Ahmad Gianpiero Vincenzo
Prof. Ahmad Gianpiero Vincenzo, teaches Islamic Law and Society in University Federico II of Naples and he is now Professor of Sociological Disciplines at Fine Arts Academy of Catania, in Sicily, a land with an old and important Islamic history. Prof. Vincenzo is a top Muslim intellectual and try to do his best for the Islamic Ummah in Italy.
He was born in Naples in 1961 and converted to Islam in 1990 after a journey of long and in-depth religious research. Vincenzo, who is considered to be a leading representative of Italian Muslims, lives in Rome, where is one of the member of the Assembly of the Great Mosque, and is one of the founders of the Intellettuali Musulmani Italiani (Italian Muslim Intellectuals).
Q: Can you tell us about the Intellettuali Musulmani Italiani?
Vincenzo: A group of Italian Muslims decided in 2008 to create an organization that help the Islamic community in Italy to strengthened his cultural and social bonds.
The Islamic Ummah is very young in Italy and there isn't yet a strong religious elite. Muslims come from many different countries and the differences and tensions between them are not counterbalance by an active religious conscience. So, Muslims are quite unprotected by attacks coming from outward.
The Great Mosque is an important institution because it is the only one recognized by the State. But it is directed by diplomatic officers that failed completely to do a program of activities or to offer services for Muslims. Intellettuali Musulmani Italiani became a point of reference in the process of “italianization” of the Islamic Ummah in Italy.
Q: When you became Muslim, no doubt, you faced difficulties, what were the great difficulties Italian Muslims have been meeting in their own society?
Vincenzo: When I became a Muslim, Muslims were few in the country. I met people such Pallavicini, how was one of the first converted to Islam. Time passed, and I understand that Italian Muslims have to identify themselves with the general Ummah and not with little groups. The western tradition so spirituality is full of little groups.
I think that we have to see in a more Islamic and universal perspective. So I work to have more connection with Islamic countries and in recent times I intensify bounds with Turkey and Istanbul.
As far as connection with the Italian population is concerned, I think that people are afraid of Islam and they see Muslims as a potential danger. And with fear there is also discrimination.
This happens at all levels. It takes times to conquer the confidence of people. In the last years, the islamophobic propaganda of North League became very hostile. The danger is a progressive ghettoization for Muslims. As Italian Muslims we have more or less the same problems and we look as “strangers” in many respects.
Q: The idea of putting the religious minorities into ghettos, Fetzer told me that the society wholeheartedly rejects them and segregates them into a kind of hermetically sealed box of poverty and discrimination, they appear more desperate and more likely to resort to extreme measures. Do you agree, there is a real danger for the Muslims living in Europe?
Vincenzo: If you visit Porta Palazzo in Turin or Viale Padova in Milan or Tor Pignattara in Rome, you can already see the same Islamic ghettos. Dangers are becoming realities. There are also important china ghettos in Milan and Prato, near Florence. Xenophobic politics are directly responsible of the creation of such close quarters.
I was charged in 2009 by the Italian Senate to study the way how to avoid the creation of ghettos but the initiative was stopped. There is a concrete political will to create ghettos.
Unfortunately there are also some Islamic groups, mainly salafi movements, that go in the same direction.
Q: How do you see the future of the Islamic community in Italy?
Vincenzo: There is a lot of work to do. We have to avoid ghettoization and excessive division in national communities, mainly fighting each other. We have to put Islam in practice. The problem is at what kind of model we see.
I think that Islamic Ummah in Europe have to see at Turkey as a point of reference.
Q: Do you think Pope Benedict XVI has played a key role in helping Muslims and Christians start to find common ground or the "dialogues" remain dialogues of the deaf and what about Catholic-Muslim relations?
Vincenzo: The Church of Rome is vary skilled to play with the division of Muslims. There are many groups of dialogues, each for every big Islamic country. But there is no group for Italian Islam. This means that Islam is officially considered a “foreign” religion or a religion of foreigners, that's almost the same.
Each year groups of diplomatists and imams come to Rome, discuss about theology and finally go away without any real effect in the live of believers. But there are a lot of good Christians in Italy and I think that with a better coordination among Muslims we can have a more effective dialogue.
In November 2008, when I was part of the first Catholic Islamic Forum, I propose to create a permanent office for dialogue and peace, with the aim to create a group of international mediators for the resolution of conflicts.
The proposal was fit in the final declaration but not yet put in action. I hope that we can discuss such a proposal in the next Forum of November 2011, inshallah.
Q: In Genoa there are more than 8,000 Muslims, what about Muslims in Italy?
Vincenzo: I think that Muslims in Genoa are much more than 8.000. In Italy there are approx 1.5 millions of Muslims. More than 150.000 are minors born in Italy. Islam is the second religion in the country. We have more than 700 places for Salah, but only one recognized mosque, the Great of Rome. Islam is a consolidated reality in Italy. But I don't what to think that this is something new.
I prefer to believe that this is the normal situation of Italy. For centuries we have an Islamic Ummah in Italy. Muslims were in Sicily for 500 years. And also after the Angevin destroyed the community of Lucera in the 1300 BC., Muslims were often present in the Italian Peninsula.
Q: The interviewer of the Catholic daily Liberal said “perhaps Ahmad Vincenzo would like to open the Corriere della Sera”, Could you elaborate on that statement?
Vincenzo: I really don't know what he means (laughing). The Corriere is one of the leading Italian newspapers. It will be a nice idea to “open” it to Islam. Unfortunately social and religious problems are not at the top of national newspapers agenda. I think that Italian journalists are not fully aware about changes that happen in Italy. I think that this come from the fact that the Italian State delegates almost completely many social issues to the social organizations of Catholic Church, like Caritas. It is more common to find sensibility for social problems like poverty in the Christian press. I'm not surprised to write as Muslim journalist on Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Family), the leading weekly Italian magazine, and much less on the “laic” press.
Q: You said: After years of attempted dialogue, Islam and Christianity have begun to find consensus on subjects of shared interest. Could you elaborate on that statement?
Vincenzo: Among religious representatives involved with social and cultural problems there is a large consensus for the fact that is important to collaborate together.
Our community needs to be helped through education programs and places for socialization. There is the significant problem of young generations that often are confused by the bad models coming from modern society.
Q: How can Islam win over the impressed? Islam and catholic, the two concepts which have been increasingly subject to big debates, specially because Islam have been growing fast generally in West, what about Muslims in Italy?
Vincenzo: Muslims are now more than 2% of Italian population. But we aspect that their number will increase in next years. Italy is an old country. More than 20% of population is over 65 years old. Despite islamophobia and xenophobia, our country needs foreign workers. In next years I suppose that the most part of them will come from North Africa. The integration of Italy and Islamic countries so is necessary. I only fear that it may be difficult not for real problems but for ideology and prejudices.
Q: "Islamophobia" is a serous problem, How should the prophet Muhammad "peace be upon him" be shown for catholic people particularly, and West?
Vincenzo: Islamophobia is a mix of ignorance and bad feeling. And it is also a strategic propaganda made by some political group in Europe and USA. But it is not only a question of Westerners. In Italy some of the leading anti-Islam are Arabs: journalist like Magdi Allam or parliamentary deputy like Suad Sbai. It is very important to present Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and this is way I wrote a novel about one of his companions, Zayd ibn Thabit.
Q: Now let me talk about Vincenzo's book ,Your great books, "Il Libro Disceso Dal Cielo", "Islam, l'altra civiltà" (Islam, the other civilization), that translated in Spain, Holland, Germany, Turkey and soon insh'allah in Arabic, we know they tried to narrow the influence of your books, Could you elaborate on that statement?
Vincenzo: I started to publish my books after 11 September. There were very difficult times. It was “politically incorrect” to give a positive image of Islam, without violence or terrorism. It was not a responsibility of general public, but mainly of cultural élite. The most part of European intellectuals paraded a general lack of concern for Islam. The cultural industry preferred to stress the idea of a religion of violence and to follow the main street of the “clash of civilization”.
It happens that one of my publishers was enthusiast about Il Libro Disceso Dal Cielo and immediately signed a contract. But after some week they decided to resign the contract and pay a penalty. They said it was for “strategical” problems.
After that I reached to publish the book in Italy, but only in a series of children's book.
Q: You told me that you are still writing a novel about the meeting between St. Francis and Malik al-Kamil, the Sultan of Egypt, we know that St. Francis was the saint of Italy and met the Islamic leader of his age, Could you elaborate on that statement?
Vincenzo: The meeting of Saint Francis and Sultan Malik al-Kamil was one of the most interesting events of Middle Ages. Unfortunately it is almost unknown both in the West and in the East. It was not only a “political” meeting. It was mainly a spiritual agreement between two of the most important spiritual representative of the age. Malik al Kamil was in connection with many sufi masters and he was a master itself, like Salah ad-Din, the Saladin, that was his uncle. Saint Francis went to Egypt asking for knowledge and not for converting Muslims, like late propaganda said. And it is very interesting to understand what kind of knowledge they were speaking about.
Abdur-Rahman: Thank you a lot.
Dear Ahmed what you say is very important mainly when you talk about islamophobia propaganda wish is a very serious problem and for that it must be in above of our preocupation us muslims. Enchallah we can find the solution.
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