Despite Growth of Community, Muslims Struggle for Official Government Recognition

June 26, 2004

Source: Reuters;jsessionid=CBZYX5XJQV1BCCRBAEOCFEY?type=topNews&storyID=5521401

On June 26, 2004 Reuters reported, "It is only a short metro ride from Milan's chic designer stores but the city's most controversial mosque may as well be a world away. Surrounded by dull apartment blocks and grimy warehouses, the Viale Jenner mosque is a microcosm of the problems of Islam in Catholic Italy. And, since Sept. 11, 2001, it has come under a microscope of suspicion. To its opponents, the mosque, which takes its name from the traffic-choked street that hosts it, is a haven for Islamic militants and should be shut down. But supporters say the overcrowded and under-funded mosque, illustrates how Italy is brushing off Islam as a temporary difficulty. 'We have no problem with Italian laws. We respect them. We do not demand the right to marry four wives or the right to have Fridays off work,' says Abdel Hamid Shaari, the Libyan-born head of the Viale Jenner mosque and cultural institute. 'The problem is this monoculture of the Catholic church, which sees others as heretics, as non-people,' said Shaari, who has lived in Italy for nearly 40 years. After two decades of steady immigration, Italy is home to an estimated 1 million officially registered Muslims, making Islam the country's second, and fastest-growing, religion. Many other Muslims live and work illegally in Italy. But Islam is the least represented of the monotheistic faiths in Rome's corridors of power. Only some 50,000 Muslims have the right to vote and there are no national politicians who are known to be Muslims. Unlike Judaism, Buddhism and some Protestant denominations, Islam is not officially recognized by the Italian state. This means most Muslim structures -- from schools to mosques -- miss out on tax benefits and state contributions reserved for recognized faiths."