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In Spain, dismay at Muslim converts holding sway

'New Muslims' have gained prominence as mediators between politicians and Islamic groups, but now they face new scrutiny.

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When Abdennur Prado adopted Islam in 1998, he had no idea that he would become a spokesperson for the Spanish Muslim community. As a young writer, Mr. Prado, whose parents were non-practicing Catholics, was a confirmed atheist. But during a spiritual crisis in his early 20s, he came across the Koran.

"I was struck by what it said about the unity of all creation," he says. "Institutional religions, including sectarian Islam, erect barriers. In the Koran, I found a religion without barriers."

The tolerant Islam that moved Prado has propelled Spain's "New Muslims," as many converts here prefer to be called, to a position of relative power. Although their numbers are small compared with foreign-born Muslims, Spanish converts have wielded a significant mediating influence in both the country's institutions and its public discourse.

Yet as countries across Europe struggle with the question of how to assimilate a Muslim population that for many symbolizes the growing threat of Islamist terrorism, Spain's converts have come to occupy a difficult middle ground.

Some Spanish politicians fear they make easy targets for terrorist recruiters, while some more traditional Muslims distrust their liberal approach to Islam.

Historic model of moderate Islam

Inspired by the social harmony achieved among Jews, Muslims, and Christians under al-Andalus – as Spain's Muslim kingdom was known during the Middle Ages – today's converts oppose fundamentalism, promote women's rights, and reject violence.

Such principles – espoused on the popular WebIslam site run by Junta Islámica, a convert organization – have reassured Spain's recent governments, particularly in the wake of 9/11 and the 2004 Madrid bombings.

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