“What I like about Islam? Certainly the concept of individual responsibility, the lack of an intermediary between the believer and God because, in Islam, there is no confession and the imam is not a priest” says Alessandro Paolantoni, a 45 year old Roman who converted to Islam in 2001. “I testify that there is no god but God and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.” The ritual is simple: one time Muslim converts verify the sincerity of their intention, to pronounce the testimony of faith before a man of Muslim faith and two witnesses. And so they are converted: a minority, but growing; in recent years almost 70 thousand people have converted in our country.
The Italian convert has been brought under the spotlight by the case of the 24-year old Genovese, Giuliano Delnevo Ibrahim, who was killed in Syria while fighting alongside the rebels. Delnevo had converted to Islam in 2008. His journey of faith, is , less and less rare in our country. “According to our estimates,” converts of Italian descent “exceeds 70 thousand” explained Izzedin Elzir, imam in Florence and president UCOII (the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy, bringing together over 150 organizations) conversions to Islam are in fact becoming more frequent, especially in the recent times of economic and moral crisis. “For Elzir, the new Muslims” can be a valuable bridge for dialogue between faith and country “in short, a sort of ambassador of Islam.”
April 21, 2013
Florence – A Mosque in a high security court created for terrorism trials, which was used for the specific trials of the Monster of Florence, Pietro Pacciani who along with 3 other killed almost 16 people and Giovanni Brusca who was responsible for killing a famed judge in 1993 for the judge’s harsh stance on the mafia during the clean hands movement. The Islamic movement in Florence is prepared to acquire the property, according to Imam Izzedin Elzir. This is the same complex that heard from the famous defendants Pacciani and Brusca.
The opening of mosques in Tuscany always raises opposition from the right wing partie, who have been engaged in a signature collecting campaign to block mosque building. In June or July of this year, the Colle Val D’Elsa mosque will be inaugurated in a climate of hostility and strong opposition led by the Northern League. The mayor of Colle explains that it is sad to realize that although Muslims are honest and integrated workers, there still remains a high level of skepticism, even among the left wing parties.
Izzedin Elzir, a moderate, was recently appointed as president of UCOII (Association of the Italian Islamic Communities) to represent the Association of Muslims in Colle Val D’Elsa. The mayor of Colle acknowledges that stricter construction regulations were imposed in the mosque building process. He is hopeful, that once the Islamic center is open, the public will be more engaged and appreciative of their fellow Muslims.
Furthermore, he stressed the importance of public participation and discussion about such issues, without political implications. He is fighting to expand the center while engaging right wing parties to cooperate. Similar debates are also taking place in through out the Tuscan cities and town of Prato, Grasseto and Livorno.
Izzedin Elzir, the newly elected president of the Union of the Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII), has stated that Italian language must be adopted by all the imams. The moderate leader that is also attentive to the interfaith dialogue wants to loosen the traditional tie of its association with the Muslim Brotherhood. He underlined some crucial points; such as the need for transparency and for greater integration by Muslims into Italian society. He also expressed his commitment to make the Italian language the common idiom for the plethora of Muslim communities. His goal is to attain an agreement with the Italian state, which entails funding for Islamic places of worship. He also articulated his position concerning other hot button issues: on the veil, for example, he stated that although he thinks the face should be uncovered, it would be wrong to regulate by law matters that infringe upon freedom of choice. Regarding the knowledge of the Italian constitution and language as the prerequisite for obtaining a resident permit, he claimed that such knowledge is fundamental. He went on to state, that it is important to avoid propaganda but rather cooperate with the institutions and employers to set up workable laws which are able to counteract clandestine practices. Finally, asked on the issue of crucifix in the schools, he highlighted the need for approaches that are inclusive of other cultures.