Rome: Colosseum prayers fuel row, calls for sermons in Italian

Rome: Colosseum prayers fuel row, calls for sermons in Italian

A group of Muslims who prayed in front of the Colosseum during a protest march against the Israeli offensive in Gaza this weekend was accused of threatening behaviour by centre-right politicians on Monday.

Around 50 Muslims knelt with their backs to the Roman amphitheatre and prayed towards Mecca during the march on Saturday, refueling a row over a similar incident that took place in front of Milan's Duomo earlier this month, also during a Gaza protest.

''The pseudo-prayers in Milan and in front of the Colosseum are nothing to do with religion - they are threatening and intimidatory acts towards the Italian people,'' said Maurizio Gasparri, Senate whip for Premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party.

''Those who take part should be identified by the police and possibly expelled from our country. People mustn't use prayer as a political weapon''.

A former interior minister and chairman of parliament's Anti-Mafia Commission, Beppe Pisanu, described the incidents in Milan and Rome as ''a fundamentalist operation, the preliminaries of terrorism''.

Hundreds of Muslims took part in prayers in front of Milan's Duomo at the beginning of the month, angering right-wing politicians. Attilio Fontana, mayor of nearby Varese, said at the time he ''would like to see what would happen if I went to recite the rosary in Mecca'', while Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa staged a Catholic mass in Piazza Duomo the following Sunday in order to ''reclaim'' the area.

The head of the Association of Moroccan Women in Italy, PDL MP Souad Sbai, described the Muslims' act as ''a provocative demonstration against the West, Christians and moderate Muslims organised by extremist groups''.

But Milan Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi refused to condemn the mass pray-in, describing prayer as an ''inalienable right''.

Concerns over extremism nevertheless led House Speaker Gianfranco Fini to call for imams in Italian mosques to preach in Italian rather than Arabic for greater transparency.

''Everyone knows that the Koran is read in Arabic but it is indispensable that the sermon and commentary should be in Italian,'' Fini said on Monday, returning from an official visit to the United Arab Emirates.

Fini said he had discussed the issue with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who supports the theory.


Source: ANSA (English)

Previous posts:
* Italy: Defense minister warns Muslims to 'stop provocations'
* Milan: More on cathedral prayer
* Milan: Controversy over prayer during protest
* Italy: Muslims urge president to press for Gaza ceasefire

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