Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Islam in Italy
Islam was almost entirely absent in Italy from the time of that country's unification in 1861 until the 1970s, when the first trickle of North African immigrants began arriving. These North Africans, mostly of Berber or Arab origin, came mainly from heavily Islamic Morocco, though they have been followed in more recent years by Tunisians, Albanians and to a lesser extent, Libyans, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Middle Eastern Arabs and Kurds. Some estimate the number of Italian converts to be around 10,000.
As a result, the issue of Islam in contemporary Italy is inextricably linked with immigration, and more specifically illegal immigration. Weekly reports of boatloads of hundreds of illegal immigrants or clandestini dominate news programmes. While it is unclear how many of these illegal immigrants are Muslim, it is known that at least 40% of all immigrants to enter Italy today are Muslim.
Italy has not had great success in intercepting many of the thousands of clandestini immigrants who land on Italian beaches, mainly because of the sheer length of the Italian coastline: some 8,000 km in total. To some Italians, however, there is a sense that this constant wave of arrivals has placed the nation under siege---the foreign customs and practices of these new immigrants is alien to many who have lived their entire lives in an almost homogenous Italo-Catholic environment.
The number of Muslims in Italy today probably surpasses the one-million mark, though only 30,000 or so Italian citizens are Muslim. This population consists mostly of foreigners who have received Italian citizenship and native Italians who have converted to Islam; a famous Italian convert to Islam is Italy's former ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
There is also the issue of Italian women marrying Muslim men, and conflict arising over the education of their children, particularly girls. The situation of an Italian woman going to an Arab country to re-claim a young child brought by the father against the mother's wishes and ending up stuck in the Italian Embassy in that Arab country for months if not years is not uncommon. This too has tarnished the image of Muslims in Italy.
The current presence of a million or so Muslims in Italy not the first foray of Islam into that country. Under the Islamic Empire, which emerged following the death of the Prophet Muhammad and especially in the 7th to 11th centuries, much of Southern Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia were occupied by Muslims. While it is not clear to what extent these native Muslims adopted Catholicism in the early Middle Ages, several beautiful mosques built by the invaders were converted into Catholic Churches following the Islamic withdrawal from Italy in the 1100s.
The influence of the Islamic presence of nine centuries ago on Italian culture today may not be immediately evident but it is present. For example, a number of Italian words are derived from Arabic (such as cafe, or coffee). To some degree, existing prejudices about Islam in Italy can be traced to the fact that the last time that religion had a significant impact on the country was the result of military intervention.
While Muslims currently number about a million or so in Italy--just under 2% of the total Italian population--the declining birthrate of of native Italians, along with high Muslim birthrates and increasing immigration (mostly illegal) of Muslims from other countries, will cause this number to rise dramatically over the next few decades. It is expected that Muslims will constitute between 10% and 15% of the total population by the middle of the 21st century.
Because of the relatively small size of the local Muslim community, Islam has yet to have had a significant impact on public life. There are, however, signs that this is changing. Recent points of contention between native Italians and the Muslim immigrant population include the presence of crucifixes in Italian State school classrooms and hospital bedrooms. A small but vocal group has attracted considerable media attention by demanding that crucifixes in public places (i.e., schools, hospitals, and government offices) be removed. This stands in opposition to an archaic Mussolini-era law, which requires the display of the crucifix in government-sponsored spaces. Perhaps more importantly, it is also perceived by some as an assault on a cultural symbol that embodies the nominal religious faith of some 97 percent of the total population. While this is certainly no reason to make crucifixes compulsory in state-run institutions, many Muslims have also stated their opposition to removing crucifixes because they do not find them offensive. They cite the fact that in many countries with a Muslim-majority, it is common to find arrow-signs in hotel rooms indicating the direction of Mecca, and that this not made an issue by non-Muslims.
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details