Islam in Barcelona

written by Arturo Guerrero Enterría


Barcelona is the main city in Catalonia. Catalonia is one Comunidad Autónoma (Autonomous Community) in the Spanish state. Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain with a population of 1,621,537 inhabitants. A 17.54 percent of the total population, 284,385 individuals, are foreigners according to the data of the Instituto Nacional de Estadística. Catalonia is where the main Muslim population lives in Spain (ca. 300,000 Muslims). Most of them are immigrants that arrived in Barcelona from several countries: Pakistan, Morocco, Bangladesh, Algeria, Nigeria and Senegal.

The main Muslim community in Barcelona is the Pakistani.1 In 2009, there were 17,735 Pakistanis registered in this city. They are the third largest immigrant population living in Barcelona. Italian (22,684) and the Ecuadorian (22,210) communities lead this ranking. A great part of the Pakistanis living in Barcelona are male (88.9 percent) .2 The second biggest Muslim population is the Moroccan, with 14,402 individuals registered. They represent the sixth biggest population in Barcelona after the previous country mentioned plus Bolivia (17,672) and Peru (15,613). The gender ratio shows that the Moroccan males represent 64.5 percent of the total community.

There is in Barcelona a specific district where the Muslim population is settled, Ciutat Vella, especially in the administrative neighborhood of Raval. Following the data available for 2008,3 in Ciutat Vella lived 6,357 Pakistanis representing 5,5 percent of the total population in this district and 37.2 percent of the total Pakistani population in Barcelona. The Moroccan population that lived in this district in 2008 was about 3,830 and represented 3.4 percent of the total population and 36.4 percent of all Moroccans living in Barcelona. The Bangladeshi community in Ciutat Vella with a total of 1,633 in 2008 represent 77.9 percent of all the Bangladeshis living in the city. The presence of the Muslim population was also important in other districts like Sants-Montjuic (15.2 percent of all the Pakistanis lived in this district quiet similar as the percentage of the total of Moroccans 15.0 percent) or Nou Barris and Sant Martí. The districts of Les Corts and Sarria Sant-Gervasi were the less occupied by Muslim population.

Settlement patterns of immigrants from Muslim-majority nations4

Barcelona district Pakistanis Moroccans Bangladeshis Algeria Nigeria Senegal Native Spanish Total
Ciutat Vella 111,891 3,830 1,633 534 94 235 62,313 111,891
Eixample 891 1,181 111 207 38 81 219,555 268,189
Sants-Montjuïc 2,590 2,521 184 203 71 47 146,080 182,692
Les Corts 299 183 13 63 24 11 72,572 83,060
Sarrià-Sant Gervasi 249 289 19 50 17 13 125,975 143,583
Gràcia 410 586 18 110 14 42 103,273 123,304
Horta-Guinardó 586 1,011 17 134 54 49 147,781 170,906
Nou Barris 1,478 1,577 25 94 559 71 140,155 169,461
Sant Andreu 1,419 1,398 32 127 88 54 126,163 146,524
Sant Martí 2,810 1,931 45 181 52 238 192,844 228,480
17,089 14,507 2,097 1,703 841 1,336,711 1,628,090

The contemporary presence of Muslims in Barcelona started in the early 1960s. Barcelona and Catalonia were a first stop for the North-African migrant population on their way to Europe. The quantitative estimation is hard to establish, because of the high fluctuation and mobility of this migrant presence. Research on these movements, including data on hotel and guesthouse occupation, show that in 1965 a total of 7.702 Moroccans existed.

The settlement in Barcelona started in 1967, due to the strong European manpower crisis. In the 70´s the Magrebi population suffered irregular legal statuses. The first settlements of Muslims in Barcelona were in the quarters of Raval, Barceloneta and Santa María del Mar and in the industrial suburbs of Sta. Coloma de Gramanet, L´Hospitalet de Llobregat, Sabadell, Cornellá, Badalona, S. Vicenç dels Horts. It is important to remark that in these years a great number of Egyptians, Jordans, Syrians and Palestinians university students lived in Barcelona too.5

Employment and Economic Activity

Since the economic crisis in 2007 began, the immigrant population has suffered high unemployment rates. Moroccans have suffered the highest unemployment rates because many worked in real estate, an industry that is experiencing great difficulty.6

The statistics show that the immigrant Muslim population works basically as employees7

The Muslim population is employed as construction workers (25.8 percent), as house workers (10.8 percent) and storekeepers.
The self-employment rates show high values between the Muslim immigrant populations working in Barcelona, if we compare them to the rates shown for other non European Union nationalities. If we look at the self-employment rates of the Pakistani (8.4 percent) and the Moroccan (4.8 percent) population we notice that they are in third and fifth position in the ranking of self-employment between the immigrant population, only surpassed by Chinese (26.7 percent) and Argentineans (9.5 percent) in first and second position in this ranking, and the Russians in fourth position with an percentage of 6.9 percent. Only the percentage of the Chinese people is similar to the medium average of the European Union (26.8 percent).

But the self-employment has a special interest in the description of the Muslim population in Barcelona, because self-employment is related with the opening of business-stores in the streets of Barcelona. One consequence of this is an increase of the visibility. Within the increase of the Muslim population and its visibility a new type of demands flourished and new types of business were established. This was the case of the opening of the first halal butcher’s shop opened in 1983. The number of halal butcher’s shops rose during the following three years to six. The halal butchers could offer halal products because the central market of Barcelona, Mercabarna, offered them the possibility to do the sacrifices following the Islamic specifications.8. Mercabarna could achieve the halal certificate from the Spanish Muslim association Junta Islámica in 2005.9. The extension of the Islamic business in Barcelona includes new business like travel agencies specialized in Pilgrimage to Mecca10and other different shops (textile, electrical appliance, communication and mobile telephony). In general we have to consider that Muslim immigrants have established a lot of different types of business, also in crisis time, they have used different strategies to compete with the local businesses: Long working days, offering credit to their customers, selling specific products (differentiation and diversification of the business). Some of these strategies are being criticized by a part of the autochthonous business owners. They lean especially on the legal restriction of the business opening hours, because these Islamic businesses are often more time open than the town council specification admits.


In Barcelona they are 35,882 of school age registered.

According to Barcelona’s town council data Moroccans are the largest group between 1 and 17 years with 2,734 individuals, followed by Pakistanis (1,827) and Bangladeshis (443). But education data indicates that these immigrant Muslim populations have a high population of uneducated people. The Bangladeshi population rate of uneducated people is also very high. The rate of unregistered Bangladeshi individuals of school age is 54.2 percent far away from the rates shown by the total immigrant population in school age (26.2 percent). The Moroccan (34.5 percent) and the Pakistani population (39.5 percent) are very high too, but no as high as the Bangladeshi rate.

Population and students per nationality in Barcelona 200811

Pakistani population has mainly a primary education (89.3 percent) only 5.2 percent achieve the high school degree and 4.9 percent has a degree. Moroccans have mainly primary level too (79.5 percent), but on the other hand they achieve higher rates in high school (12.5 percent) and university (6.9 percent) than the Pakistani population.

This shows very different rates if we compare it to the total immigrant population living Barcelona. The rate of scholarship for the total population shows lower values for the primary education (47 percent), but the high school (23 percent) and the university (29 percent) rates are higher.12 This data shows a lower qualification of the Muslims population in comparison with the immigrant population average in Barcelona.

It is interesting to examine the evolution of Islamic Education in Spain. It was recognized within the Agreement between the Spanish State and the Islamic Community of Spain. After this recognition the process of implementing this politics wasn´t roll-out, because religion was not a priority in the political arena. Only after the bombings in the commuter train system in Madrid in 2004 was the implementation of the Agreement was reinforced. We have to consider also that another process–the decentralization of the Spanish State, was taking place at the same time and some competences of the Spanish State were being transferred to the Comunidades Autónomas (Autonomous Regions) during the implementation of this agreement. The politics related to education were one of the subjects that were being transferred to the Comunidad Autónoma of Catalonia. This affected directly to the running of the Islamic education in Catalonia and in Barcelona too.

Just before the 2009-2010 academic year Spanish news reported that no teachers were hired to teach Islamic religion in Catalonia.13 This is the situation in the Comunidad of Madrid too, but not in the Comunidades Autónomas where these subjects haven’t been transferred yet and where the Spanish State is leading these competences.

Religious Life

In Barcelona, there is an open debate about the construction of a great mosque since 1988, when the first the Asociación Gran Mezquita de Barcelona (“Great Mosque Association of Barcelona”) was created. But the first steps for the building of a great mosque were taken a decade later. In 1999 a Syrian settled in Barcelona, Mowafak Kanfach, made the proposal to the town council of building a mosque with the direct investment of the Saudi Arabian Prince, Abdallah Ben Abdel Aziz. But the first’s problems arose with the opposition of the town councilors and the increasing internal division of the Muslim community in Barcelona.

It’s very surprising that only prayer rooms and little mosques have been created where the main Muslim population of Spain lives. This is because part of the Islamic community in Barcelona wants the construction of a great mosque and another part of the Muslims in Barcelona prefer the creation of well-equipped prayer rooms and the improvement of the existing ones.14 Both positions, those who supports the creation of a great mosque and those who support a more decentralized system of little prayer rooms, instead of a great mosque, are focused on the achievement of improve quality of the religious and social life of the Muslims in Barcelona and in Catalonia. But at the moment one main characteristic of the Islamic cult spaces in Barcelona is the precariousness of the resources. Most of them depend on the resources available in the community, on financial support from individual actors, on contributions of international Islamic organizations and on charity collection. Most of the worship places are located in old warehouses and garages, premises and flats. The characteristics described reflect the conditions of these spaces: too small (especially during Ramadan), lacking basic security accesses, ventilation and not fulfilling the legal requirement particularly at the beginning of these projects. Many of these prayer rooms are also multifunctional spaces. They aren’t used only as prayer rooms; they’re used also for other cultural and social activities, without having a specific area for each thing mixing sacred spaces with other non sacred.

Currently the town council spokesperson argues that the building of a great mosque in Barcelona can’t be considered, because in Barcelona does not exist a unique Muslim community and because the possibility to find a unique Muslim voice to find agreement about this issue is at the moment not possible15.

There are also political parties against the construction of a great mosque in Barcelona. This is the position shown by the conservative right wing party (Partido Popular)16 . The answer to this question of Alberto Fernández Díaz, the mayor candidate of Partido Popular in the last town council elections, was:

“No to a great mosque in Barcelona… I fear of who pays the constructions of mosques…” 17

Meanwhile other places of worship (little mosques and prayer rooms) have been opened in Barcelona. In 1983 there were four worship places registered officially in Barcelona, the number increased in 2008 to fourteen18 and in 2010 to sixteen19).

Other type of spaces had been adapted in order to meet with the needs of the Muslim community in Barcelona. This is the case of the cemeteries for Islamic burials. In 1997 the town council decided to reserve 552 square meters20 in the Collserola cemetery for this use and this was possible after the signature of an agreement between the city of Barcelona and four Arab-Muslim social and cultural entities. This was also problematic, because the major Spanish Islamic organizations (especially FEERI) claimed that this agreement had to be signed by them and the town council and not by the local Islamic association and the town council.

But a main characteristic of the Muslim population in Barcelona is the high diversity between them. This is shown not only by the demographical data mentioned before, that show the different origins of the Muslim population in Barcelona, this is also shown by the different forms of understanding Islam by the Muslims in Barcelona and it’s also shown in the different associations and mosque officially registered. This variety of Islamic approaches is related to the distinction between shiism and sunnism.

In Barcelona the Muslim population is mainly sunni, but they´re also two shii associations21 and they try to be very active in the public sphere. These associations celebrate the Ashura22 with a demonstration in the streets of Barcelona with some limitations. It is forbidden to realize flagellation ritual with bloodshed during the public demonstration.

We can find also Sufis turuq23 (brotherhoods) in Barcelona. These turuq are followed mainly by autochthonous individuals and the immigrants are only a few. One of these Sufis center is the Instituto de Estudios Sufíes, founded in 1998, which follows the Maulawiyya tariqa. Another association established in Barcelona is the Centro Sufí de Barcelona founded in 2000 and is related to the Naqshbandiya tariqa.

Civic Life

There are different ways in which Muslims organize in Barcelona: By self-management of the Muslim collectives, by cultural actions of diplomatic representations, by supranational actions of the Muslim organizations, by influences of the Spanish Muslim associations and by individual actors. The creation of Islamic associations in Barcelona has been a long process. These associations were created informally without being legally registered at the beginning until these organizations find their stability. Many of these associations are registered as cultural associations and not as religious entities, because it’s easier to register them as cultural associations.

The first associative efforts took place in 1974 with the creation of the Asociación de Amistad con los Pueblos Árabes Bayt al-Thaqafa and the opening of a local office of the Centro Islámico de Madrid24. This phenomenon grew afterwards with the creation of other associations: Amical de Trabajadores y Comerciantes Marroquíes en Barcelona (1979). (Amical is a very relevant association in Barcelona due to is work with Moroccan immigrants) and Casa y Centro Islámico de Pakistán (1981).

The following data show the associations and mosques inscribed officially in Barcelona (Official Islamic entities, religious organizations and worship places registered in Barcelona in the minority confessions register of the Justice Ministry of Spain25 and at the Office of Religious Affairs of the Barcelona town council[26]):

  1. Almahabba Wattaouasol
  2. Anjamane Eshat Udin O Falah Ul Muslemin
  3. Annour
  4. Associació Social Cultural Independent Forjadores de la Vida (Sant Martí)
  5. Centre Islàmic Al Qaim (Ciutat Vella)
  6. Centre Islàmic Camí de la Pau (Ciutat Vella)
  7. Centre Islàmic Camí de la Pau – Oratori – Arc del Teatre (Ciutat Vella)
  8. Centre Islàmic de Barcelona (Sant Andreu)
  9. Centre Sufí – Derga Naqshbandi (Gràcia)
  10. Centro Islámico Al Qaim
  11. Centro Islámico Camino de la Paz
  12. Centro Islámico Catalán
  13. Centro Islámico del Carmelo
  14. Centro Islámico Mezquita Shahajalaljame
  15. Comunidad Islámica Amigos de la Mezquita de la Paz
  16. Comunidad Islámica Anjuman Islah Ul Muslemin De Barcelona
  17. Comunidad Islámica de la Bordeta – Mezquita Rahma (Misericordia)
  18. Comunidad Musulmana Al-Iman
  19. Comunidad Al Kauzar
  20. Comunitat al Kauzar
  21. Consell Islàmic Cultural de Catalunya (Ciutat Vella)
  22. Consell Islàmic Cultural de Catalunya
  23. 54.2
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  1. Departament de Estadística Ajuntament de Barcelona, Evolución de la Población Extranjera de Barcelona. 2001-2009. Available: (2010, Feb/09). 

  2. Recio, A. et al. “Immigració i Mercat de Treball a Barcelona”, Consell Económic i Social de Barcelona-Ajuntament de Barcelona. 

  3. Departament de Estadística Ajuntament de Barcelona, Población de Barcelona. Por distritos según nacionalidades. Año 2008. Available: [2010, Jan/25].

    It’s important to note that an estimation of Muslim population living in Barcelona is difficult to follow: There are no official records of Muslim population living in Barcelona, because as in the rest of the Spanish state, there are legalities that assure the right of preserving the confidentiality of religion.

  4. The Departament de Estadística Ajuntament de Barcelona provides immigration population distribution data at:

    Departament de Estadística Ajuntament de Barcelona: [2010, Feb/11].
    For information on Pakistanis:
    For information on Moroccans:

  5. Moreras, J. 1999, Musulmanes en Barcelona: espacios y dinámicas comunitarias, CIDOB Edicions, Barcelona. 

  6. Baquero, A. 2008, El paro se dispara en los barrios habitados principalmente por extranjeros en Barcelona. 

  7. Recio, A.e.a. “Immigració i Mercat de Treball a Barcelona”, Consell Económic i Social de Barcelona-Ajuntament de Barcelona. 

  8. Agencia Islámica de Noticias 2001, Barcelona: Mercabarna sacrifica más de 400 corderos para [la] celebración de fiestas musulmanas. 

  9. Agencia EFE 2005, Matadero Mercabarna obtiene la certificación del Instituto Halal. 

  10. Moreras, J. 2005, “¿Ravalistán? Islam y configuración comunitaria entre los paquistaníes en Barcelona”, Revista CIDOB D´Afers Internacionals; Migraciones y relaciones internacionales entre España y Asia, vol. 68.  

  11. Departament de Estadística Ajuntament de Barcelona, Extranjeros y enseñanza. Población y alumnos no universitarios por nacionalidades en Barcelona. 2008. Available: (2010, Feb/09). 

  12. Recio, A.e.a. “Immigració i Mercat de Treball a Barcelona”, Consell Económic i Social de Barcelona-Ajuntament de Barcelona

  13. Ayllón, D. 2009, El Islam tiene 46 maestros para 150.000 alumnos. 

  14. Segler, A. 2007, Barcelona: ¿Es necesaria una gran mezquita?¿O es mejor “una mezquita digna” en cada barrio? 

  15. Europa Press 2008, Barcelona no tendrá por ahora una mezquita como la de la M30 de Madrid. 

  16. Partido Popular is the third party most voted in the last town council elections (15.6 percent of the total votes achieved) after the Partido Socialista de Catalunya and Convergencia I Unió and the second party at state level. 

  17. Redacción Webislam 2008, Candidato del PP a la Alcaldia: “No a una gran mezquita en Barcelona”

  18. Europa Press 2008, Unos 3.000 catalanes se han convertido a la religión musulmana en los últimos años

  19. Oficina D´Afers Religiosos Ajuntament de Barcelona , Religious organizations and places of worship. Available:,4134,259064949_760259385_3,00.html?tema=0040102016006_Islam&entitat=&radiob_lloc=1&districte=0&nom_carrer=&numero=&al=&submit-cerca=Search&cercadorAsia=true&districte=&llistaCanal=NO&accio=cercar_eq (2010, Jan/26 

  20. Argita, E.(Coord.). 2009, Musulmanes en España. Guía de Referencia, Casa Árabe. 

  21. Estruch, J., Gömez i Segala, J., Griera, M.d.M. & Iglesias, A. 2006, Las otras religiones, Icaria Editorial. 

  22. Solá, G. 2009, Los chiíes residentes en España también celebran la Ashura The Ashura is the one of the main festivity for the shii Muslims and it commemorate the martyrdom of the Imam Hussein. 

  23. Turuq is the plural of tariqa and it can be translated to English as brotherhood, association or guild. 

  24. Moreras, J. 1999, Musulmanes en Barcelona: espacios y dinámicas comunitarias, CIDOB Edicions, Barcelona. 

  25. Ministerio de Justicia, Registro de Confesiones Minoritarias. Available: (2010, Jan/21).