BARCELONA’s last bullfighting ring has been earmarked to become Europe’s largest mosque – just a few streets away from the city’s famous Roman Catholic church La SagradaFamilia.
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has reportedly expressed an interest in funding the transformation of La Plaza Monumental into a mosque housing as many as 40,000 worshippers.
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If the €2.2 billion, or £1.8 billion, scheme is approved by city planners the historic arena, which has been empty since staging its last bullfight in September 2011, would become the biggest mosque in Europe.
As part of the plans, the new place of worship would boast a 300metre-high minaret – making it one of the world’s tallest, while the mosque would only be bettered in size by those in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
When completed in 2020, the new mosque, which would employ 4,000 people, would be located just 750 metres from La SagradaFamilia, the famous basilica designed by celebrated architect Gaudi.
MowafakKanfach, of the Islamic Federation of Catalonia and founder of the city’s Arabic Book Shop, said Barcelona’s growing Muslim community was in need of a purpose-built mosque, rather than the current situation where people worship in shops and the basements of houses – which has led to neighbourhood conflicts.
‘The law says that everyone has the right to pray in a dignified place, not in a shop,’ he told Spanish daily 20 Minutos.
Mr Kanfach, who said that the Emir was keen on buying the bullring, said chances of the project being approved could be boosted by the fact the Qatar Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded by the current Emir’s father, already has a strong presence in the city, and the state-owned Qatar Airways sponsors Barcelona’s football team.
He said that the new mosque could become a popular tourist attraction, and would also house a Qur’an study centre for 300 students, as well as a museum of Islamic art and history, restaurants and shops which would be open to all members of the public, regardless of faith.
‘People in Barcelona should be proud that Muslims want to transform the pain of bulls into a spiritual centre,’ said Mr Kanfach, who first proposed a mosque for the city in 1998.
He added that Barcelona is the only major city in Spain not to have a mosque, despite having a similarly-sized Muslim population to Valencia, Marbella and Fuengirola.
It has been estimated that around 50,000 Muslims are living in the city.
The plans are subject to the sale of the bullring by current owners the Balana family, who are said to be in negotiations with the Emir, and municipal approval.
And the scheme has not been met with universal support, with leader of the People’s Party of Catalonia, Alberto FernándezDíaz, saying a ‘mega-mosque’ was ‘not suitable’ for Barcelona.
He raised concerns that ‘people and countries’ involved in the project may have ‘values which collide with ours’, according to 20Minutos.
Opened in 1914, La Plaza Monumental could once house 19,582 fans for bullfights or around 25,000 for events such as concerts.
Bullfighting was outlawed in Catalonia in 2010, with the ban coming into force in 2012.
Since the last bull fight was staged in 2011 other plans put forward for the building have included a marketplace, flats and a public garden.
Another former bullfighting arena, Las Arenas, was also proposed as a potential site for a mosque in 2004, although a shopping centre was eventually built in its place.
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