New Islamic integration council aims to shape 'Italian Islam'

New Islamic integration council aims to shape 'Italian Islam'
Italy has established a council to integrate the country's Muslim minority and keep the government informed on Islamic issues to help shape 'Italian Islam'.
3 min read
20 January, 2016
Muslims constitute 2.6 percent of Italy's population [AFP]

Italy's interior minister Angelino Alfano has announced the establishment of the Council for Relations with "Italian Islam" to help integrate the country's Muslims, according to Italy's ANSA news website.

"The Council will be tasked with providing opinions and formulating proposals on... the integration of the Islamic population in Italy," Alfano said as he presided over the new council's first meeting on Tuesday.

"Respect and collaboration between religious and cultural identities in Italy must be the premise for a dialogue that will enrich democracy, promoting the reasons of peace, social cohesion, and unity," the minister continued.

The dialogue intends to favour a community of intents among all those who want to "contribute to the peaceful development and prosperity of the country", with the full respect of its laws and "Christian and humanistic tradition."

The council, which will include professors and experts in the Islamic faith and culture, will keep the government informed on Islamic issues in Italy and help shape "Italian Islam".

According to current estimates, there are more than 1.5 million Muslims in Italy, making up 2.6 percent of the country's population.

Despite being the country's second largest religion, Islam is not officially recognised by the state.

There are only four official mosques and 800 places of worship for Muslims in Italy, while obtaining permits to build new mosques is not easy.

In 2015, Alfano sparked controversy when he announced government plans to crackdown on 'clandestine, unregulated mosques'

In 2015, Alfano sparked controversy when he announced government plans to crackdown on "clandestine, unregulated mosques" as part of the fight against terrorism following the Paris terrorist attacks that left 130 people dead on 13 November.

Pope Francis in the mosque

Meanwhile, a delegation representing Italy's Muslim community has formally invited Pope Francis to visit Rome's Great Mosque, one of the largest places of worship for Muslims in the Western world.

Omar Camilletti, a member of the Mosque's 35-member Governing Council, told CBS News that although the Vatican has not yet officially accepted the invitation, the visit was certain to take place. The date had not yet been announced for security reasons.

According to press reports, planning for the Mosque visit has been ongoing for about 10 months.

The visit is significant because this would be the first time that a Pope visits Rome's mosque, and the image of the Pope standing side by side with Muslim leaders would send a strong message against violence in the name of religion.

The first pope to visit an Islamic place of worship was John Paul II, when he visited the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus in May 2001.

Inaugurated in 1995, Rome's Grand Mosque took more than 20 years to complete and can hold up to 12,000 people.