A confrontation between Muslim tourists and guards employed by the Roman Catholic bishop at the world-famous Cordoba mosque saw two people arrested and two guards injured last night.The former mosque was itself built on top of a previous church, although it looks as if the church was purchased, not taken by force.
Trouble broke out when the visitors knelt to pray in the building, a former mosque turned into a Christian cathedral in the 13th century, where a local bishop, Demetrio Fernández, recently insisted that a ban on Muslim prayers must remain.
Half a dozen members of a group of more than 100 Muslims from Austria had started praying among the marble columns and coloured arches of the vast building when security guards ordered them to stop.
"They provoked in a pre-planned fashion what was a deplorable episode of violence," the bishop's office said in a statement.
Cathedral authorities said the guards had invited the visitors to continue viewing the inside of a 24,000 sq metre building that was once the world's second biggest mosque, but without praying.
"They replied by attacking the security guards, two of whom suffered serious injuries," the bishop's office said.
Local newspapers reported that a dozen police officers had been called into the building and that these, too, had been attacked when they tried to arrest the two visitors.
The local Diario de Cordoba newspaper quoted anonymous police sources as saying that a knife had been taken off one of those arrested.
Look at the arguments that the Muslim community advances to justify their right to pray there:
So would these same Muslims support the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, which is large enough to accommodate a synagogue?
A group of local Muslim converts have long campaigned for the right to pray at the mosque building. "The building is very big and the main cathedral occupies only a part of it," said Mansur Escudero of the Junta Islamica group.
"They publicise the building as a mosque because that brings in tourists, but they do not allow the Muslims who pay money to go inside to pray," he said.
Escudero said a space for Muslim prayers would not inconvenience visitors or disturb the cathedral and would promote dialogue and understanding between the two religions. He said there were frequent incidents of Muslims being prevented from praying.