A file photo of Berlusconi taking off his shoes before stepping in a Rome mosque.

By Tamer Abul Einein, IOL Correspondent

ROME, December 28 (IslamOnline.net) – Despite right-wingers and xenophobes, the year 2004 can be dubbed as the “year of integration” for the Muslim community in Italy, though they desperately need a recognized union to unite their efforts against daunting challenges ahead.

It is also partly thanks to several positive stances taken by the Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi, who has been keen on making no room for religious discrimination or bigotry, in addition to encouraging the Muslim integration into society as the best way to nib “radicalism” in the bud.

The teaching of Islam in state-run schools has been a welcome addition that gave the country a bit more atmosphere.

Hijab is in no way an odd thing to wear on the streets of Italy, unlike many other European countries, France in particular.

Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu always cites the story of his veiled mother, who insisted on taking on the headscarf till her death, when the issue of hijab-donned Muslim women is raised.

More and more, the number of mosques in the capital Rome has risen to some 400 in 2004 and halal slaughterhouses and restaurants have increased across the Catholic country.

Islam, however, has not been yet recognized as one of the official religions like Judaism and Buddhism.

Zero Tolerance

The government, on the other hand, adopted a zero tolerance with imams it dubs “radical”, deporting those who it regards a mouthpiece of violence or religious hatred.

Senegalese-born imam Abdel Qadir Fadlallah Mamour had been deported “for disturbing public order and being a “danger to state security” after expecting attacks on Italian troops serving in Iraq.

On December 12, an Italian court has invalidated the “illegal” deportation of Mamour, saying his statements merely represented personal views.

In April, Italian authorities expelled an Algerian teacher after leading worshippers in a funeral prayer in absentia for Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmad Yassin, who was assassinated by an Israeli missile attack a month earlier.

Abdul Karim Al-Tibsi, a teacher of Arabic and Islam at the Islamic Center in Rome, had told IslamOnline.net that he was ordered to leave the country despite being a legal resident for 12 years.

Until December, six imams have been deported to their motherlands for failing to “eschew violence and terrorism.”

Muslim Voice

The grand mosque in Rome.

The Muslim community has, in effect, made their voices heard in key events, though they do not speak in unison.

The one million Muslims in Italy are in need of an umbrella organization to streamline their efforts and enthusiasm to stand up to xenophobic ideologues, according to observers.

The government has taken the initiative and formed a Muslim consultative panel to discuss the affairs of the community to the outrage of the right-wingers, who criticized the cabinet for its “lenient” stances toward “Muslim terrorists.”

Muslim leaders, however, never crawled into their shell but rather countered such extremist calls with mass rallies in Rome to denounce terrorism in the third anniversary of the 9/11 deadly attacks on the United States, according to IOL correspondent.

Muslims, in their capacity as Italian citizens, have also strongly opposed their government support of the US-led occupation of Iraq.

All in all, the right-wing anti-Muslim bids have failed to dampen the integrationist policy of the government, which came to realize the fact that all Muslims cannot be placed in one basket.

In 2005, Italian Muslims could find themselves in a better position to integrate more if they managed to close their ranks and appear more unified as a community.

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