Stephen Brown, Reuters, September 16, 2008
Italy’s Northern League, allies of centre-right Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, want to limit the growth of Islam in the centre of world Catholicism by blocking the construction of mosques through strict new regulations.
Muslim immigrants using Italy as a route into Europe already get a foretaste of the mistrust with which many Europeans view their religion, with many projects for mosques and prayer halls already blocked by the opposition of local Italian residents.
But if the anti-immigrant Northern League pushes its bill through parliament—where Berlusconi’s coalition has a strong majority—Italy will soon have a new law effectively blocking the construction of new mosques in much of the country.
The Northern League has “made life difficult for the Islamic component (of immigrants in Italy) in every sense and especially with regards to places of worship,” the president of the Islamic Cultural Institute of Milan, Abdel Hamid Sha’ari, told Reuters.
Not just recent or illegal immigrants feel unwelcome, but also established Muslim residents like Jihad Amro, who said: “I have paid taxes for 17 years but I still don’t feel at home.”
Estimating that permission for a new mosque or prayer hall is granted somewhere in the country every four days, Northern League parliamentarian Andrea Gibelli told Reuters: “I consider this to be an unfettered colonization of our culture.”
Gibelli, the author of the bill awaiting cabinet approval, says mosques discourage integration and “are often places of cultural indoctrination, sometimes linked to international terrorism.”
At present requests for mosques to be built are being blocked in Venice, Bologna, Trento and Treviso, among others. In Trento the League has collected 15,000 signatures and in Treviso it has called young local Muslims “extremists, pure and simple.”
The League bill would ban mosques from being built within a kilometer (0.6 miles) of a church, oblige imams to speak Italian, link the size of the mosque to the number of the congregation and forbid muezzins from using loudspeakers to call the faithful to prayer.
It will ban minarets and, crucially, give the final word to local residents via a referendum—which would effectively mean no new mosques in League-dominated areas of the north.
“Nobody wants to build a mosque or open a prayer hall near a Catholic Church,” responds Scialoja [Mario Scialoja, president of the Muslim World League in Italy], a former Italian ambassador to Saudi Arabia who converted to Islam two decades ago.
“Mosques should be located in areas where Muslims live and where they don’t provoke or create problems for the surrounding Italian population,” he said.