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An ancient echo of NYC mosque debate in Córdoba, Spain

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The finished product, however, is certainly unique. The cathedral's proportion of the Islamic complex is roughly what would happen if a tennis court were made to fill the last 30 yards of a football field. And while the mosque/cathedral is protected by the Culture Ministry and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984, it is owned and managed by the Catholic Church, which holds regular masses there.

Córdoba controversy

For around two decades, Spain's Islamic communities have requested that the complex be used for both Christian and Muslim prayer. Letters have reached the Spanish prime minister and the pope. Neither institution has responded, and the Church hasn't budged on its preservation of the site as one for Catholic prayer alone.

Guards at the site ensure that Muslims do not pray. In March, a few Muslim tourists from Austria knelt down inside the mosque and were soon surrounded by security. An altercation erupted, and according to the guards, the tourists assaulted them – a charge the visitors deny.

A week later, a non-Muslim tourist from Rhode Island sat down in a yoga position in the mosque to protest what happened to the Austrians, and she, too, was escorted from the complex. In January a group of students led by an imam and a nun from Maryland were thrown out because the two teachers attempted to explain the site without an official guide.

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