Italy: Veiled women uphold Italian tradition, says Muslim leader
Meanwhile, another city in northern Italy decided that women wearing burkas will be fined.
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."
His remarks are likely to cause outrage on the right, particularly among members of the Northern League, who maintain that Italy's identity is inextricably tied up with its Christian traditions.
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."
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."
Source: Guardian (English)