Italy moves to reopen mosques after historic deal

The Italian government has signed a landmark agreement with leading Muslim organizations that will allow mosques and Islamic centers to reopen as part of an easing of the country’s coronavirus lockdown. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 16 May 2020

Italy moves to reopen mosques after historic deal

  • Muslim leaders sign landmark pact as part of lockdown easing

ROME: The Italian government has signed a landmark agreement with leading Muslim organizations that will allow mosques and Islamic centers to reopen as part of an easing of the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
The protocol was signed at an official ceremony in Palazzo Chigi, the prime minister’s office, as part of Italy’s efforts to reopen all places of worship, including Catholic churches, from May 18, provided sanitary and social distancing measures are enforced by religious authorities.
Mosques, prayer rooms and Islamic centers have been shut, along with other places of worship, since the lockdown began on March 9.

The agreement is the first official act signed by an Italian government with Muslim representatives in the country, and is viewed as a milestone on the road to full legal recognition and acknowledgement by the state.
The protocol was signed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese, and representatives of four Islamic organizations — Coreis (Italian Islamic Religious Community), the Great Mosque of Rome, Union of Communities and Islamic Organizations in Italy, and the Italian Islamic Confederation.
Yahya Pallavicini, president of Coreis, described the agreement as “a historic event.”
The protocol establishes “a model of interdisciplinary collaboration,” and confirms “equal dignity and opportunity for prayer in places of worship for Muslims in Italy,” he said.

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Mosques reopening

The protocol was signed at an official ceremony in Palazzo Chigi, the prime minister’s office, as part of Italy’s efforts to reopen all places of worship, including Catholic churches, from May 18.

Muslim associations representing the Pakistani, Senegalese and Bengali communities in Italy also praised the agreement.
The protocol follows several weeks of negotiation between the religious community and the Interior Ministry over safeguards for the reopening of mosques.
Yassine Lafram, president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy, told the Italian prime minister that mosques will remain closed for Eid Al-Fitr regardless of the agreement.
“We will not open our mosques and Islamic centers before May 24 when Ramadan will be over. We confirm this decision with great regret, but we believe it is a matter of responsibility,” he said.
Lafram said that lengthy discussions between Muslim communities had led to this “painful decision.”
With social distancing a key measure in the fight against the coronavirus, the organization had expressed concern that the country’s small and medium-sized mosques might not be able to enforce safety measures.
In a statement, the organization said: “We renew our call to all communities throughout Italy to adopt our guidelines, aimed at prevention and safety. We are persuaded that our worship places are not yet sufficiently protected and are too risk-exposed to reopen (during Ramadan).
“We invite Islamic communities belonging to our union to keep mosques and prayer rooms closed until after May 24, not to celebrate the collective prayer of Eid Al-Fitr, and to raise awareness and prepare for reopening in complete safety.”
Hassan, a Moroccan grocery shop owner from Rome’s San Giovanni neighborhood, said he agreed with the decision.
“Our mosques are definitely too small. We had better wait a few days,” he said.
“It will be painful not to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr together in our prayer room as we do every year. We have not met there during Ramadan this year because of the lockdown.
“But all the people I talk to agree that we have to wait. Coronavirus is deadly. We had better stay vigilant. Hopefully we will get together soon. And we will celebrate life and harmony,” he added.


“We were all outraged,” says Arab owner of store at center of US protest firestorm

Updated 50 min 17 sec ago

“We were all outraged,” says Arab owner of store at center of US protest firestorm

  • Troops can go in ’very quickly,’ Trump says

CHICAGO: The firestorm of protest, arson and looting that has consumed the US for five days began at the counter of an Arab American grocery store.

Staff working for Mahmoud Abumayyaleh, the owner of Cup Foods, called Minneapolis police after George Floyd, 46, twice tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill to make a purchase.

Officers who arrested Floyd held him to the ground with a knee on his neck, as he pleaded that he could not breathe. He lost consciousness and died later in hospital. One officer has been charged with third-degree murder and further charges are expected.

“What took place outside … was not in our hands,” Abumayyaleh told US TV. “The murder and execution was something done by the police, and it was an abuse of power. The police brutality needs to stop.”

Abumayyaleh said he knew Floyd as a customer, and as someone who was always pleasant. He did not find out until the following morning that the man had died. “We were all outraged,” he said, and Floyd “may not have even known that the bill was counterfeit.”

The store owner and his sons, Samir, Adam and Mahmoud, have gone into hiding in the face of a wave of threats against them on social media. They took down their store’s Facebook page and its landline phone has been disconnected.

Minneapolis has more than 50 Arab- and Muslim-owned stores mostly north of where the incident occurred, all operating under statewide COVID-19 restrictions. Arab store owners said they feared speaking out publicly about the incident.

An unidentified man who answered the phone at one Arab-owned store told Arab News that both the killing of Floyd and vandalism against businesses “is wrong.”

Since Floyd died last Tuesday, protesters have vandalized, looted and burned down more than 200 stores in Minneapolis. On Friday and Saturday, the violence spread to New York, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte North Carolina.

In Minnesota, protesters maintained a daily vigil in front of the Cup Foods store at 3759 Chicago Avenue, painting walls and the street with murals and graffiti in memory of Floyd. After four nights of confrontations in the city, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz activated the state’s national guard on Saturday for the first time since the Second World War.

US President Donald Trump said troops could be deployed if local authorities requested their help. “We could have our military there very quickly,” he said.