While Lombardy's right-wing leadership attempted to limit the construction of new mosques, the Tuscan city of Florence has pledged to find premises for a “mega-mosque” in its historic centre to accommodate the Muslim community, who currently worship in a 400-metre square former garage.
People are often forced to pray on the street outside the mosque, located in Borgo Allegri, during the most important weekly meeting in the Muslim church – the Friday prayer of Jummah.
“It's a pretty terrible situation – it's bad for our image as a mosque and bad for the image of the city too,” Imam of Florence, Izzedin Elzir, told The Local.
“We even do two prayer sessions on a Friday, but it's not enough: people are still praying on the street. When it rains it's a tragedy.”
The current mosque is one of three Muslim places of worship in Florence and the only one in its historic centre. It also doubles up as a religious library and research centre.
Members of Florence's Muslim community met with city council leaders on Monday to discuss moving to a new 800-metre site in the centre.
Feasibility studies are currently being carried out and the council has promised that the community will have new premises within a month.
In addition to being granted a bigger and better mosque, the council also confirmed that it is still evaluating the long-term possibility of constructing a large Islamic cultural centre and place of worship – measuring up to 7,000 square metres – in the city.
“In total, Florence is home to some 30,000 Muslims and it would be a great place to build the centre,” Elizir said.
“But these plans have been around for a while and at the moment it's a pretty sensitive issue.”
Meanwhile, a bid by the Lombardy region to limit the construction of new mosques was rejected by Italy’s top court in February.
The region’s right-wing leadership had previously approved regulations, which became known as “anti-mosque” laws, in January 2015, but Prime Minister Matteo Renzi later referred the new rules to the Constitutional Court for review.
The region had sought to subject anyone wanting to build a mosque, or other place of worship for a faith not officially recognized by the state, to an exhaustive list of restrictions, effectively preventing any new construction.
Islam is the only major religion that does not have official status in Italy, despite the country being home to an estimated one million Muslims.
The court ruling fell in line with a government bid to better integrate the Muslim community and followed the announcement in January that a special council, made up of academics and experts in Islamic culture and religion, would be tasked with the job.