Covering and Praying
In a secular and multi-religious environment, faith is constantly subject to learning and supervision leading to a more rigorous search for piousness and higher awareness of one’s faith. I’ll select three different practices of praying that have provoked a public debate to illustrate the specificity of contesting religious practices in a European context.
a) Muslim prayer in a Berlin high-school. In Berlin’s Wedding district, a 16 year old Berlin boy called Yunus was the first student in Germany to demand the right to conduct his prayers at school. Following a religious obligation to pray five times a day at set times creates tensions in an environment of a high school regulated with secular norms. He had been praying during class breaks, by kneeling on his jacked, laid out in a school hallway. The court first said that to ban the student from praying at school would violate his right for religious freedom and agreed for a requirement to have a prayer room. But others argued that school is a neutral space, condition to allow plurality of beliefs. Some others put under suspicion Yunus’s religious convictions, interpreting the praying practice as a political act. At the end a Berlin court 27.5.2010 ruled that praying at school could cause conflict and disturb peace in school. Not the end of the dispute; there is an appeal at a higher Court, Federal Court.
b) In front of the Dome cathedral in Milan a public prayer took place in January 2009 after a manifestation organized by leftist and pacifist associations against Israeli occupation of Gaza. The public debate that followed revolved around several arguments: the public praying has shown the lack of a mosque in the eyes of Muslims, whereas Catholics have expressed their feeling of being invaded by a foreign religion; some have put the emphasis on the political feature of the praying and questioned the intentionality of the religious practice, and others have questioned the loyalty of Muslims citizens to Italy as they have manifested for Palestine.
c) The third example concerns Cordoba mosque-cathedral, Mezquito and the praying of a revert citizen in front of it. It is the most well known heritage of Muslim Spain and the Reconquista period, witnessing the presence of Muslims in Spain from the VIII to XV century most accomplished moment of the Umayyad period in Cordoba. In 786 the Umayyad bought the land of St.Vincent church and constituted a mosque. It was transformed into a church after the Reconquista and then into a cathedral. Mansur Escudero (passed away in October 2010 at the age of 63), President of the Islamic Council, himself convert, a “revert” Muslim, demanded the right for Muslim praying in the Mezquito. He wished to transform the cathedral into a multi-faith centre that includes a mosque. He prayed in front of the Mezquito (2007) to make his claim public and said he was looking to “soften the heart of the bishop”.
All uncanny examples of praying of Muslims, diasporas, reverts, immigrants in Europe where religious faith, culture and rituals are manifested in an environment in which Muslims are not a majority. They bring into the public agenda a series of novel issues, such as lack of praying rooms, and mosques in the center of cities. Praying which is common to all monotheistic religions becomes divisive and controversial, becomes a site of public debate; whether it is an expression of faith, cultural identity, or political instrumentalization.