In Spain, Dismay at Muslim Converts Holding Sway

November 7, 2006

Author: Geoff Pingree and Lisa Abend

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

MADRID - When Abdennur Prado adopted Islam in 1998, he had no idea that he would become a spokesperson for the Spanish Muslim community. As a young writer, Mr. Prado, whose parents were non-practicing Catholics, was a confirmed atheist. But during a spiritual crisis in his early 20s, he came across the Koran.

"I was struck by what it said about the unity of all creation," he says. "Institutional religions, including sectarian Islam, erect barriers. In the Koran, I found a religion without barriers."

The tolerant Islam that moved Prado has propelled Spain's "New Muslims," as many converts here prefer to be called, to a position of relative power. Although their numbers are small compared with foreign-born Muslims, Spanish converts have wielded a significant mediating influence in both the country's institutions and its public discourse.

Yet as countries across Europe struggle with the question of how to assimilate a Muslim population that for many symbolizes the growing threat of Islamist terrorism, Spain's converts have come to occupy a difficult middle ground.

Some Spanish politicians fear they make easy targets for terrorist recruiters, while some more traditional Muslims distrust their liberal approach to Islam.