Thousands of Muslims gathered outside Rome’s Colosseum to protest the closure of mosques and other places of worship in the Italian capital.
The group gathered outside the iconic ancient Roman building to pray as they promoted their right of freedom to worship during the peaceful march yesterday.
An imam led the group in chants of ‘Allah Akbar’ as they kneeled to the ground facing the Colosseum.
The protest was organized by a Bangladeshi group, Dhuumcatu, which has complained that smaller or more informal mosques in Rome have been branded illegal by authorities for building violations.
At least 1.6 million Muslims live in the country but there are only a handful of mosques officially registered with the Italian government.
Most worship takes place in houses and Islamic cultural centres.
But, Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said in August that ‘mini mosques in garages’ should not be allowed as it makes them difficult to monitor, possibly raising the risk of radicalisation.
The Dhuumcatu Association, said police had closed three improvised mosques in Rome in last few months.
Sikdir Bulbul, 41, is an Italian citizen who has lived in Rome for 16 years. He said the mosque he helped establish in 2012 was shut down in September.
He added: ‘Friday prayer is very important to us so today we have come to the Colosseum. Otherwise where else can we pray?’
Protesters attached placards to lamp post near the Colosseum stating they want City Hall to intervene.
On its Facebook page the Dhuumcatu Association said there needed to be clearer rules on setting up mosques.
A statement read: ‘We are sick of the criminalisation of our places of worship. There are no relevant regulations, and we cannot invent solutions independently of the authorities.’
The protest was criticisied by far-right politians. Gian Marco, leader of the anti immigration Northern League, said: Muslims today who decided to pray in front of the Colosseum had to be stopped. It was a scene that was unacceptable’.
The Colosseum has great significance in the largely Catholic country. It is generally regarded by Christians as a site of the martyrdom of believers during the Roman Empire’s persecution of the religion.
A cross now stands outside the building inscribed with the words: ‘The amphitheater, one consecrated to triumphs, entertainments, and the impious worship of pagan gods, is now dedicated to the sufferings of the martyrs purified from impious superstitions’.