In our series on Islam around the world, our current destination is Italy, known for its beautiful cities, rich culture, and renowned cuisine. Let’s explore the situation of our Muslim brothers and sisters in Italy through five questions.
How large is the Muslim population in Italy?
In Italy, Islam ranks as the second most practiced religion after Christianity. While Christians make up 83% of the population and atheists or agnostics account for 12%, Muslims constitute around 3.7%. With a population of approximately 60 million, there are over 1.6 million Italian citizens who are Muslims.
When and how did Islam reach Italy?
The history of Islam in Italy began with the Muslim conquests along the coasts of Sicily and Southern Italy. During the Arab dynasties, especially during the period of Islamic rule in Sicily, advancements in science and art transformed the region into what could be described as a Muslim city. However, in 1061, the Norman conquest of Sicily ended the Muslim rule. Following the Norman rule, there was a period of religious tolerance, allowing Muslims to live with religious freedom. However, over time, Christians were resettled in the region, and Muslims faced discrimination, leading them to migrate to Puglia in Southern Italy.
Despite the challenges, Muslims continued to leave cultural marks in Sicily until the 15th century. The second phase of Islam in Italy began in 1960 with the settlement of Muslim diplomats, businessmen, and university students in Italian cities. However, the Muslim population was still small compared to other European countries. The first major wave of Muslim migration to Italy occurred between 1970 and 1980, mainly from North Africa and particularly from Morocco. In the 1990s, the number of Muslims in Italy reached its peak due to the arrival of Moroccan and Albanian immigrants.
What are the most famous mosques in Italy?
Regrettably, Italy does not have a sufficient number of mosques. However, the large mosques in the country stand out with their stunning architecture. One notable example is the Rome Mosque, the largest mosque in Italy and Europe. It is also known as the Italian Islamic Cultural Center and provides cultural and social services for Muslims, including events like weddings, funerals, and Tafsir classes. In Milan, another significant city, the Milan Islamic Cultural Center, Segrate Mosque, and Mescid Milano serve the local population and tourists. Venice, a city famous for its beauty, is home to Centro Islamico di Venezia and Moschea Al-Rahma, two well-known mosques.
Who are the significant figures working for Islam in Italy?
While there are no prominent individuals working for Islam in Italy currently, certain organizations are involved in Islamic activities. One of these organizations is USMI (Italy’s Muslim Students Association), the country’s first Islamic association. However, when it became apparent that this association did not adequately represent Muslims, six mosques and a few Muslims came together to establish UCOII (Union of Islamic Communities in Italy). UCOII is now one of the most active associations in Italy. Another established institution is CCII (Italian Islamic Cultural Center) in Rome. This center initiated the construction of the Rome Mosque, completed in 1995 and considered one of the largest mosques in Europe. Besides these, there are smaller associations such as COREIS (Islamic Religious Community), AMI (Association of Italian Muslims), although these institutions have difficulty maintaining active operations as they are often accused by the Italian media of making provocative comments.
What are the major challenges faced by Muslims in Italy?
From 2005 to 2017, Italian politicians implemented numerous strict rules aimed at “controlling” Muslims due to the country’s contemporary issues. Both national and local politicians attempted to shape Muslims’ daily lives. For instance, in 2016, the Veneto and Liguria regional councils passed laws that made building mosques difficult and mandated the use of Italian language. As a result, the construction of mosques remains a significant issue for Muslims in the country. Due to the negative actions of municipalities, Muslims are often forced to worship in small mosques. However, these small mosques are frequently closed due to complaints from people living in surrounding neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the local authorities have not taken any action to solve this problem. Instead, the social life of Muslims is further restricted. For instance, the Florence Municipality even signed an agreement with the city’s Muslim community that included delivering Friday sermons in Italian. All these actions are justified by the authorities under the pretext of “security concerns.” Consequently, Islamophobia has increased in the country. According to research, Italy is the least willing country to accept Muslims as family members or neighbors.
Muslims in Italy also face challenges in the job market. Many Muslims are employed in low-skilled, low-paying jobs in the private sector. Additionally, most working Muslim immigrants do not receive social security benefits.
Muslim students also encounter educational difficulties in Italy. Many schools in the country refuse to educate foreign students, blaming their lack of Italian language proficiency. Furthermore, there are no classes taught in foreign students’ native languages. Consequently, Muslim children are unable to receive an education in their mother tongue. Moreover, the information about Islam in Italian textbooks often contains errors or distortions. In conclusion, due to the growing anti-Islamic sentiment among both