“It is a matter of public order which the government must face,” said Father Justo Lacunza Balda, rector of the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies. He was reacting to the plea for war made last Friday.
Imam Abdel-Samie Mahmoud Ibrahim Moussa exhorted those present to “annihilate the enemies of Islam and guarantee everywhere in the world the victory of the Nation of Islam,” the priest recalled. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica published the imam’s sermon the next day.
“There can be no place for people who encourage hatred and incite to kill,” Father Lacunza Balda told the Fides news service. “This is insanity. It is a matter of public order which the government must face. To use institutional places, such as churches, mosques or squares to incite people to violence and war is inadmissible in a civil and democratic country.”
The priest, a leading expert on Islam, was commenting on Imam Moussa’s sermon and expressing his concern about the speech’s effects.
“This has nothing to do with religious freedom,” the priest said. “It must be clearly stated that the Italian Constitution does not allow public incitement to violence and hatred of imaginary enemies whose identity, by the way, is not revealed.”
He added: “In no way can Friday’s incident be considered accidental: It is a serious fact, inadmissible in a democratic society. This raises the serious question of relations between cultures and religions in Italy, a matter which affects civil coexistence in this country.
“The call to a holy war, jihad, is a threat even to the Muslim community in Italy itself, because it feeds a culture of intolerance, fostering suspicion and rejection of Muslims.”
Father Lacunza said he was surprised to see the change in the direction of the Rome mosque, which was inaugurated in 1995. The previous imam, Mahmoud Hammad Sheweita, was among the few Muslims to condemn the Sept. 11 attacks. He was known for his tolerance and openness, and participated frequently in interreligious meetings.
Father Lacunza raised the question of the appointment of the imams at the Italian Islamic Cultural Center, next to the Rome mosque. The appointment involves Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and the Al Azhar University in Cairo.
The priest hopes that these violent words and attitudes will be condemned by Muslim organizations in Italy.
“We want and we support full pluralism and political, religious and cultural freedom,” he concluded. “But we cannot allow any preacher to foment hatred or incite people to kill.”
For his part, Abd al Wahid Pallavicini, president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community in Milan, expressed his disagreement with Imam Moussa’s words, and said the threats are not part of native Italian Islam.
Pallavicini was the official representative of Islam at the 1986 interreligious meeting at Assisi. He also represents the Rome mosque at the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He said that the group in Milan stands for an Islam that is “fully compatible with society and with the Italian juridical ordering.”
Moreover, “it looks favorably on the ‘pact with Islam,’ proposed by the Minister of the Interior, which ‘rejects every form of confessional exclusivity, Muslim-style ideological hegemony, or subjection to political currents of foreign states,'” he added.