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News from Italy: Milan Friday Prayer Dilemma

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  • Zafar Khan
    Milan Friday Prayer Dilemma By Iftikar Al-Bendari, IOL Staff Sun. Aug. 24, 2008
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 25, 2008
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      Milan Friday Prayer Dilemma
      By Iftikar Al-Bendari, IOL Staff
      Sun. Aug. 24, 2008


      CAIRO — Muslims in the northern Italian city of Milan have only one month to find a new place to perform the Friday prayers.
      "We are allowed to use the stadium only until the end of September," Said Ahmed, a city resident and a Muslim activist, told IslamOnline.net over the phone from Milan.

      "After that, we will just have to find another place to perform our Friday prayers."

      The dilemma began over a month ago, when the town hall ordered the cultural Islamic center, whose mosque, a converted garage, used to accommodate 4000 Muslims every Friday for over 20 years, to be moved outside the city.

      The decision came after complaints from residents that the Muslims congregation prayer was causing public disturbance and traffic jams.

      Since then, Muslims have been allowed to use the stadium, converted into a makeshift mosque, in return of €5,000 weekly rent, 4,000 paid by the town hall and the rest by Muslims.

      The town hall said the stadium can only be used four times a week and that each person will be charged on entry.

      Worse still, the place is only available for Muslim use until the end of September.

      "The Milan city hall has bowed to the far-right pressures," believes Ali Abu Shwaima, the head of the Islamic Center.

      The Northern League, which has four ministers in the government, including the interior ministry, is infamous of its hostility to Muslims and is set to propose a new law that curbs mosque building.

      Under the law, minarets will be forbidden and mosques will have to be at least one kilometer away from any nearby church.

      Italy has a Muslim population of some 1.2 million, including 20,000 reverts, according to unofficial estimates.

      Islam is the least represented of the monotheistic faiths in Rome’s corridors of power.

      Unlike Judaism, Buddhism and some Protestant denominations, Islam is not officially recognized by the state.


      Muslims complain that finding another place to perform their prayers is no easy task.

      Ahmed, the Milan Muslim local, says the cheapest place in the city would cost nearly €15 million to buy.

      Muslims see Milan's Friday prayers crisis as part of a bigger problem for the community.

      "While Arab and Muslim countries vie to build churches for their Christian minorities, building mosques in Italy is becoming a daunting task," Abu Shwaima told IOL.

      "The mosque of the Islamic center in Milano was one of only two purpose-built mosques across the country."

      The other one is the central mosque in the capital Rome.

      "The rest are temporary prayer halls, unused garages and house basements," noted Abu Shwaima.

      Residents in Genoa protested last September plans to build a mosque in the town, claiming that it would be offensive because it is near a church.

      In the town of Colle di Val d'Elsa, most of the residents see a planned mosque a symbol of "occupation".

      Italian authorities have bowed to pressures of far-right groups and put off plans to build a mosque in Bologna.

      Italy's Northern League seeks to block new mosques
      By Paul Bompard in Rome
      Published: August 25 2008 03:00 | Last updated: August 25 2008 03:00


      Italy's Northern League, the populist, xenophobic, sometimes separatist movement that is a key component of Silvio Berlusconi's governing coalition, has proposed new legislation which would in effect halt construction of new Islamic mosques.

      The bill, which the League's chief of deputies Roberto Cota is expected to send to parliament next week, would require regional approval for the building of mosques. It would also require that a local referendum be held, that there be no minaret or loudspeakers calling the faithful to prayer, and sermons must be in Italian, not Arabic.

      Chances of this being approved as it stands are slim, since it clashes with a number of constitutional rights and there was no immediate support from either Berlusconi's Forza Italia party or from the exfascist National Alliance.

      But there has been cautious support from the small, ultra-Catholic UDC party, and the proposed anti-mosque legislation undoubtedly reflects widespread feeling among Italians that some defence against a rapidly rising Islamic presence is needed. At present, the Muslim population in Italy is estimated at 1m, with 258 registered mosques.

      The Northern League, which theoretically favours the secession of northern Italy from the centre and south, won more than 8 per cent of the vote at the April general elections, and has always trumpeted defence of national values of the northern Italian "race" as the natural product of its homeland.

      Without giving details, Roberto Maroni, the rightwing interior minister from the League, also said in April that "nomads" - as Italians call the Gypsies, although most do little roaming - who were not Italian citizens and did not meet conditions to stay would be deported to their "countries of origin".

      The League has capitalised on a wave of xenophobia, of fear of crime committed by foreigners, and of preoccupation with illegal immigrants, which did much to help the Berlusconi alliance win the elections.

      Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
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