Italy lies in the southern part of Europe. It is a peninsula located in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea which borders it from the south and the southwest. It is bordered with the Ionian Sea from the Southeast, the Adriatic Sea from the east, and the Ligurian Sea from the west. From the north, Italy shares open land borders: with France from the northwest, Switzerland from the North, Austria and Yugoslavia from the northeast, and Slovenia from the northwest. Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea; and it is an autonomous region of Italy as well as the island of Sardinia which lies west of the Italian peninsula in the Mediterranean
Area and Population
The area of Italy is around 301,338 km2, its population as of 2016 estimate is about 60,599,936, and its capital is Rome.
Some 83% of the population are Christian Catholics, 12.4% are irreligious, 1% are Protestants, and some 4% are Muslims.
The Italian language is the official language. There are languages which are more like different dialects all around the country especially in Sardinia and Sicily. The European Euro is the currency in Italy.
Italy’s territory is formed from several sections. The first is characterized with numerous topographic reliefs in the North and occupied by the Italian Alps. These mountains form an arch surrounding the Plains of Lombardy (the Po). The highest point in Italy reaches 4640 meters – the Mount Rose peak.
The Northern Italian Plain is the second section. It is 320 km long and 120 km wide. It spreads between the Alps and Apennine Mountains, and it is Italy’s most fertile land where the Po River runs next to the Southern periphery of the Plain.
The third section is the Italian peninsula. Its coastline is 1223 km, and the average of its width is 241 km. It comprises the Apennine Mountains from North to South, and they are Fold Mountains that bend in a large arch from the Gulf of Genoa through the peninsula.
Italy contains many rivers, such as The Po River and Adige. The Po River has a coastline of approximately 405 miles and it is seaworthy. The Adige River’s coastline is 255 miles. Northern Italy’s most important lakes are Garda, Maggiore, Como, and Lugano. The peninsula’s most important lakes are Trasimeno, Bolsena and Bracciano.
The climate in Italy is diverse because of its expansion. The climate in most of the northern and central zones varies from wet subtropical to wet with a cold winter and a hot summer. The climate in the zones near the Mediterranean however is usually moderate.
Italy has gone through many historical events that led to many repercussions. The Romanian Empire took over the governance in Italy since the eleventh century B.C. for almost 1500 years. The last Romanian Emperor who had governed Italy was “Romulus Augustulus”. He was defeated in Italy in the year 476 AD by the Germanic leader Odoacer who later governed Italy and was succeeded by other governors.
In the eleventh century AD, Italy rapidly grew and witnessed in 1300 a high cultural and artistic renaissance.
In 1527, the armies of Charles V entered Rome and took over Sicily and Milano on the French side. In 1559, Italy was subject to the Spanish rule which decreased by the end of the Sixteenth Century.
Later, Napoleon took over Italy, carried many reforms, and made constitutions. However, after Napoleon’s defeat in the Battle of Waterloo in 2814, Italy was divided again.
Many revolutions took place in Italy, and they were followed by divisions, wars, and governors until Italy was finally united under the rule of King Victor Emmanuel II between 1860 and 1870. After it was united, Italy sought to extend its power and expand in the world so it took over a number of countries including Libya in 1911 which it liberated from the Ottoman rule.
Italy fought in the World War I along with the Allies in 1915. Chaos and instability prevailed in Italy following war. Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Fascist Movement that was formed in the country, became Italy’s governor in October 1922. In 1936, Mussolini made an agreement with Hitler and Japan, and the three together formed what are known to be the Axis Powers. In 1925, Mussolini made an agreement with the Pope, and the Vatican was declared a sovereign independent country.
Italy participated in the World War II against the Allies in 1940 and was defeated. The Allies entered Italy and settled in until a peace contract was signed between the Allies and Italy which was liberated from the Allied Army in 1947.
Afterwards, an inclination towards a Republican System appeared, and eventually King Vector Emmanuel III abdicated in 1946. Then, parliamentary elections were held, and the new elected Legislative Council made the new constitution by which the country would be governed in 1947.
Form of Government:
The Italian Constitution was adopted in 1947 and introduced in early January 1948. This Constitution adopted a form of government ruled by the President. It comprises a Council of Ministers and a Parliament consisting of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.
According to the Constitution, the President is elected by both councils of the Parliament for a mandate of seven years. In his turn, the President chooses a Prime Minister out of the Parliament’s members after the Parliament’s approval. The President forms the government and is considered one of its most important members.
The Italian Parliament consists of the Chamber of Deputies that has 630 members and a Senate of 325 members, each has equal powers.
Judges are recruited and not elected in the Italian Courts. All courts work under the supervision of the Minister of Justice and the High Judicial Council..
Today, Italy ranks eighteenth among the most developed countries in the world. It was ranked among one of the first ten countries with the best Quality Of Life. It has a very high standard of living.
It is considered one of the founders Member States of what is known today as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. Moreover, Italy is a member in the Group of Eight and the Group of Twenty. It owns the fifth highest government budget in the world. It is a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Furthermore, it is a member in the Western European Union, the Council of Europe, and the World Trade Organization. Italy contributes in NATO’s Nuclear Sharing Plan. Its defense budget ranks ninth worldwide.
Italy has few natural resources. It doesn’t own for example oil reserves, coal or iron. Therefore, it imports most of the raw materials for industry and 75% of gas reserves. Libya is considered the essential resource of oil and natural gas.
There is a gap between the industrial north and the agricultural south. The most important industrial centers in the north are concentrated around the big cities especially Milano. The economy of north Italy is comparable to that of countries in north Europe, while the economy in the south is similar to that of poor countries in the European Union, where the unemployment rate is high (about 20%).
Main cities and touristic landmarks:
Italy has many important touristic landmarks which are considered an attraction for many tourists. Most of these landmarks are centered in Rome, the historic city that is considered the most visited city worldwide. Its landmarks include St. Peter’s square, the Vatican museums, the Romanian Amphitheater, Colosseum – where bullfighting spectacles between people and beasts were held – and the Trevi Fountain. The sculptures inside the fountain are one of the remaining works of the Italian architect and artist “Nicola Salvi” during the 18th century. The Italian capital Rome is also rich with many gardens, museums, amusement parks and restaurants.
The City of Pisa is known for the Leaning Tower of Pisa which is considered a wonder for its leaning state due to the ground’s declining beneath it. Many expected its collapse; yet it is still holding up until now and is visited by many tourists who come to enjoy viewing it.
There is as well the fabulous City of Venice, also called The Floating City or the Sinking City. It is known for the gondolas that move in its cannels making the way of life there no less than luxurious. This beautiful city floats over the water of the sea and is not muddled by the usual transportations such as trains and cars.
St Mark’s square: It is located in Venice and is one of its most important locations. It has a big breathtaking field and is distinguished by its great architecture.
Mount Etna: This Mountain towers over Sicily. Its height is approximately 3323m, and it is the biggest volcano in Europe. Many buses crowded with tourists head there to enjoy hiking.
Lake Maggiore: It lies in the Alps and specifically in the northeast. It is full of breathtaking architectural wonders and is characterized by its unique simplicity. It is known for the biggest number of popular markets in Italy.
Lake Garda: It is an important tourist area in the shadow of the Alps and is considered one of the most beautiful places in Italy. It is the biggest lake in the country and its depth reaches almost 346m. It is surrounded by many fascinating landscapes and vast green lands.
History of Islam:
Islam reached three regions which belong to Italy currently. The first region is the Island of Sicily in (212 A.H. – 827 A.D.) when Ibrahim bin Aghlab conquered it. Asad bin Al Furat led the conquest operation and the Aghlabids had a strong fleet in the Mediterranean Sea.
The second area is the Island of Sardinia which was occupied in (194 A.H. – 809 A.D.)
The Fatimids succeeded the rule of Sardinia from the Aghlabids – the rulers of North Africa in (297 A.H. – 909 A.D.) – i.e. after the Aghlabids ruled it for almost a century. Sardinia remained in the hands of the Fatimids for another century when the kings of the Muslim factions in Andalusia seized it in (406 A.H. – 1015 A.D.). Mujahid al Ameri then tried to seize the island but to no avail due to the strength of the Christian alliance which controlled Sardinia in (406 A.H. – 1015 A.D.). As such the Islamic rule of the Island of Sardinia lasted for over two centuries during which the Islamic religion spread in the Island. By the end of the Islamic rule of Sardinia, Muslim local princes ruled; however, the Christian alliance controlled the island after all, and then the situation of Muslims there changed. Since the Christians controlled Sardinia, their challenge to Muslims appeared. As such Islamic emigration increased especially as genocides were perpetrated against Muslims with the main goal of clearing the island of them.
The third region is the Italian mainland which Islam reached when the Aghlabids turned to after they occupied the Island of Sicily. Muslims first attacked the City of Brindisi in (221 A.H. – 836 A.D.). They occupied Naples the following year and Capo d’Orlando in (227 A.H. – 841 A.D.) and then seized Taranto. The army of Mohammad Aghlabi I entered Rome in (232 A.H. – 846 A.D.) and forced the Pope to pay the jizyat (poll tax).
A while ago, the Christian alliance could restore several Italian cities following discords that erupted between the Islamic force in the Orient and that in the Occident including the cities of Brindisi in (257 A.H. – 870 A.D.), Bari, and Taranto. Then the Hafsids and the Fatimids tried to reoccupy southern Italy by the onset of the Fifth Century Hijri. The formers attacked Naples and Gaeta while the latters attacked Genoa in (322 A.H. – 934 A.D.). The Ottomans also attempted to seize southern Italy in (886 A.H. – 1481 A.D.)
Following World War II, Muslims from Eastern Europe migrated to Italy and as such the Islamic community appeared. Then Islamic migrations followed from Islamic regions in Africa which were subject to Italian colonization. Some Muslim workers from Tunisia likewise migrated to Italy. The Muslim community in Italy also consists of some Italians who embraced Islam.
With the issuance of a law that enabled foreigners to obtain legal residence permit in Italy in 1988, groups of emigrants flooded to Italy to seek work in the country what increased the number of Muslims especially pursuant to this law.
Muslims today mount to around 4% of the population in Italy, and they spread in the various Italian cities. The Muslim community form the largest human resource as the reproduction rate is high. The Islamic community is a youthful productive community with promising future. There are also in Italy a large number of Muslim students who study in Italian universities.
As for the geographic distribution of the Muslims in Italy, they are mainly concentrated in the industrial areas in the north of the country. They also reside in urban areas and major cities. The capital Rome houses more than 100 thousand Muslims of the 400 thousand foreigners who reside in it. Some studies expect that the number of Muslims would increase to form 5% of the population by 2030.
“Muslims in Italy” Conference:
A conference titled: “Muslims in Italy” was held in Niccolo Cusano University in the Italian Capital Rome. The conference discussed the conditions of Muslims and their relations with the state. The Islamic Law Expert in “The Higher Institute for Oriental Studies” in Napoli, Jostino Chilardo, said that calling for an understanding memorandum requires the existence of one legitimate representative for all the Muslim communities so that the he would sign the memorandum as a second side recognized by all Muslims – a condition not fulfilled so far, and Muslims must seek to achieve it. Imam Ezziddine Zubeir said: We feel that we belong to this country because we are Italians; still our religion is Islam, and we seek industriously to get merged in “Italy” and to achieve security in this country what will be implicitly reflected in the security of Muslims.
The Islamic Presence in Italy:
Some reports point out that sharp divisions exist among the Muslim bloc in Italy; it seems that their one religion and their affiliation to this one religion are not enough to call them to unite and stand together. These divisions among Muslims have several reasons including:
- Sectarian divisions and the diversity of factions and trends that find a fertile background among immigrants especially among migrants from Africa.
- The conflict resulting from belonging to various Islamic congregations.
- The diversity of political trends among Muslims.
- The absolute seclusion of some Muslim communities.
- The intervention of some Arab and Islamic countries to impose their influence on Muslims in Europe pursuant to funds by individuals or Islamic groups.
The divisions among the Islamic bloc might have led to the existence of several Islamic organizations that claim representing Islam and Muslims.
Muslims in Italy also lack official and legal representation. That is due to the disintegration and division of Muslims besides the attempts to isolate Muslims practiced by extreme and anti-Islam political parties.
Calls demanding the Islamic bloc to communicate with the Italian government – similar to the other religious communities (Judaism, Evangelism, and Buddhism) which exist in Italy – were made to guard their rights and know their obligations.
The Italian Media and Islam:
Islamic media in Italy is still weak for the rarity of financial and technical capacities. As for the Italian media outlets, they play a negative role in dealing with the causes of the Arabs and Muslims. In fact, these media outlets are subsequent to private institutions which carry their work on pure commercial and profit-raising bases and not on political bases. The Italian media depends mainly on advertisements, and following the events of September 11, it preferred to offer the Italian audience a negative image about Islam characterized by fanaticism and anti-western sentiments. This had its influence on the Italian public view. Some specialists describe the performance of the media as falling short in showing concern in the affairs of Arabs and Muslims. Italian Muslims find refuge in the Arab and Islamic satellite channels which play an important role in filling this gap.
Suffering to Have Islam Recognized:
Perhaps the main cause that concerns the Muslim communities in Italy is represented in achieving recognition of the Islamic religion on behalf of the state.
However, the prominent relation among the Islamic organizations that exist in the Italian arena is characterized by intellectual and doctrinal conflicts and by struggling to represent the Muslim community in Italy. Thus they have not managed so far to agree on one representation of Muslims which enables them to commonly negotiate with the Italian authorities on reaching an agreement to achieve official recognition of the Islamic religion. Such an agreement gives Muslims a chance to benefit from a national «religion tax» besides others privileges in the field of religious education as is the case with some religious minorities.
Though the current and the former Italian government expressed their intention to sign an agreement with the Muslim community, the failure of the Islamic organizations to agree among themselves crippled the formation of a united committee that represents them.
In an important development, a comprehensive representative body for the Muslim community – the Italian Muslim Council – was formed in agreement with the Islamic Center in Rome and the Muslim World League. However, they failed to reach a draft for a united agenda with the Italian government. Thus the council does not exist anymore.
Another hardship suffered by Muslims in Italy is the traditional view shared by some Italian citizens who see in any Islamic activity a challenge for the Church.
The Goals of the Islamic Organizations Union:
The goals which the Islamic Organizations Union seeks to achieve in Italy may be summed in a document which comprised these goals and was presented to the Italian government. Among these demands are:
- Obtaining permission to build mosques to perform religious rituals according to Clause 8 of the Constitution.
- Obtaining permission to build Islamic slaughterhouses which guarantees Halal slaughter and offering Halal meals free of pork in schools and hospitals.
- Respecting prayers times and permitting Muslim workers to leave work to perform prayers on time.
- Providing religious care for patients, soldiers, and prisoners.
- Recognizing Muslim holidays and fixing Friday as an official holiday for Muslims.
- Having the right to appoint imams in mosques
- Recognizing Muslim marriage contracts.
- Including the Islamic religion as a subject in the educational curricula.
- Having permission to open private schools and officially recognizing its curricula and certificates.
Some journalistic reports revealed that several of these demands have found practical solutions away from the intervention of the governmental circles. Among these demands are:
- The Italian government had built cemeteries for Muslims in most municipalities – following the example of the city of Trieste which allotted cemeteries for Muslims.
- Since 1980, the Islamic authorities gave permission for slaughtering according to the Islamic Sharia pursuant to the Ministerial Law issued on December 11, 1980 and was published in the official Gazette number 168 issued on December 20, 1980 which permits the Jewish Committee to slaughter in the same way. The educational administrations as well as the health administrations in all provinces decided to offer Halal and pork free meals for school students and patients.
- The Ministry of Interior recommended via a public release which it sent to all specialized sides to accept the photos of veiled women in official documents following the example of nuns.
- The Italian authorities allotted places for praying in public places and departments (including Milano Airport) in mid North Italy. Moreover, Muslim laborers are allowed to perform their prayers on condition that the permitted praying time (about 15 minutes) is not considered from the working time.
- The government and local authorities recognize the Islamic marriage contract.
- Recognizing Muslim Holidays and fixing Friday as a weekly holiday for Muslims.
- Including the Islamic Religion as a subject in the school curricula.
- Having the right to open private schools.
There remain several other demands which the Islamic Organizations Union seeks to achieve including:
- Seeking to obtain a permission to build mosques. This can’t be achieved before annulling Law 1159 which was issued on July 24, 1929 pursuant to the Royal Decree 289 issued on February 28, 1930 A.D. which is still in effect though it disagrees with the Republican Constitution issued on December 7, 1947 A.D. and which stipulates referring the affairs of the unrecognized communities to the Ministry of the Interior while viewing the problems of these communities as merely security problems at most. Thus it is still impossible to call the Mosque of Rome a mosque; it is rather still called the Islamic Cultural Center despite its tall minaret.
The Holy Month of Ramadan:
Muslims in Italy start preparing for welcoming the Holy Month of Ramadan a long time before. Some Islamic bodies, centers, and societies invite Muslim scholars from the various Arab countries to commemorate this holy month and to offer advice and guidance to the Muslim community members who keenly await the arrival of this month to quench their eagerness to learn more about their religious issues.
The collective Iftar among the Islamic communities is a main fusing factor marked in this holy month; Muslims seek in this occasion to meet and get acquainted to consolidate their relations.
Muslim Understanding (Intesa) with the Government:
After years of expectations and several meetings held by five consecutive interior ministers in the Italian government in the past decade, Palazzo del Viminale witnessed early in February signing an unprecedented agreement between the Islamic Community and the Italian Interior Ministry. The «National Pact for an Italian Islam» stipulates on both sides observing ten main elements for each side.
Representatives of Muslim organizations which signed the understanding agreed that all their bodies observe the Italian laws as well as respect the safety and construction laws when choosing its seats. They also agreed to unconditionally contribute to fight any form of violence and terrorism and show its readiness to cooperate with the security interests.
For its part, the Interior Ministry pledged in the understanding to seek to secure the right to worship, «facilitate the path» toward the official recognition of Islam in Italy and the official recognition of the edifices of the Islamic Community as worshipping houses, having the Islamic societies and bodies participate in the general life, and recognizing their essential role in the society.
Italy comprises currently some 400 mosques where Islamic rituals are practiced and collective prayers are held. However, the number of prominent mosques which are characterized by the collective features of Islamic worship houses is in fact very little. The Mosque of Rome is the main mosque in Italy.
This scarcity in the presence of mosques has many reasons. First, Islam is not an official religion in Italy (like the Roman Catholic churches), and the acknowledgement of the state requires from it guarding worship places, teaching it in open schools, observing the religious holidays, and receiving a general budget “a national religion tax” from donations and taxes.
Though there may be easier ways to publically fund mosques, it is difficult to obtain permission from the authorities to open mosques. Moreover, local communities usually object on constructing mosques.
The Mosque of Rome: The Mosque of Rome, situated in Parioli in northern Italy, is the largest mosque in Europe. It has an area of 30000 m2, and it can accommodate thousands of believers.
It is the seat of the Italian Islamic Cultural Center. It is a religious authoritative center, and it offers cultural and social services too.
The social role:
The center played a major role in uniting Muslims residing in Italy and in having constructive interreligious dialogues between Muslims and Christians due to the intensive social and cultural activities and services offered by the center to support Muslims and the surrounding society. This made the center one of the main outstanding religious edifices in Italy today.
There are many Islamic institutions and organizations in Italy, and they have reached almost 700 institutions, the most important of which are:
The Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy: It comprises about 150 Islamic Centers spread in most Italian districts. Its official seat is in the City of Rome, and it is the Italian branch of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe.
The Islamic League in Italy: It is a national institution concerned with the pedagogical aspect, and its seat is Milano. It was founded in 1990. It is an Italian religious non-profit assembly with public interest. It works on maintaining the existence of Islam in Italy and providing its effective contribution in serving its community. The League is a member of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe. It seeks to communicate and get acquainted with the Italian community which it represents a part of and to offer a sound Islamic example.
The Islamic Center in Rome: It is under the supervision of the Muslim World League. It was founded in 1966. It issues a monthly magazine and publishes Islamic books in the Italian Language.
The Italian Islamic Assembly of Imams and Guides: It is an Italian Islamic specialized institution. The Islamic League in Italy and the Federation of Islamic Institutions called for its foundation. It comprises competent preachers, Imams, and guides in the field of religious missions and guidance among Muslims in Italy. It’s a non-profit institution.
The Islamic Federation Assembly in the West: It takes care of refugees from Eastern Europe. It is the first Islamic assembly in Italy, and it is located in Rome. The assembly founded an Islamic school with the help of the Muslim World League and the institution of Education and Islamic Culture.
The Islamic Assembly in Milan: It was founded in 2008 and encompasses Mariam Mosque where many activities are held such as teaching Quran and workshops to solve social problems in addition to teaching the Arabic and Italian Languages.
The Press Center of Islamic Studies: It offers cultural services for Muslims in Rome.
The Islamic Cultural Institute: Its seat is in Milan.
The Muslim Students Federation: It has 23 branches across Italy.
The Muslim Women Assembly.
The Institute of Religious Sciences in Bologna.
The Institute of Western Studies in Naples.
The Institute of Islamic Studies in Rome.
The Islamic Center in Phoenicia. (Venice)
The Institute of Religious Sciences in Bologna.
The Institute of Western Studies in Naples.
The Academy of Islamic Culture in Rome.
The Assembly of Italian Muslims in Rome.
The Institute of Islamic Studies in Rome.
The Islamic Cultural Center Sesto.
Shia in Italy:
It is historically known that the so-called “Kingdom of the Two Sicilians” that includes Southern Italy and the Islands of Sicily and Sardinia have been subject to the Fatimid Caliphate after their triumph over the Aghlabids who are affiliated to the Abbasids in the Fifth Century AH (eleventh century AD). This was the first seed of Shiism that set foot on the Italian Peninsula.
Shiism had its effects that remained until now. In the Islamic Aziza Palace in Sicily, the government affiliated to the Fatimids used to take the days of Tasu’a and Ashura (the ninth and tenth day of Muharram) off to attend Husseini lamentation sessions. On Al Ghadir nights they used to hold celebrate, and thousands of Sicilians who converted to Islam in the Fatimid regime would participate. Things have gone this way until Salaheddine Al Ayoubi overthrew the Fatimids. Then Sicily and Southern Italy fell in the hands of the Normans who kept the region as it was and kept the management of its affairs to its Sicilian Muslim people.
Meanwhile, the situation of the Muslim people in general and of the Shiite people in particular is good, especially in Sicily and Southern Italy, for its self-government allows the Muslim and Christian Sicilians to be independent in the affairs of their region without the interference of foreign sides. In Naples, there is the Ahlulbayt Islamic Foundation which assumes many responsibilities related to the affairs of Muslim affairs Southern Italy.
The cities of Naples and Bari and their surroundings as well as the Islands of Sicily and Sardinia especially their capitals Palermo and Cagliari contain many mosques. However, the number of mosques lessens as we head north toward Milan, Torino and Bologna passing through the Capital Rome, Parma and Genoa. As for Husseiniyehs, for every four mosques, there is at least one Husseiniyeh, including Al Aziza Husseiniyeh in Naples, and it is the oldest of them and the Al Idrisi Husseiniyeh in Brescia. As for the Shia in Italy, they are mostly immigrants especially from Egypt, Tunisia, Chad, Morocco, and Mali followed by the Sicilians who rank second and finally the rest of the Italians.
Some of their important assemblies are:
- The Islamic Association of Imam Mahdi: It is the only Husseiniyeh in Italy which is officially recorded. Its seat is in Rome.
- Ahlulbayt Islamic foundation in Naples.
- Assirat Cultural Association in Milan.