New Diversities • Volume 17, No. 1, 2015
Engaging with the Other: Religion, Identity, and Politics in the Mediterranean
In Europe, Muslims are often seen as the enemies of secularism and laïcité, the strict separation of church and state pioneered in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century France. Yet the Spanish experience shows that European Muslims should not prima facie be considered opponents of secularism. Indeed, a majority of devout Spanish Muslims have demanded, rather than opposed, state neutrality on religious matters—this in direct opposition to a concerted effort by the Catholic Church and its supporters to maintain a privileged position vis-à-vis other confessions. In the protracted debates over the role of religion in the public sphere in Spain, devout Muslims have shown a preference for the secular Socialist Party over the militant Catholicism of Spanish conservatives. The leaders of the Protestant, Jewish, and Islamic federations demanded in 2011 that Spain complete its “religious transition” so as to ensure the equal treatment of all religious confessions by the state. Muslims in Spain, while they have echoed Catholic demands for the preservation of religion in the public sphere, have opposed Catholicism’s privileged status in the country. By demanding consistency of treatment and state neutrality on religious matters, Muslims have assisted, rather than hindered, the construction of secularism in Spain.