Islam has been present in Italy for years and years, thriving in Sicily from the 17th century on. However, there was a decline in Islam popularity in Italy because the country did not hold any colonies in the Islamic world, so the Italian government did not feel the need to extend policies towards Muslims. That was the case, until Fascist ruler Musolini came to power in Italy. According to Stefano Allievi, contributor to Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, Musolini said he would make it a great priority of his to show that Italy was a friend, and even protector, of Islam. These statements, however, did not go much farther than public speech from Musolini. Though Musolini’s actions did not necessary go in line with his Muslim-focused promises, Italy still was considered unique in its assimilation of Muslims into their culture. Allievi writes, “Regarding the emergence of Muslim organizations… the first mosques were created not by and for immigrant workers, but by and for an intellectual elite of students from the Middle East… only later did the number of workers exceed that of students…” (Hunter, 2002). This, among other factors, distinguish Italy from other European countries in their integrating and engaging with Muslim immigrants. Some other distinguishing characteristics of Italy, outlined by Allievi, are:
- Diversity of countries of origin – no single ethnic group defines the number of Italian Muslims, therefore Muslim presence in Italy cannot be treated as foreign policy, since the group is so diverse ethnically
- Rapid pace of entry and settlement in Italy
- Higher number of irregular immigrants
- Higher level of geographic dispersion
All of these factors basically mean that there are no set, exclusive Muslim “ghettos” or communities. Rather, everyone is meshed together and integrated as an Italian whole. Additionally, Italy’s immigrants have been coming for as long as written history can recall, whereas other countries weren’t seeing waves of Muslim immigrants until the 1950-70s. Immigration in general was easier before the 20th century, hence the large numbers of Muslim immigrants in Italy early on.
Although it seems as though Italy does a wonderful job welcoming and supporting Muslim immigrants, there are still some difficulties with this integration. Specifically, the “intesa,” legal recognition of the religion as part of Italian policy, is proving to be quite difficult for Islam. This is due to several factors, according to Allievi:
- Most Muslims are not Italian citizens – they are immigrants who may or may not hope to return to their country of origin someday
- The number of Italian converts to Islam and other Muslim citizens is still relatively small, and therefore, they aren’t a powerful political group yet
- The alien image of Islam is still quite strong, especially with the use of Arabic (a foreign alphabet AND language)
- The financing of some Muslim institutions still comes from outside Muslim countries, rather than Italy itself, further enhancing the “outsider” image
- The recent character of Italian Islam is not so great – weak levels of organization, lack of cohesion, lack of adequate public awareness, and the constant “alien” image of Islam/Muslims
Allievi writes, “To overcome these barriers, it is necessary that the question of the juridical (and political) treatment of the presence of Muslim minorities be de-Islamized” (Hunter, 2002).
The next article I read was Why the U.S. Doesn’t Have a Muslim Problem, and Europe Does by Naveed Jamali. As the title clearly states, Jamali argues that the U.S. does not have a Muslim problem, but that Europe definitely does. Jamari’s father and uncle left Pakistan at a young age, his father moving to the US and uncle moving to Germany. Based on his uncle’s immigration experience compared to his father’s experience as an immigrant, Jamari explains how the issue with Muslims in Europe stems from European countries’ inability to welcome and assimilate immigrants. As of 2015, the population in Europe is 743.1 million. In contrast, as of 2014, the United States population is 318.9 million. The significantly larger population in Europe might be a contributing factor to the unwelcoming and impersonal attitudes that Muslims may feel as they enter. The smaller population might set the scene for a more personal and warm welcome for immigrants that came around the same time as Jamali’s father. However, Jamali may have some biases in his opinion. For one, Jamali’s father came to the U.S. with an incredible amount of knowledge and success, therefore, his livelihood was likely extremely fulfilling and well-financed. That could set the tone for how Jamali feels about the way of life for all Muslims coming to America, which may not be accurate. Additionally, the article was published just over a year ago. Since then, America has seen a huge amount of change, beginning with the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the country. Since Trump’s election, we have seen several policies and efforts towards pushing the immigrants and non-American citizens out of our country. The immigration ban was just the start of these topics that continue to circulate in the White House and all over the country. Seeing where our current president stands on immigration policy and how he views Muslims, Jamari might not feel the same way about why the United States doesn’t have a Muslim problem.
Jamali, N. (2016, April 3). “Why the US doesn’t have a Muslim problem, and Europe does.” Retrieved from: https://bblearn.missouri.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-3161668-dt-content-rid-31263459_1/courses/SP2017.GERMAN.4810.01/fpri.org-Why%20the%20US%20does%20not%20have%20a%20Muslim%20problem%20and%20Europe%20does.pdf
Hunter, S. (2002). “Islam, Europe’s Second Religion.” Print.