CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

The 2007 International Conference
June 7-9, 2007
Bordeaux, France
Globalization, Immigration, and Change in Religious Movements

The Religious Immigration in Spain

by Irene BRIONES MARTINEZ (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

A paper presented at the 2007 International Conference, Bordeaux, France. Please do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.

The immigration policy in Spain tries to get the integration with legal, sociological and philosophical perspectives, but the coexistence is a hard challenge to assume.

Our working plan should be a project of intercultural coexistence that introduces the religion as a crucial factor of the culture. Therefore, immigration is also religious immigration and it brings into our society many cases of conflicts between the immigrant’s conscience and law.

Although the public order is the limit for all the human rights, some traditions, and beliefs are the gist or key in a human being’s behaviour, and the effort of social integration couldn’t be successful in these religious or moral aspects.

Spain is a favorite country for the immigrants and the second most important contingent is from Morocco, whose culture, uses and traditions are very different than ours, and our Western culture refuses some religious practices[1]. Besides, Spain is a secular State and the secularism is the basis in all the governmental polices on gender equality, sanitation, family, marriage, education, employment, etc.

The religion would be a peaceful instrument in order to get the solidarity but the profound differences create a challenge in Spain. I’ll study in my work the legislative effort to solve the problems, and the type of religious experiences more known.


The constitutional guarantee of gender equality rejects some Muslim traditions like the gender violence or the poligamy. I’ll study the recent legislation and the case law on this matter.


In a poligamy’s case, if the reunification applicant already had a spouse living with him in a Member State of the European Union, this State will not authorize the reunification of a second, third or fourth wife.

In order to avoid the poligamy, the applicant has to declare in oath that he is only married with one woman. This requirement is not sufficient to control the ilegal marriages in Spain.

The “Dirección General de Registros y Notariado”, a bureau that tries to check the condition of polygamist before starting a judicial trial by civil law (matrimonial nullity) or criminal law (bigamy offense). There are two presumptions: bona fide and ius nubendi[2].


In Fuengirola, a city of Spain, an Iman wrote a book, with the tittle: Islam in Spain. The author was condemned to prison because he taugh the way to hit the spouses without leaving evidences[3].

He was accused for supporting the gender violence justified by religious beliefs.

In this case, there were two legal interests, the religious freedom and the physical integrity. This last right was considered as a compelling interest as a restriction of a fundamental right like the religious freedom.

Recently, the Parliament has approved an Act against Gender Violence and the Criminal Code has been strongly reformed.


The bigamy has created some troubles on inheritance and widowhood pension.

A case happened in the northwest of Spain when a Muslim man died, his two widows asked for a pension. A Court in Galicia, the local region, decided to give one single pension and to distribute between both spouses because they were legal wives in Senegal[4]. The Court applied the article 23 in the Convention among Spain and Morocco[5].

This resolution was severely critized by reason of approving the bigamy[6]. The Civil Code affirms that according with Private International Law, an Act never shall be applied if it is against the public order[7].

The Criminal Code not only punishes the bigamy but tries to prevent this offense punishing the Iman or Cult Minister celebrating such an ilegal marriage[8].

The Constitutional Court derogated an article in the Civil Code (9.2)[9] because, in case of doubt, the law applied for both spouses was the husband’s personal law[10].

Other judicial decisions are very interesting and they are an example to obtain the equality, or at least, a warning, thougth religious reasons hold the Muslim law.

A Court conceded the widowhood pension to a man whose wife was working ilegally according to the Domestic Law. Other resolution considered the marital life to be permanent because the husband got the divorce with the wife’s consent or by repudiation[11].

Other samples of equality in Spain are, for example, a Muslim woman can get married with a Non Muslim man, and women are not excluded from the paternal heritance and are fairly deduced in equal terms.

In reference to the extinction of the marriage, the law neither accepts abusive foreign resolutions, based in the religious freedom that inspires the family law at the same time. Our law avoids implementing foreign judicial resolutions that mean a violation of human rights. 



In Europe the genital mutilation is a physical harm offense and a restriccion of the sexual liberty for kids, teenagers and women[12].

A sentence in a Court of Milan, dated in 1999, considered a father’s behavior like a serious harm offense against his daugther, but that Court reduced the penalty because he obeyed an imperative religious obligation.

In Spain, the Crime Code, introduced in 1995, penalized this type of harm[13]. If this harm is done by the parents, they will be punished on an offense against her physical integrity.

Two years ago, the government approved an Act of extraterritorial prosecution[14]. The deontological medical Code (16.1) and the Criminal prosecution Act also makes compulsory for the doctors to denounce this facts or having the impression of an inminent offense.


Some Religious people practice the circumcision the eighth day of the baby birth[15]. The Jewish believers think it is a symbol of alliance with God.

For Muslim people it is a custom and a ritual without a basis in Koran. They usually wait to the seventh birthday.

This practice does not suppose a serious mutilation, but it must be developed with a medical control in a hospital.  Recently, the therapeutic mutilation is supported by the Medical Public System in Spain.


It seems to be a private matter because of family reasons, however, the cemetery is a public place and the burial is a public service.

The sanitary control Law and mortuary policy must be executed because the way the burial is performed can be hazardous for the public health.

In order to avoid the religious discrimination, the government has dealt with Jewish and Muslim Groups in 1992. All believers enjoy the right to a burial place, and they can reserve grave sites where they can be buried according with their religious traditions. They have the option to own private cemeteries.

The Muslim People set the tombs looking towards the Mecca, in a holy and closed     resting place only for Muslim believers. Some Jewish communities practice this tradition too.

Some of these religious traditions are in trouble with the sanitary law, for example, to allow burials without the use of a coffin is against the public health. 

The Jewish Community needs space available for cemeteries. Although, their traditions prohibit the exhumation, it is absolutely necessary the exhumation after a certain number of years, depending on the type of the mausoleum[16].


In this matter, the conflict is produced for the way of getting food, the process to sacrifice the animals. The Muslim and Jewish People have a particular way to do this sacrifice with a religious ritual.

We know the European Union tries to promote the religious diversity, and the conservation of customs, but also requiring the protection of animals including in the moment of their sacrifice[17].

The Spanish government has dealt two pacts with both religious Communities allowing them their own food and industry in a legal frame, but it is not easy to control these circumstances[18]..

In 2001, during the Holy Muslim celebration Ad-el – Kebir, there was an infection transmitted by the lambs. Despite of this fact, the lambs were imported taking a risk against the public health, and de common welfare.  These elements are a limit for any human right.

The Human Rights Court in a case versus France for restriction of the religious freedom, considered convenient the importation of food by Jewish People because the government forbid the particular Jewish animals’ sacrifice.


In my opinion, Catalonia and Madrid have the best plans on Immigration. The first has a project of religious freedom in a frame of secularity. This region of Spain has an own General Department of religious Affairs.

In Madrid, the Capital of Spain, the religion is considered like a crucial factor for an immigrant. The religion is a challenge to get the intercultural integration and is a resource to solve the difficulties. The Plan of Immigration has prepared a project of participation and figure out the diversity.


1.     The religious immigration has changed the religious map in Spain. A Catholic sociological society has received the impact of numerous and diverse cultures, and it is being a hard test for our democratic system.

2.     Everybody has a right to be different. We have to respect the different identities, but the authentic basis is the human dignity, not the French, Spanish or Danish Identity. 

3.     We need to understand immigrants’ identities by knowing their cultural and       religious backup as well as the legal and social frame in their countries of origin.

[1] Torres Andrés, J. M., y AAVV. La situación de los extranjeros en el orden social. Manuales de Formación Continuada, Consejo General del Poder Judicial. Escuela Judicial, Madrid,  122.

[2] Vid., Pérez-Madrid, F.  Inmigración y libertad religiosa, Madrid, 2004, 133-135.

[3] Jiménez-Aybar. I., El Islam en España. Aspectos institucionales de su estatuto jurídico. Navarra. 2004, 27-91.

[4] Zabaro Escudero, M. E.,  Legislación española de extranjería: evolución y experiencias en su aplicación, 123-124. In Migraciones, Iglesia y Derecho, Actas del V Simposio del Instituto Martín Azpilicueta on Movimientos migratorios y acción de la Iglesia. Aspectos sociales, religiosos y canónicos. Pamplona, 2003.

[5] Convention signed in November 8th, 1979, accepted by Spain in July 5th, 1982. BOE.,  de 13 de octubre

[6] A.L. De Val Tena. Poligamia y pensión de viudedad: a propósito de la extensión del concepto de beneficiario. Comentario a la STSJ de Galicia, de 2 de abril de 2002. In Actualidad Laboral, nº. 1. Madrid, 2003,  47-58

[7] STC 43/1986, STC 132/2001 (Constitucional Court)

[8] Concerning Poligamy: “artículos 46.2 “ and 73.2 in Civil Code, and  “artículo 217” Criminal Code.

[9] BOE., nº. 63. Sp. Thursday, March 14, 2002.

[10] Vid., Resolution of the Constitucional Court 39/2002, February 14th, “sobre la cuestión de constitucionalidad 1724/95 que fue planteada por un Juzgado de Primera Instancia de Reus respecto del artículo 9.2 del Código Civil, redactado por el Decreto 1836/1974, de 31 de mayo”.

[11] Sentencia de 30 de julio de 2003, del Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Cataluña, Sala de lo Social. In AS 3049.

[12] Interesting Work in International Centre for Reproductive Health Universidad of Gante (Bélgica),concerning female mutilation in Europe, France, Spain, Belgium, Sweden and United Kingdom. In http://mgf.uab.es/seccions/4_MGF_Aspectos_juridicos/Legislacion_FGM_Europea.pdf . Vid., Report by  Halima Embarek Warzazi, E/C/N.4/Sub.2/1996/6, de 14 de junio de 1996. Cfr. En http//: www.unhchr.ch/; Vid., about this matter, Adam Muñoz. M. D.,  La mutilación genital femenina y sus posibles soluciones desde la perspectiva del derecho internacional privado. Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer, 2003.

[13]  Vid.,  Adam Muñoz, M. D.,  La respuesta del Ordenamiento Jurídico español ante la mutilación femenina. In “Diario La Ley”, April 11, 2006; “El que causara a otro una mutilación genital en cualquiera de sus manifestaciones será castigado con la pena de prisión de seis a doce años. Si la víctima fuera menor o incapaz, será aplicable la pena de inhabilitación especial para el ejercicio de la patria potestad, tutela, curatela, guarda o acogimiento por tiempo de cuatro a diez años, si el juez lo estima adecuado al interés del menor o incapaz” “Artículo 149.2” Criminal Code. Cfr. In Boletín Oficial de Las Cortes Generales. Congreso de Los Diputados. July 23, 2001, núm. 161-1-

[14] “Ley Orgánica 3/2005, de 8 de julio”, that modified “la Ley Orgánica 6/1985, de 1 de julio, del Poder Judicial”. Cfr. En BOE, de 9 de julio de 2005, núm. 163.

[15] Vera, J.M , El ejército de Alá. El Islam: orígenes, presente y perspectivas de futuro. Barcelona, 1992,  390

[16] Vid., Aut. Conseil L’integracion (HCI), L’Islam dans la République , París, 2001.

[17] Protocole on animal protection. “Tratado de Ámsterdam, de 2 de octubre de 1997”. (B.O.E. n. 109 de 7 de mayo de 1999); Vid., Chaare Shalom Ve Tsedek versus France,  27 June 2000. Aut. Conseil l’integration (HCI), L’Islma, ob. Cit.

[18] Martínez Torron, J. Separatismo y cooperación en los acuerdos del Estado con las minorías religiosas. Granada, 1994.