Visit to Spain, Tangier was rewarding
By Tony Staley
Two weeks in Spain and perhaps 30 hours in Tangier, Morocco,
certainly don't make me an expert. But I did come away smarter
than I had been and with some impressions of both.
Eager to escape winter in Wisconsin, Jackie and I spent the first
half of February on the Costa del Sol on the Mediterranean Sea in
We were in the Andalusia region, which felt most strongly the
Muslim Moorish influence from 711 until 1492, when King Ferdinand
and Queen Isabella, through the Inquisition, ordered all Muslims
and Jews out of Spain. Even then, many Jews and Muslims remained
in Andalusia where they were accepted by their neighbors. That is
hardly surprising given that in this region of Spain, Christians,
Muslims and Jews had lived together in peace for about 700 years.
As our guide - who is a Basque from northern Spain - told us, the
people of other regions of Spain argue to convince people of the
rightness of their views, while the people of Andalusia argue to
explain what they believe.
The influence of the Muslim Moors, who came from north Africa,
can be seen in buildings with arches that look like an
old-fashioned key. About 25% of the words in Spanish have Muslim
origins, including words that start in "Al" or "Guad." We saw few
mosques (many were converted into Catholic churches) or
synagogues in Andalusia, but they are there.
One thing that's clearly obvious when traveling in Spain is the
importance of religion - particularly Catholicism. Many places
had shrines to the saints, usually Mary.
One I remember well was at the harbor in Marbella, an exclusive
Mediterranean resort city whose full or part-time residents
include the king of Saudi Arabia, Sean Connery and Nancy Sinatra
and scores of Mercedes. Facing the yachts in the harbor was a
Marian shrine three or four-feet square and eight or nine-feet
high. Beneath the statue, barred off from prying hands, were
numerous coins. Some shrines were only a foot or so square and
perhaps two-feet high. Often, the saints' statue was only from
the waist up. The idea behind the shrines is similar to that of
the numerous Marian shrines we see in yards around here, but the
execution was quite different and the statues had a Mediterranean
Spanish, rather than northern European, look.
We went to Mass two Saturday evenings at San Miguel Church near
our apartment in Torremolinos. There was seating for about 225,
but more than 300 people wedged in, just like Christmas Eve or
Easter. The people really sang, all by heart. Once again, that
helped prove my belief that if we want people to sing well at
Mass, we can't be constantly introducing new (especially new,
hard-to-sing) music. Everything was orderly until Communion when
everyone seemed intent on being first. At the collection, a
basket was passed from person-to-person. To keep us from making
change or loans, the slot was big enough to drop in money. While
there were many tourists at Mass, there also were many residents.
We learned that Spain has the lowest birthrate in all of Europe -
1.07 children per family. The people who study such things say
they aren't sure why. It's unclear to me whether anyone asked
young, married Spanish couples why they were having only one
child, or if they asked but couldn't get answers. At any rate,
the authorities are worried, since it portends a dying country.
In Tangier, we saw many contrasts. Women wearing modern, Western
clothes could be seen close to those wearing the traditional
jellaba (a long, loose-fitting robe) and a veil (only married
Muslim women cover their faces with a veil). Many men also wore
the jellaba. While cars are common, donkeys are also used for
transportation. Much too common were the concrete shells of
partially-completed apartment buildings needing the infusion of
more money. Unemployment is at 19%. We saw mosques, synagogues
and Christian churches in Tangier.
We heard two interesting talks on Islam, including an explanation
of the basic belief or five pillars: belief in God and Muhammad,
his prophet; prayer five times a day; almsgiving of 2.5% of their
wealth to the poor each year; fasting during daylight hours in
the month of Ramadan; and pilgrimage to Mecca at least once if
One speaker in particular emphasized that Islam is not a
fanatical religion, though it does have some fanatical members or
factions, as do most religions. But, he asked, don't judge Islam
by them. I came away with a new respect for Muslims, but with no
desire to convert.
Of course, much more could be said, but there's no more space in
which to say it. But it was a tremendous experience.