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.
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.