Saturday 11 February 2023

Islam in Italy (Islam e vita dei musulmani in Italia)

In our series of posts on Islam and Life of Muslims in non-Muslim countries, we present the status of Islam and challenges faced by Muslim community in Italy. There are about 1.6 million Muslims in Italy, almost one third of Italy's foreign population and the fourth largest Muslim population in Europe (another estimate claims Muslim population to be 2.6 million, just about 4% of total Italian population). Yet Islam is not officially recognized as a religion in Italy, unlike Christianity and Judaism. The majority of Muslims in Italy are Sunni, with a Shi'ite minority.

Muslims have a meaningful presence in this part of the world from 9th to 14th century. But many endeavours to gain a foothill in Italy, failed and gradually the Muslim population started to deplete. There was a revival of Muslim population in the 20th century, when Somali immigrants from Somalia began to arrive in Italy. In more recent years, there has been migration from Pakistan, Balkans, Bangladesh, India, Morocco, Egypt, and Tunisia. There are also some converts to Islam in Italy (most notably on the island of Sicily). While in medieval times, the Muslim population was almost totally concentrated in Insular Sicily and in the city of Lucera, in Apulia, it is today more evenly distributed, with almost 60% of Muslims living in the North of Italy, 25% in the centre, and only 15% in the South. 

The life of Muslims isn't at all easy in Italy rather it is more challenging than most of other European countries. Islamophobia fever runs high in the country. The anti-Muslim sentiments soar following the September 11 attacks and 7 July 2005 London bombings. Survey published in 2019 by the Pew Research Center found that 55% of Italians had an unfavourable view of Muslims. Much of the local Italian media indirectly correlates Islam to terrorism as a whole. This contributes to these unfavorable opinions.

The diversity of Muslim sects has induced a lack of organization throughout the Italian Muslim community. As a result, the community also lacks cohesive leadership and thus no meaningful representation at the state level to present Muslim viewpoint and resolve many issues that are faced by the Muslim community.

One of the major issues that concerns Muslims is the lack of masjids in Italy. Imagine for a population fo about 1.6 million, there are ONLY EIGHT masjids intended as standalone structures, with an area solely dedicated to prayer, as well as recognizable architectural elements like a cupola dome or a minaret (the tower from which the muezzin calls to prayer). Since Islam is not officially recognized, mosques cannot receive public funds, Islamic weddings have no legal value and Muslim workers aren't entitled to take days off for religious holidays. Comparing the number of masjids with other European countries, France, which has a Muslim population three to four times bigger than Italy’s, has 2,200 mosques, while the UK, with a Muslim population about twice the size of Italy’s, has 1,500.
Roma, la Moschea (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/author: user:Lalupa)

Islamic Cultural Center of Italy Grand Mosque of Rome is the largest mosque in the western world ever built, in terms of land area. It has an area of 30,000 m2 and can accommodate more than 12,000 people. The building is in the Acqua Acetosa area, at the foot of the Monti Parioli, north of the city.

Watching a video just months after its release in October 2022, the new Italian prime minister is said to have given a big no to the new mosques in Italy. Thus, in order to compensate the scarcity of masjids in the country, about 800 cultural centers and musalla, have been locally developed which are in fact informal prayer rooms, often housed in garages, basements, and warehouses, as reported by Maria Bombardieri, a social science researcher at the University of Padua and the author of Mosques of Italy. They function as a place of worship, and a cultural and educational meeting place.
The main prayer hall in Palermo’s mosque (Photo: Francesco Malavolta for Quartz)

Even if there was an easier way to get public financing for mosques, permission to open mosques are hard to get from authorities, and construction is often opposed by local communities. When there is an opportunity to build one, Muslim communities tend to avoid distinctive architectural elements such as minarets and cupolas, so as not to generate tension with local communities.

Italy is in a unique position compared to other European countries: it’s pluralistic. Its Islamic community comprises of relatively recent immigrants from many nations, none of which in overwhelming majority. This makes it harder for a group—national, or transnational, like the Muslim Brothers—to become hegemonic and exercise extremist influence. However, putting the Muslim community in a position to depend on foreign funding to build mosques (Saudi Arabia financed Rome’s Mosque, and Qatar is a big funder of Muslim institutions in the country) puts it at a higher risk of external influence, increasing the chances of isolation, which is a risk factor for radicalization. [2]

The Muslims in Italy lack a cohesive and united leadership. Combined with Islam’ intrinsic lack of clerical hierarchy and a weak internal cohesion and a poor level of organization, there is no effective body to represent the community when dealing with the Italian state, particularly at the macro level. However, one of the oldest Muslim organizations in Italy is the Islamic Cultural Center in Rome, which is based out of Rome’ Grand Mosque, Europe’ largest. Rome’ Grand Mosque. But despite its ample means and ambitions, its geographic limitation to the Rome area and its close relation to foreign governments prevent the Grand Mosque from being a nationally representative Muslim organization. [3]

There have been many cases of attacks on the mosques in Italy by the non-Muslim fanatics (though they still call Muslims as terrorists).  

Do Italians reject Hijab? Well, there has been mixed news on the subject. As I googled the search, it gave the answer: Is Italy hijab friendly? Italian Muslims gather to pray in mosques across the country, particularly in Rome and Sicily, regardless of culture, and it's a heartwarming sight. Additionally, wearing modest dress and hijab is accepted and welcomed, so every Muslim will feel comfortable traveling around the country.

Author's Note: We are trying to collect more about Muslims in Italy, the celebrations of religious events like Eid and Ramadan and community network. We will keep updating the site. In the meanwhile  those Muslims from Italy reading this post are requested to add their views in the comment box below to make this post wholesome.

You may like to watch a short video clip on young Muslim Italians:

Disclaimer: The data for this post has been collected from the references given below. If anyone differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

To know more about life of Muslims in other non-Muslim countries, please visit our Reference Page: Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries

You may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Quran.
Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |
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