high therein.

    August 18, 2010 at 10:47 pm |
  6. When will we see a reverse story

    We always see stories of how Islam is growing and converts to Islam in non-Islamic countries. Lets see stories on converts from Islam to some other religion or how Islamic countries practice tolerance against others. Simple fact is that you can become a muslim and announce it but you cannot conert out of Islam publically. No feel good liberal asks that a church or a temple be built in Mecca or in Soudi Arabia because that would never be allowed but Saudi Arabia can send Kurans and build Mosques anywhere they like. If some one says you can't, everone starts to whine and complaint.
    No wonder Islam is growing, it is allowed to follow one way rules.
    I suggest that Ground Zero Mosque be allowed and to return the favour, chrictians be allowed to build a church to be built in Mecca.

    August 18, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
    • hemalas

      That's a fine argument when you speak of two countries that are not grounded in any one religion. However, Saudi Arabia is clearly a Muslim country and only a Muslim country. Therefore to equate it with a country like the U.S. that was built on freedom of religion is completely illogical.

      August 18, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
    • bigdadd87

      why can churches be built around ground zero but not mosques?? Saudi Arabia is an all muslim country ..the United States of America is not an all christian country

      August 19, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  7. doh

    whats with all these bible yapping morons here ?

    August 18, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
  8. Manuel

    The worst athrocities of human history have be perpetrated by religions in the name of the Creator. However, Islam is the only one still doing it in a constant and large extent. That is why Islam is the epitome of savagery and the scourge of humanity. It is time to put religions aside and think of the Creator as a being of love, peace, freedom, and wisdom; with no temples, rituals, worshiping or hierarchies of any kind.

    August 18, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
  9. Gift Giver

    How can anybody feel threatened by Religion? If your God is for you who can be against you?

    August 18, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  10. Gift Giver

    How can any person feel threatened from a religion? If your God is for you who can you be againsT?

    August 18, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
  11. Kana

    How about a comment related to the actual article? Such as "The call to prayer sounded five times a day, but children were not required to be at every one. Non-Muslim children did not participate in the prayer, but sometimes lingered in the mosque to join their friends before and after."

    As noted in the article apparently non- Muslim children are invited to the camp but did not participate in prayer. Why not? Were they not invited to participate? Were they not allowed to participate because they were non-Muslim?

    August 18, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
    • Diba

      Salam Kana,

      Non-Muslim participants are not required to perform the prayer as Muslims perform our prayers differently and it is out of respect and understanding that we don't expect non-Muslims to perform prayer the way we do... just like when I attended my friend's church wedding or recently, the funeral of my Chinese colleague's parent, I do not follow the way my Christian friends pray nor the way that my Chinese colleague's family did (they are Taoists)... but in my own way, I said a little prayer in my heart for the happiness and success of my Christian friend's marriage... and for my Chinese colleague's family to heal from the lost of their parent...
      I think that the need to live in peace with people of different religions and different cultures... and to learn to judge a person based on who they really are and not make a blanket generalization based on their faith or culture is something that we still have a long way to go... unfortunately, in some countries... they seem to be going backwards rather than forwards... and ignorance, intolerance, racism and bigotry seem to take over.

      August 19, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  12. Fayrouz

    The only reason all these people here are 'mad' is because they're clearly jealous of Islam and Muslims. And they're afraid that Islam will have more followers than Christianity. They're amazed that Muslims can fast because a lot of people can't do simple things without munching on chips or whatever. And non-Muslim Americans feel soo frustrated when they see one of their "own" convert to Islam. Because a girl who is walking around with her peek-a-boo skin and underwear doesn't feel good standing next to a modestly dressed woman. Because women in Christianity couldn't originally divorce. In Islam, women can divorce and Muslims didn't have to change their religion to allow that. Just because in some cultures it isn't allowed doesn't mean that's Islamic.

    And about Prophets being sinners: Prophets were human. Humans make mistakes, they sin, they have secret hates and desires, and they aren't perfect. Jesus was beautiful and gentle, but he was a human.

    Reality: get a life...like, go for a walk. read a new cookbook. just get off the computer and away from CNN in general.

    August 18, 2010 at 7:18 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      yeah. you either treat your women as hoo kers or treat them as wives and mothers. you can't have both. to raise children you need women with self-respect and dignity and the ability to make self sacrifices. children don't grow up well simply plugged in to a TV and a McDonalds sundae, while mom's away prancing around buck nak ed on the street.

      August 19, 2010 at 3:31 am |
    • Reality

      From- Aya-an Hir-si Ali's autobiography, "Infidel".

      "Thus begins the extraordinary story of a woman born into a family of desert nomads, cir-cum-cised as a child, educated by radical imams in Kenya and Saudi Arabia, taught to believe that if she uncovered her hair, terrible tragedies would ensue. It's a story that, with a few different twists, really could have led to a wretched life and a lonely death, as her grandmother warned. But instead, Hir-si Ali escaped - and transformed herself into an internationally renowned spokeswoman for the rights of Muslim women."



      "Some of the Saudi women in our neighborhood were regularly beaten by their husbands. You could hear them at night. Their screams resounded across the courtyards. "No! Please! By Allah!"

      "The Pak-istanis were Muslims but they too had castes. The Un-touchable girls, both Indian and Pakistani were darker sk-in. The others would not play with them because they were un-touchable. We thought that was funny because of course they were touc-hable: we tou-ched them see? but also horrifying to think of yourself as un-touchable, des-pic-able to the human race."

      "Between October 2004 and May 2005, eleven Muslim girls were killed by their families in just two regions (there are 20 regions in Holland). After that, people stopped telling me I was exaggerating."

      "The kind on thinking I saw in Saudi Arabia and among the Brotherhood of Kenya and Somalia, is in-compatible with human rights and liberal values. It preserves the feu-dal mind-set based on tr-ibal concepts of honor and shame. It rests on self-deception, hypr-ocricy, and double standards. It relies on the technologial advances of the West while pretending to ignore their origin in Western thinking. This mind-set makes the transition to modernity very painful for all who practice Islam".

      August 19, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • Reality

      From- Aya-an Hir-si Ali's autobiography, "In-fi-del".

      Thus begins the extraordinary story of a woman born into a family of desert nomads, cir-cu-m-cised as a child, educated by rad-ical imams in Kenya and Saudi Arabia, taught to believe that if she un-covered her hair, terrible tragedies would ensue. It's a story that, with a few different twists, really could have led to a wre-tc-hed life and a lonely death, as her grandmother warned. But instead, Hir-si Al-i escaped – and transformed herself into an internationally renowned spokeswoman for the rights of Muslim women.

      Some of the Saudi women in our neighborhood were regularly bea-ten by their husbands. You could hear them at night. Their scr-eams resounded across the courtyards. "No! Please! By Allah!"

      "The Pak-istanis were Muslims but they too had ca-stes. The Un-tou-chable girls, both Indian and Pakistani were darker sk-in. The others would not play with them because they were un-to-uchable. We thought that was funny because of course they were to-uc-hable: we tou-ched them see? but also h-orrifying to think of yourself as un-touc-hable, des-pic-able to the human race."

      Between October 2004 and May 2005, eleven Muslim girls were ki-lled by their families in just two regions (there are 20 regions in Holland). After that, people stopped telling me I was exaggerating.

      The kind on thinking I saw in Saudi Arabia and among the Brother-ho-od of Kenya and Somalia, is in-com-patible with human rights and liberal values. It preserves the feu-dal mind-set based on tr-ibal concepts of honor and shame. It rests on self-decep-tion, hy-pr-ocri-cy, and double standards. It relies on the technologial advances of the West while pretending to ignore their origin in Western thinking. This mind-set makes the transition to modernity very painful for all who practice Islam.

      August 19, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
  13. COSMICGOD

    COSMICGOD
    I don't know much about ISLAM/MUSLIM but it sure is the religion that is being used/praised by Terrorist. Outside looking in, when I hear the word "MUSLIM" on TV or radio, it usually accompanied by VIOLENCE. Why is that? I don't side with any religion nor I go to church, but if I do, ISLAM would never be on my list. I have also heard that the QURAN, despite what MUSLIM people say that it preaches all the good things in life, it truly is the devil's bible, I could be wrong, I'm glad we have freedom so we are free to put in our own 2 cents.

    August 18, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
  14. hemalas

    Any one of the Abraham religions should not be put to blame. It is the interpretation of religion that is at fault. Yes, there are Muslims that commit terrorist acts and claim it in the name of Islam. However, there are over 1.5 billion Muslims (Pew stats) in the world. Surely, not all 1.5 billion of them are terrorists nor are the majority! Most Muslims do regard the killing of innocent people as a sin and in turn lead their lives as any other. Just because Islam is in the limelight, and the U.S./Israel are very much tied to a Muslim region, Muslims have become the world's scapegoat.

    Many people commenting are claiming Christianity to be superior to the "terrorist religion" of Islam. Have we all forgotten the Crusades? The capture of Jerusalem leaving innocent blood flowing up to ankles in the name of Christianity? Today, we do not denote Christians as mass murderers, nor should we because Christianity promotes peace, understanding, and righteousness. Just as time shook Christians of their unsavory past, time will do the same for Muslims. In the meantime, I suggest reading up on Islam. It has more similarities with Christianity and Judaism then you may think.

    August 18, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      don't forget international peacekeeper Born-Again Bush.

      August 19, 2010 at 3:22 am |
  15. wyominguy

    I won't attempt to discuss scripture or any religious writings, its a discussion that never ends. What I will say is this, there is no other major religion that is involved with terror, killings, stonings etc. Religion is about CONTROL, you get to feel good and in return it takes your mind, money and life. Some find this a fair tade and more power to them, however Muslims MUST realize that they will NEVER be accepted until they stop the murder and involvement in politics.

    August 18, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
  16. Out Side The Box

    This Muslim summer camp in Spain sounds just wonderful. How do you think a summer camp in say Afghanistan run by the Taliban would be? Or a Muslim summer camp run by Hezbola or Al Quida? These are all Muslim organizations correct? The Muslims who flew into the WTC were law abiding American citizens until they choose to kill Infidels as written in their Quran. When was the last time a Christian blew up something in the name of Jesus Christ compared to a Muslim doing it in the name of Allah? When was the last time a Christian stoned someone to death in the name of Jesus Christ compared to a Muslim doing it in the name of Allah? Look around the world; there is daily carnage around the globe being inflicted in the name of Allah. Yeah, real peaceful religion.

    August 18, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      look at it this way. europeans carpet bomb each other and gas their j ews to mass graves all in a ten year span. then they all kiss and make up. muslims kill each other in small portions every day for years on end. what it takes europeans to kill in 10 years, it takes the muslims, 50,000 years to kill the same.

      August 19, 2010 at 3:21 am |
  17. Manuel

    The Creator gave freedom to humanity, but men, in their eagerness to control others, invented religions and took freedom away.

    August 18, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
  18. vince

    I don't want to be negative since the article is supposed to be positive - but the author indicates that "...But Islam is not new to Europe. The religion has been a part of the European cultural fabric for hundreds of years...You can see it in the majestic Islamic architecture that graces the landscape of southern Spain". What the author left out was "in conflict". The only reason that Europe didn't fall to the Islamic conquests was an epic battle in Southern France that restricted the conquered lands to the Iberian pennisula and then centuries of battles for the liberation of spain and expulsion of the moors. It's always amazing to me that proponents of Islam don't have a clear picture of how much Islam has destroyed cultures and religions from North Africa to India in the name of their prophet and god. And that far from a relgion of peace it's a religon of conquest from the very beginning starting wtih the conquest of Medina and Mecca and destroying the old religions of the Arab peoples (this is simple historical fact). This is not to say that other religions aren't as bad - they all have issues, but Islam occupies a unique place in the history of Europe and not a rather pleasant one.

    August 18, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      so you are saying islam is like the eurpean colonialists who conquered and destroyed various native cultures?

      August 19, 2010 at 3:18 am |
  19. Yenta

    Why does any discussion about religion have to end this way? I sent my children to Jewish summer camps when they were at home. The Muslim camp routine is pretty much the same with a Muslim overlay. So what is the big deal?

    You will note that the Christians in Spain pushed the Jews out in 1492 (after they reconquered the southern part of Spain and pushed the Muslims out at the point of a sword). Then the Christians had the Inquisition. Not pretty. Manhy religions have done plenty of dastardly things in the name of religion. Some of you are still trying to prove your religion is better than anyone else's. No one can win that sort of discussion.

    In my view all religions take a different approach to the same thing (except for the fanatics in any religion). They teach people respect for their traditions, to respect each other and to worship God in their own way. None of them are bad if done in that way and Muslims should not be tarred and feathered for what a small percentage of their nominally coreligionist fanatics did on 9/11.

    Christians and Jews have fanatics too. That does not mean all the others are fanatics. However, some of you posting here clearly are and deserve no one's respect.

    August 18, 2010 at 7:01 pm |
    • AK

      Jewish women are so hot.

      I know, I married one.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:28 am |
  20. ccyahoo!

    For those who insist that Christians follow the Bible, please note that there is the Old Testament (the "fire and brimstone" version) written by a number of people over a long period of time. This is followed by the New Testament (the "love thy neighbor" followup). Christians follow Christ, who did not preach violence—in fact, He preached the exact opposite: "the meek shall inherit the earth."

    In contrast, at least as I understand it, in the Koran—which was written by one man in a relatively short period of time—the later, more violent verses supersede the earlier, more peaceful tenets. That's the basic difference between the Bible and the Koran. The Bible evolved toward a real, more peaceful way of life; the Koran did the opposite.

    Also, to those who point out ancient battles to compare them to modern atrocities: human nature holds within itself the capacity for both love and hate, for peace and violence (surely there must be atheists who act in either a civilized or uncivilized manner). What religion presumably is supposed to do is to appeal to the better part of our nature, so that we repress the urge to brain the jerk next to us, and instead say "excuse me" and go on our way.

    That assumes we appreciate either religion or civilization. Unfortunately, it seems that Islam does not encourage peaceful alternatives, all protests to the contrary. Otherwise, there would be more "moderate Muslims" who wouldn't be afraid to speak out for fear of being stoned, beheaded or otherwise punished for their opinions.

    I recently viewed this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oqmZL3BBb8 and was a little startled by its contentions. I don't know how much is true, but watching what is going on around us, one has to wonder what the real goal of this New York mosque is.

    August 18, 2010 at 6:58 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      according to your theory, the Bible has evolved to more peaceful ways. But wherever christians are a majority in the world, their way of life has evolved to be ultra violent over time instead. world wars, weapons of mass destruction, violent ideologies like communism, where are all these found in large abundance? wherever the Bible is in every home and a church in every neighborhood.

      August 19, 2010 at 3:16 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.