Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Islam and Muslim in Italy

Islam and Muslim in Italy

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Shaykh Abd Al-Wahid Pallavicini, the President and founder of COREIS (Comunita Religiosa Islamica, the Italian Islamic Religious Community) came to London on 3rd February for the launch of his book entitled “A Sufi Master’s Message: In Memoriam Rene Guenon” written by him. He has also a very tight schedule of lectures at different centres of London. The Islamic Cultural Centre & The Regent’s Park Central Mosque was honoured by his visit on Friday, the 4th of February, 2011. The Shaykh Abd al-Wahid accompanied by his son Shaykh Yahya Pallavicini prayed Jumah prayer at the London Central Mosque, Regents’ Park and then met with the Director-General of the Islamic Cultural Centre, Dr. Ahmed al-Dubayan and Imam of the London Central Mosque and other members and staff of the Centre. Shaykh had a very tight schedule of lectures.

On the same day, on 4th of February, there was launching of his book entitled “A Sufi Master’s Message: In Memoriam Rene Guenon” on the 60th anniversary of the death of Rene Guenon. The City Circle organised an event entitled “Meeting Genius and Holiness. Rene Guenon and Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi” at Abrar House, London. Shaykh Abd Al-Wahid gave a lecture and spoke about his spiritual journey. St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, London also organised a meeting in the honour of Shaykh Abd Al-Wahid Pallavicini at the centre on Monday, the 7th of February and the Shaykh delivered a lecture on “The Universality of Abrahamic Monotheism”. London Metropolitan University also organised a meeting in the University on Wednesday, 9th of February on the Book. The book “A Sufi Master’s Message: In Memoriam Rene Guenon” by Shaykh Abd Al-Wahid Pallavicini was also launched at the Islamic Cultural Centre on Thursday, the 10th of February. Shaykh Pallavicini also delivered a lecture on Interfaith.

Shaykh Abd Al-Wahid Pallavicini’s
conversion to Islam
Shaykh Abd Al-Wahid Pallavicini, as a young man, was so well-versed in Rene Guenon’s teachings that he was inspired to seek out Julius Evola, editor of the Italian translations of Guenon’s books. In 1946, in Rome, Evola understood the Shaykh’s search to be purely spiritual rather than political and pointed out in the direction of Titus Burkhardt. Evola and Burkhardt had been in correspondence before the war.

Titus Burkhardt, known by the Muslim name Ibrahim, lived in Bern and was among the first Europeans to convert to Islam because of the works of Rene Guenon. On January 7, 1951, at the age of 25, Shaykh Pallavicini came to Islam at the hands of Sidi Ibrahim himself. Sidi Ibrahim Burkhardt gave him the name Abd al-Wahid, Servant of the Only One, as a tribute to Abd al-Wahid Yahya Rene Guenon, whose writings Burkhardt could see, had inspired Shaykh Pallavicini’s conversion to Islam. Only Later did the Shaykh come to know that Rene Guenon had passed away in Cairo on the exact same day as his conversion.

This sign was clearly a reminder that the inheritance of a standard Islamic name could become associated with a spiritual legacy whereby the faithful continuation and implementation of Guenon’s work would be embodied. This was not a succession, a term which Guenon never recognised in those who arbitrarily used it, but an entrance into the current of wisdom that had guided the great French metaphysician. Hence carried along by this same current Shaykh Pallavicini entered the Alawiyah, an Islamic brotherhood with a branch in Lausanne, through one of its European representatives who had corresponded with Guenon.

Shaykh Pallavicini returned to Italy and Founded
Italian Islamic Religious community (COREIS
)
Shaykh Abd Al-Wahid Pallavicini decided to return to Italy and bring home the blessings he received in the East. Upon his initial return Italy in the seventies and eighties was a stranger to Islam; the country had yet to experience its current level of Muslim immigration. After having been totally unknown for many years, the Shaykh’s orientation has become well received in Italy. He is the President and founder of COREIS (Comunita Religiosa Islamica, the Italian Islamic Religious Community) to spread the wisdom underlying Islamic orthodoxy to a wider audience.

Islamic Centre and
Great Mosque of Rome
During those decades Shaykh Pallavicini would meet with the ambassadors of Islamic countries for Friday prayers. Sometimes they were unable to gather even the minimum number of seven man needed to perform the ritual properly. As he worked to serve the first generation of Italian Muslims, the Shaykh contributed to the establishment of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Italy that now manages the Great Mosque of Rome.

At that time, the refined and visionary Persian Prince Abolghassem Amini was the Secretary General of the Islamic Centre and he exerted great effort in establishing the Cultural Centre and the Great Mosque of Rome. Despite being the largest in Europe, the Mosque’s ability to establish Islamic dialogue in Italy’s capital, host to the seat of the Vatican has since been diminished by power struggles and ideological influences both internal and external to the Mosque.

Shaykh Pallavicini’s Interfaith Role
The first Mosque, the only Mosque in Italy, the Great Mosque of Rome was built up and King Faisal bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia had the privilege to inaugurate the Mosque with the permission of the Italian government.

Shaykh Pallavicini has functioned as an intermediary between Christianity and Islam since 1986 when he was in Assisi as one of the members of the Muslim delegation invited by Pope John Paul II to participate in the first meeting with the representatives of the world religions. He continued to bridge the two faiths during the years he acted as an ambassador between the Mosque of Rome and the Vatican. He channelled a metaphysical quality still present in both the Muslim and Christian Orthodox communities of the East. Abiding by the teachings of Shaykh Guenon, he did not intend to bring the metaphysical message to Christianity itself – which has always had this perspective and always will – but rather to the institutional structure of Catholicism.

Universality of Abrahamic Monotheism
Speaking about his lecture on “The Universality of Abrahamic Monotheism” at the St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, London on Monday, the 7th of February, Shaykh Pallavicini said, “Once we embrace universality, it is but a short step to the belief in one God for all mankind, a belief expressed in the Islamic statement of faith: “There is no god but Allah”. Allah denotes precisely the Oneness of God, the one whose essential message Rene Guenon has so clearly pointed out in his works.”

According to Shaykh Pallavicini, “monotheism” should not have a different meaning than that of “universality”, which etymologically refers “to the One”, the one God of Abraham. He said, “It is this Abrahamic origin that brings us closer to our Jewish brothers who did not want to close the Prophetic cycle with the coming of Prophet Moses(as), through whom the Word of God was made “Law”. Through the continuation of this “law”, we Muslims, the last to arrive, were enabled to recognize the prophetic tidings in this final cycle of time, the Qur’an. This revelation was given to us by the last of the Prophets: the ummi, literally “unlettered”, Muhammad (peace be upon him)”.

“This ‘Universalism’ the fact that we are all directed towards the One God of Abraham does not involve either syncretism or a mixture of traditional forms. Nor does it even involve relativism, because everything is effectively relative before the Absolute. Instead, ‘Universality’ requires the recognition of the equal personal dignity of a believer in any orthodox faith, which, as such, necessarily entails the recognition of the Salvific virtue of its dogmas, even though they may differ from each other,” maintained Shaykh Pallavicini.

An interview with Shaykh Pallavicini
I had the privilege and opportunity to meet Shaykh Abd Al-Wahid Pallavicini and his son Shaykh Yahya Pallavicini on Friday, the 4th of February, 2011 at the Novetal Hotel, near Kings Cross, London.

Speaking about Islam in Italy, Shaykh said, “We have to say first that Italy is only country in the world where Islam is not officially recognised. It may be very surprising to you; but it is true and we cannot put any blame on anybody or any religion. But the fact is that Islam was not present in Italy in the times of Frederick II. He was Emperor of Sicily. From that time I must say up to us there was no Islam in Italy. That’s why, the first mosque was the only mosque in Italy; the one in Rome where we know the King Faisal had the privilege to inaugurate the mosque with the permission of the Italian government.”

“But since then which is about 15 years ago, there was no provision to build any other mosque in Italy. Although there is 1,300,000 Muslims in Italy now. Naturally, there is not Italian, 1,300,000 immigrant Muslims. So with such a large population, there is no permission to build another mosque besides the one I mentioned, the one in Rome,” said Shaykh Pallavicini.

Project to build another Mosque in Milan
Shaykh Abd Al-Wahid Pallavicini is an Italian by birth and as an Italian by birth Muslim he thinks it is his responsibility to convince his government to recognise Islam as a religion. “As an Italian by birth, we have to press the government in a way so that Islam will be recognised. By being Italian Muslim, this is our project to build a second official mosque in Italy in Milan which is the northern Italy and where there are mainly immigrant Muslims living; where we can give them the example of the Italian Muslims as there is French Muslim, English Muslim and other Muslims all over Europe. That’s why we are struggling for the fact to establishing a mosque in Italy run by this small minority, all Italians,” said Shaykh and maintained, “We are insisting on the government to make the possibility so that Islam would be recognised as a religion possible to be al-Ameen which means universal and eternal, as it is from the time of Adam (peace be upon him) to the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Islam is not recognised as Religion in Italy
As Islam is not recognised as religion in Italy so there is no Muslim organisation or association. Speaking about the organisation or association of Muslims in Italy, Shaykh Pallavicini said, “Muslims have no influence on the government because they are mainly immigrants; they are considered to be foreigners. We are the only Muslims who are considered to be Italians. We are Italians by birth. About 50,000 Italians are native Muslims. Italian Islamic Religious Association is the organisation of the Italian Muslims. But as we don’t have status in front of the government, there is no question of having an association. It is a question of having a mosque; because Islam is a religion; it is the religion of the ONLY GOD.”

“There are many associations. Nobody has the privilege to represent Islam in Italy,” said Shaykh Pallavicini.

Shaykh Pallavicini also mentioned, “There is no prayer hall in Italy. There is only one in Rome. WE can pray at home; we can pray at apartment, but that does not mean Islam is representative to the government, particularly there is a very strong opposition by the Vatican which pretend to be the only religion of the Italians. This is a problem.”

Christians-Muslims Relationship
Speaking about the Christian-Muslim relationship, Shaykh Pallavicini said, “There is no Muslims officially in Italy. So there is no relationship. There is only one relationship which is between native Italians and immigrants. We have to make a distinction. We don’t speak about religion. We speak about nationality. So nationality is not the representative of the religion. So the people who are coming from all over the world are considered as foreigners, as immigrants and that’s the problem.”

“Islam is a religion which requires to be compared with other religions present in Italy without discrimination,” emphasized Shaykh Pallavicini.

Shaykh Pallavicini said, “We cannot ‘Christianize’ Islam, even from a methodological point of view. We cannot colour our participation in tasawwuf with a Christian ‘mystical’ attitude, such as an ascetic detachment from life and the world. Nor can we expect to build an Islamic monastic structure, even one inspired by hesychasm, since Islam has neither monasticism nor clergy.”

“True Islam allows one to live Islam’s spirit and to follow its law wherever one may be and at any given point in time, even at the end of times. Indeed, the Sunnah identifies the end of times as the period when Islam will spread to new parts of the world,” said Shaykh Pallavicini.

Rene Guenon’s conversion to Islam
Speaking about Rene Guenon’s conversion to Islam, Shaykh Pallavicini said, “Rene Guenon’s so-called conversion from Christianity to Islam should not be misunderstood as a rejection of his original religion. Instead, it should be regarded as an acceptance of Islam through which he joined what he called the Primordial Tradition (din al-qayimah) in its final expression, which incorporates all previous Revelations without opposing them.”

Shaykh Pallavicini’s Wise Words
Shaykh Pallavicini said that there is a need to reconstruct the eroded integrity of believers. “In the West, intellectuality has become intellectualism and logic has become rationalism or, worse still, psychologism; in the East, intuition has created impulsiveness and fatalism has produced fanaticism,” mentioned Shaykh Pallavicini and said, “We need an exchange in which believers, from both the West and East, learn how to regenerate the beneficial waves of their complementary attributes from the respective shores of their common sea. In this way, we Westerners will return to intelligence, regaining our divinity by reflecting upon the intellect of God. Likewise, the East will once again manifest His Light when the Easterner rediscovers his or her own innate sense of divine immanence
.”

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