The Spanish government’s offer of the “right of return” to the descendants of Jews expelled in 1492 is a “bit late, but nevertheless worthy of praise”, says Rabbi Pinchas Godlschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis. The Rabbi was responding to Spain’s new law — approved by the cabinet on Feb. 7th — granting citizenship to all those who can prove their Sephardic origin. The law amends a previous version announced in 2012, which granted citizenship only to qualified Sephardic Jews and did not allow them to retain other citizenships. The old law also did not extend to the descendants of those coerced to convert to Catholicism, known as Marranos (swine in Spanish).The current version of the law — still to be ratified by the Parliament — is seen as a way to “correct a historical wrong” for the expulsion of Jews from Spain. What of the unknown number of Muslims and their descendants expelled?
The Edict of Expulsion (also known as the Alhambra Decree) issued on March 31, 1492, by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) ordered Jews to convert or to leave the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. This was just after the fall of Muslim Grenada in January 1492. A decade or so after the fall and the Alhambra Decree, Muslims were also forced to convert or leave. In fact, between 1609 (Valencia) and 1614 (Castile), even those Muslims who had converted to Christianity and their descendants (the Moriscos) were forcibly thrown out. Between 275,000 and 350,000 people left and mostly settled in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.
Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón said the law has a deep historic meaning but that it also “reflects the reality of Spain as an open and plural society.” An openness that apparently does not extend to Muslims. In 2006 a left-wing party in the Andalusian parliament sought to introduce a bill granting Spanish citizenship to the descendants of Moriscos. The bill failed. The double standard is not lost on many Muslims and descendants of Moriscos, particularly those in Spain and North Africa.