Italian Ramadan: A Rose With Thorns




Italy welcomes Ramadan with covered optimism

note hanging on Al-Manar Mosque’s billboard unwillingly deprives the
charitable people of the reward they are seeking, as it announces, “No
more free days for those who want to offer iftar meals. All days have
been reserved!”

Ramadan is truly the month of charity and
goodness. Even under the severe economic crisis that the whole world is
experiencing, Muslims still respond to the call of faith. Everyday,
around 80 believers break their fast at Al-Manar, an Islamic center and
one of the eight mosques in Rome. Every evening, about 300 believers
from Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, and Bangladesh pray in this small

Historically, Al-Manar was an underground
garage that some years ago ran the risk of being closed down due to
lack of funds. This would have happened had it not been for the
extraordinary commitment of the young Tunisian imam, Abdurrazzaq, now
the leader of this small community.

An Imam From Cairo

We find Al-Huda Mosque a few kilometres away
downtown. It is definitely larger, at least 800 believers can pray
there with a large area for women as well. As usual, there is an imam
from Cairo who burns the midnight oil worshipping during the blessed
month of Ramadan. “He came last year and I liked him very much. He
knows how to communicate easily and he helps me feel closer to Allah.
Furthermore, he reads the Qur’an very well and this is really important
for the Tarawih Prayer,” said Ahmad, a Moroccan man with two daughters
living in Rome since 1993.

Mohammad Abu Omar, in charge of Al-Huda
Mosque, tells about the activities of the center during the blessed
month: “Everyday we have about 250 believers coming to the free iftar
meal. Moreover, there are daily religious lessons, Qur’anic courses for
the youngsters, and traditional prize competitions every evening after
the Tarawih Prayer.”

Halal Food for Ramadan

In addition to being a month of prayer,
Ramadan is also a month of feasting for Muslim families. This is
especially so in a non-Muslim society, where people are used to gather
for breakfast and to go together to pray. Next to Al-Huda Mosque, there
are four Islamic butchers who feel the prosperity Ramadan brings.
Another cheerful scene is the goods that fill the Arab market where you
can see all kinds of fresh meat, juice made in Egypt, and dozens of
colored spices. “Dates and milk are directly imported from Morocco,”
emphasizes a young shop assistant proudly.


As for the supermarkets, Auchan, a huge
French chain of supermarkets, has a special offer for Muslims during
Ramadan. It offers halal food in its shops including halal meat and
other Islamic products like dates. Thanks to the increasing awareness
of the month of fasting by Italian society, there is rising sensitivity
to the feelings of Muslims. Italian Muslims do not expect their prime
minister, Silvio Berlusconi, to wish them a happy Ramadan as Barack
Obama did, but they have to acknowledge that the month of Ramadan is
becoming more and more familiar to the public.

Special Ramadan Holidays

“Imagine having a special holiday package
for Muslims during Ramadan!” — This is the idea of Stefano Giuliodori,
manager of the Dory Hotel at Riccione in northern Italy. “Our city was
chosen years ago by many Arab and Muslim families. They like shopping
here. We reserved the seaside for them, and they enjoy the fun, the
hospitality, and the parks. For this reason we propose a special offer
allowing everyone to enjoy their holiday in every way during Ramadan,”
said Giuliodori explaining his initiative.

In order to stabilize between enjoying a
holiday and Islamic principles, Giuliodori studied an offer specially
designed for Muslims. “We provide many special services,” he explains,
“Rooms with a cooking corner for a meal with the family without
disturbance, Arab TV channels, a means of transport to the mosque of
Rimini, and milk and dates available everyday at the minibar.”

The idea of the holiday package is
particularly concerned with the week of September 12-19, 2009, and it
has received the immediate approval of Rimini Mosque, which is ready to
welcome the believers who are on holiday. “It is a very positive
initiative,” said Yahya Cavuoti, a representative of the Islamic
community of Rimini, “I think it helps more people to perceive the
presence of Muslims in Italy as normal.”

Bad Face of the Coin

It is not all a bed of roses. If in Riccione
there are people who work to welcome Muslims to the best of their
ability, in the second largest Italian city, Milan, about 100,000
Muslims are still without an official mosque. For two years Muslims
have been using  gyms and football pitches waiting for a definitive
solution. Dozens of them pray on the paving outside the small scattered

Meanwhile, the deputy mayor of the city,
member of the right coalition, Riccardo De Corato, stated that there is
no place for Muslims and this caused complaints by some representatives
of the Catholic Church who have always been sympathetic with the
Muslims’ condition in the city.

“In this city it is the Lega Nord (North
League that has power while the other moderate political forces do not
want to show  support to Muslims. However, we have to admit that this
is also our fault because we never raise our voices and we let the
Italians treat us like second-rate citizens without asserting our right
to have a decorous mosque,” said disappointed Mustafa Ahmed, an
engineering student at the University of Milan.

The North League party is known for its anti-Muslim stance and its opposition to the building of mosques in Italy.

Muslim Workers

Just a couple of
days before the blessed month began, news about the possibility of
forbidding fasting for Muslim workers in agricultural fields occupied
the stage. According to some entrepreneurial union, working in the
fields during summer without drinking means running the risk of
dehydration and sunstroke with potentially fatal consequences.


The Mantua Islamic Community’s president,
Hammadi ben Mansour, vocally rejected this proposal saying that if
during Ramadan any Muslim worker does not feel well, first of all, they
have to stop the activity, and, if they understand that their condition
is not transient, they may definitely drink so long as this is their
choice. He opined that fasting has no dispensations except for those
who suffer from serious physical problems. He concluded by saying that
if someone was fired for this reason the Muslim community would support
him. In the end, that measure was not adopted anywhere in Italy.

Ramadan is the month of patience and
perseverance. These are virtues that Muslims in northern Italy have
acquired over time. Meanwhile, thanks to the dialogue promoted by imams
and Christian religious authorities, there is also hope that a
respectful attitude toward the Muslim minority will take root until
Muslims see a decorous mosque for Prayer in Italy.

Khalid Chaouki is a Journalist and the editor in chief of,
an Italian portal of the Arab-Muslim world. He was born in 1983 in
Italy. Chaouki is a founding member of “Young Muslims of Italy” then he
was appointed the President of this national association. He has many
contributions to some important magazines: Corriere del Mezzogiorno, Il
Giornale di Reggio, and News Settimanale. He worked as journalist and
an editor in the Italian press agency ANSAMED and now contributes to
very famous journals such as Il Riformista, La Repubblica, and