ROME – Hundreds of Muslims gathered on Friday, October 21, to stage Friday prayer near Rome’s Colosseum to protest the closure of makeshift mosques in the city where no official mosques are allowed.
“We feel people are pointing the finger at us,” said Francesco Tieri, a convert to Islam who acts as a coordinator for a number of Islamic groups, Al-Jazeera reported.
“There is no political will to recognize that we are here and that we are a peaceful community. We are forced to rent places to pray – which for us is like breathing air. If we can’t do it, we die.”
The prayer demonstration was staged over what they see as unfair restrictions on freedom to practice their faith in the country.
Worshippers knelt on prayer mats and tarpaulins on the pavement only meters away from the ancient amphitheatre.
Some held placards reading “Peace” and “Open the mosques”.
The protest was organized by a Bangladeshi group, Dhuumcatu, which has complained that Muslim places of worship in Rome have been branded illegal by authorities for various building violations.
In a statement, police confirmed closure of some places of prayers, adding that authorities guarantee freedom of thought, but within a legal framework.
However, Barbara Saltamartini, of the anti-immigration Northern League party, called Friday’s demonstration “an unacceptable provocation” that should never have been allowed to take place in Rome.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said in August that “mini mosques in garages” should not be allowed.
Italy has a Muslim population of some 1.7 million, including 20,000 reverts, according to the figures released by Istat, the national statistics agency.