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Muslim Leader Proposing Mosque in Florence, Italy

  • Sabina Castelfranco

As the number of Muslims in Italy continues to rise, there are growing calls for places of prayer for their communities. In Florence, a Muslim leader is presenting plans for a mosque in the style of the city's classic architecture. In Milan, a Catholic archbishop has added his voice for the right of Muslims to have a place of worship.

Muslims around the world are holding their Friday prayers, the first now that their Holy Month of Ramadan has come to an end. In Italy, as the number of Muslims continues to rise with growing immigration, Muslims are wanting their own places of prayer close to where they live and work.

In Florence a Muslim leader has announced that he will present plans to authorities in the coming weeks to build a mosque with minarets that resemble the cathedral tower designed by the Italian Renaissance artist Giotto. The local imam Izzedin Elzir says that Islamic history shows that Muslims seek to embrace the architecture of the places where they go.

The exterior of the mosque has been designed with bands of green and white marble, similar to many of the city's landmark churches and buildings. There have been several positive reactions to the plans, including messages of support from local Christian communities.

But local leaders of the anti-immigrant Northern League oppose the proposal, describing the construction of mosques as a destabilizing force in society. Some have suggested that a referendum should be held on its construction.

Meanwhile in the northern Italian city of Milan a debate has resurfaced on the failure of the city authorities to allow the construction of a mosque for the thousands of Muslims who live in and around the city.

The Archbishop of Milan, Dionigi Tettamanzi, urged city authorities to give the green light for the construction of a mosque in the city. He said the city's institutions must guarantee religious freedom to all and that Muslims also have the right to practice their faith.

But Milan administrators do not appear willing to listen. Matteo Salvini is a Northern League deputy at the European parliament.

He said the League's position is that a mosque in Milan is not a priority for the city authorities. He adds that at present there are no trustworthy and credible Muslim representatives in the city with whom to hold a dialogue. Therefore a mosque for Milan is the least of the issues.

Abdel Hamid Shari runs the Islamic Culture Center in Milan's Viale Jenner, which previously had a mosque linked to it. In the past, hundreds used to pray out in the street as well but the government put an end to that practice two years ago. They closed the mosque saying it was a question of public order. The mosque was also described by authorities as "a haven for terrorists" when a number of Muslims who prayed there were arrested for illegal activities linked to terrorism. Now Muslims are praying inside the unauthorized mosque again which is inside a makeshift garage.

And, Shari says, there are many others like that in the city. "These are places that were not for prayers. They were warehouses, garages, under ground areas. We adapted them for our needs. They are certainly not adequate for prayers," he said.

One hundred thousand Muslims live in Milan. Northern League deputy Salvini says only a small minority of these actually pray.

He says Muslims have plenty of places to pray and those who are serious about their prayers are a very small number, less than five percent. He insists that the problem of building a new large mosque in Milan is completely irrelevant both for the people from Milan and for the Islamic community.