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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 03:13 GMT
Women denounce Muslim stereotypes
Students at Kuwait University
Veiling is not a central preoccupation for Muslim women
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By the BBC's Flora Botsford in Cordoba, Spain

A world conference on women and Islam has ended in the Spanish city of Cordoba with calls for western society to change its negative image of the Muslim religion.

Delegates said that Islam's image had worsened since 11 September and the US-led war on terrorism but that much of the criticism stemmed from misconceptions.

Muslim prayers in the Great Mosque
Muslims tried to pray in Cordoba's Great Mosque
Earlier, security guards removed a group of Muslim delegates who gathered to pray in the city's former mosque - now a Catholic cathedral.

The conference's final statement was a summary of all the topics the speakers had touched on during two days of meetings in Cordoba, the historic capital of the western Islamic empire.

More than 200 delegates heard that Muslim women faced many difficulties, whether they were immigrants living in a western society or recent converts, mainly because of a high level of ignorance of Islamic customs.

The conference concluded that it was up to western societies to change their views of Islam and to counteract negative images of Islam in the media.

Violence condemned

Delegates said they were tired of being portrayed as timid and downtrodden.

They said the decision to wear a veil or headscarf was often portrayed as their central preoccupation when in reality there were many other subjects of concern to them.

Illegal immigrants caught trying to enter Spain
Spain has had to cope with a large-scale immigration from north Africa
There was strong condemnation of domestic violence and of female genital mutilation and a call for women to fight discrimination in work, pay, health and education, regardless of race or religion.

Controversy came when a group of about 20 delegates, men and women, insisted on praying inside Cordoba's Great Mosque, which was converted to a Catholic cathedral in the 13th century.

As they bowed to Mecca, security guards moved in to break up the gathering, saying it was forbidden for Muslims to pray within the property of the Catholic Church.

Worshippers said they wanted to reclaim a part of their history.

Emotional moment

Some said it had been 500 years since such an event had taken place in the Cordoba mosque.

While that may not be true, it was clearly an emotional moment, leaving some of the participants in tears.

Yusuf Fernandez, of the Spanish Federation of Islamic Groups, said it was part of an ongoing campaign to change the status of the former mosque.

Spain is coming to terms with the relatively new phenomenon of large-scale Muslim immigration and many speakers in Cordoba said it was all too common for Spaniards to confuse integration with the need to adopt Spanish customs.

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