The newly elected head of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII) has said that the Italian Muslims are protecting the traditions of Italy through the wearing of veils. According to a report in the British Guardian newspaper:
Veiled Muslim women have become the true upholders of western traditions of female dress, says Italy’s top imam, who angrily condemned the decision to fine a woman in Italy for wearing a veil that completely covered her features. The incident, which took place in the northern Italian town of Novara, was the first of its kind in Europe. Izzedin Elzir, the president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII) and a former fashion designer, said: “If we go and see the beautiful artistic representations of the Madonna, we see her with the veil. We don’t see her semi-naked, I think. “For that reason, I believe it is the Muslims who are protecting the traditions of our country.”…The imam said: “I believe Italian tradition is that which can be seen by going to a church, to a museum and seeing the beautiful images of the Madonna with a beautiful veil. That is our tradition.” A ¤500 (£430) fine was imposed on Amel Marmouri, a Tunisian woman, who was stopped last week by carabinieri. Marmouri, 26, was covered head-to-toe, though it was unclear whether she was wearing an Afghan-style burqa or the niqab, which is more common on the Arabian peninsula…Marmouri’s husband, 36-year-old Braim Ben Salah, said they were merely obeying the Qur’an, which said she “may not be looked at by other men”. But Elzir disputed that. “There are two interpretations,” he said. “One interpretation has it that the woman should be totally covered. Another says the woman should be covered totally, except for her face and hands. Both schools of thought are valid and it depends on the woman which school she chooses. “The important thing is the freedom of the individual. Whether the face is covered or not covered, this belongs to the private sphere of the individual where we believe our constitution – the Italian constitution – guarantees religious freedom.” He said the UCOII was not in favour of full veils. But, in a pointed allusion to Italy’s in-your-face variety shows with their scantily clad hostesses, he added: “It’s a personal choice, like a woman who decides to go on television half-naked. That’s her freedom. That’s her choice.” Elzir said that, when faced with episodes such as the fining of Marmouri, “the [Muslim] community feels really discriminated against. There are serious problems in our country, not whether one wears the full veil or does not use the full veil, but problems of the economy, which is crumbling, [and]of unemployment. “I believe the politicians and those who have the responsibility for governing ought to be looking at the reality and trying to resolve the problems of society, rather than creating them.” …. Ben Salah said that the fine imposed on his wife meant she could no longer leave their house. “So what is better?” asked the imam. “That we condemn these hundred or so women who cover up their faces to spend the rest of their lives at home?” Many of the mosques affiliated to the UCOII are linked in turn to the Muslim Brotherhood, and questions have repeatedly been raised in Italy about its support for democracy and the western way of life. Elzir has a record of furthering integration and dialogue with other faiths. His first public appearance after being elected head of UCOII in March was alongside the rabbi of Florence at a Roman Catholic-run refuge for the homeless. A few weeks later he attracted notice by saying that his fellow imams should speak only Italian when delivering their sermons. This, he said, had a bearing on another tense issue in Italy – the Northern League’s unwavering resistance to the building of new mosques, which it claims are unnecessary. Many of the applications have been lodged by groups of immigrants from non-Arabic countries who say they need a separate place of worship where the sermons are delivered in a language they can understand. Elzir said opposition to the construction of mosques was often based on alleged security reasons. But he said: “We are for security. That is why we want the transparency, the visibility of mosques.”
In 2008, an Italian government official ruled out agreements with groups such as the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy (UCOII) stating (see note below):
“There can be no accords with those, like the UCOII (Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy), who defacto deny the existence of the state of Israel and hold ambiguous positions on terrorism at the national and local level (no mention of international terrorism, as published).” This was said by (Italian) Community Policies Minister Andrea Ronchi, who was on a fact-finding mission in Bologna yesterday, holding a series of meetings to gather information on a plan (initially mooted but later scrapped) for the construction of a huge new mosque. “The battle is not political but ethical,” he said.
The UCOII is generally is thought to represent the Muslim Brotherhood in Italy and is probably a member of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), the EU-level Islamic organization claiming to represent the Muslims of Europe, although it is not listed as the FIOE contact organization in that country. A post from last September discussed the Bologna mosque project which was postponed at that time.
For background on the UCOII, go here.
(Source: “Italian Minister Faults UCOII’s Stance on Israel, Terror, Rules Out Accord” Unattributed report: “Ronchi on Islam: ‘No to Mosques Rune by Fundamentalists'” Il Giornale December 16, 2008)