February 11, 2014
Even though Islam is the second largest religion in Italy, it still lacks a recognized national representational body. This lack of a cohesive front was strongly emphasized in a conference on Islam in Italy, held at the University of Rome.
“Istat data tell us that today there are about 1.7 million Muslims in Italy” says Izzedin Elzir, imam of Florence and Ucoii President, the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy “there are more than 700 mosques. Muslims contribute about 4-5 % of the national GDP, and also represent an important cultural, religious and social contribution to Italian society. In other words” continued Elzir “Islam represents an added value to Italy. Yet, in spite of a Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion, there is an absence of a subsequent law to recognize the Muslim community by the Italian State.”
The discussion surrounding this debate is the Italian Memorandum of Understanding that governs the relationship between the Italian state and other minority religions other than Catholicism, such as Judaism or Buddhism.
“When you enter into this agreement, the counterparty is a unitary organization. But who can speak on behalf of Muslims in Italy? As long as you do have an answer to this question, then there can be no agreement.” In addition to the lack of leadership to specify a formal relationship with the Italian state, the lack of a recognized institution and shared unity within the Islamic community illustrates another risk: could any self-proclaimed “Imam” whip up a mosque in a private and propagate a radical Islamic agenda? This is a possibility against which the Ucoii and representatives of Islam call unwarranted “let’s spread a culture of integration: we are, and we feel Italian Muslim. We want to cooperate with the local authorities (municipalities and regions) and with law enforcement: Italy’s security also means the security of the Islamic community” says Elzir.