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Religion and Society

Islam in Italy: from Community to Citizenship

The Great Mosque of Rome

The shift in the Muslim migrants’ religious affiliation from the private sphere to the public one has been marked by an evolution in the meaning to be attributed to the word “community”, with the old one now being called into question by a new generation of Muslims

This article was published in Oasis 28. Read the table of contents

Last update: 2019-06-18 11:03:46

The religious affiliation of Muslim migrants arriving in Italy generally remained confined to the private sphere until the 1990s. Indeed, it has only been following a phase of family reunification that they have begun to get organized and live their religion publicly. This process has been marked by an evolution in the meaning to be attributed to the word “community,” with the old one now being called into question by a new generation of Muslims aspiring to take an active part in the society in which they live.


When it arrived in the migrants’ suitcases in the early 1980s, Islam—or, to be more precise, Islamic religious practice—was not central to defining Muslim immigrants.[1] The latter were seen and referred to on the basis of their national affiliation or their status as “foreigners in transit” or, again, “temporary workers.” Partly because the overwhelming majority of Muslim immigrants perceived their stay in Italy as merely temporary, Islam was confined to the private sphere during this first phase of the migration cycle. The opening of the first prayer halls in the early 1990s constituted the first faint testimony to Islam’s presence in the Italian public space and marked the beginning of the migration cycle’s second phase, namely, that of the immigrants’ consolidation and family reunification.[2] Beginning to realise that their presence was stabilizing, some of the Muslims residing in Italy began to get organized and live their religion publicly during the 1990s. This they did by making official requests to public institutions or simply becoming a subject-matter for reflection, debate and analysis.[3] It was during this period that, in the wake of developments in other European countries where Islam had been present for longer, migrants of Islamic origin began to see themselves (but also to be seen and referred to) according to their religious affiliation: this became the criterion for identifying their otherness. This process became more marked after September 11, in particular, when anti-Islamic discourses began to take hold throughout Europe and Italians discovered that the Muslims’ presence was no longer transitory and that Islam had become the country’s second religion. However, the 2000s primarily marked the appearance of a new generation, born and bred in Italy, that increasingly questioned the vision of its fathers; fathers who tended to reproduce the ways of living and the codes of behaviour found in their countries of origin, speaking Arabic rather than Italian and thinking more about returning home than about integrating into Italian life. When compared to their parents’ generation, the new generation is distinguishable not only because it grows up in Italian schools, frequents the universities and creates associations but, first and foremost, because it clearly aspires to participation in the social and political life of the country that it feels is its own, the cultural and linguistic codes of which it has mastered.


The emergence of this new generation (which nevertheless remains a relatively weak and marginal component of Italian Islam) has provoked a confrontation in practically every community or mosque in the Italian territory. Those who assert the need to maintain a certain degree of separateness from the “Italians” in order to protect an identity they feel to be under threat are being challenged by those who believe in the need to become an integral part of the society in which they live and in which their children are growing up.

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To cite this article

Printed version:
Bartolomeo Conti, “Islam in Italy: from Community to Citizenship”, Oasis, year XIV, n. 28, December 2018, pp. 54-69.

Online version:
Bartolomeo Conti, “Islam in Italy: from Community to Citizenship”, Oasis [online], published on 27th March 2019, URL:

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