While in Naples, Italy, we have learned there is a large Muslim population here. According to a Pew Research Report, there are currently more than 2,220,000 Muslims in Italy, making up approximately 3.7 percent of the population. These “guests” as some refer to them, have brought with them a strong cultural and religious heritage. They have migrated to Italy, seeking to settle here or other countries in Europe and gain opportunities they would not have in their own countries. As volunteers, we are working with Muslim individuals from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Eritrea. Their holiest holiday, Ramadan, was still in progress when we arrived.
We learned Ramadan is “the month in which Allah contacted the prophet, Mohammed, to give him the verses of the holy book, or Quran.” Muslims routinely pray five times a day, but during Ramadan, prayer is particularly important.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims practice fasting while the sun is shining. The fasting period, which is considered an Islamic duty, does not allow them to eat or drink anything, including water, while the sun is shining. The purpose of fasting according to Muslims, is an “opportunity to practice self-control and cleanse the body and mind.” It also provides a feeling of fellowship with other Muslims. They also believe fasting and prayer makes them closer to Allah and compassionate for the poor. Muslims spend time helping the poor and giving donations to the Mosque during Ramadan
At the conclusion of Ramadan, there are celebrations with family and friends. People dress in their best clothing, give gifts to children, and eat special foods.
A large feast is made to celebrate the conclusion of the fasting period. Two of our students were present at the end of Ramadan and accompanied the Muslim migrants to a town plaza for the final Ramadan prayer and celebratory feast.
As part of a city tour with a group from one of the shelters, we had an opportunity to visit one of the neighborhood Mosques and meet with an Iman. There were several women in the group that had to place scarves around our heads as makeshift hijab. One of the Muslim ladies with us took great care to tie the scarves for us in the appropriate style.
When we entered the Mosque, we were told we were using the door normally used by men and that women have a separate entrance on the side of the building. We were asked to remove our shoes before entering the carpeted room. The only decoration in the room was a multi-colored lamp with a rug underneath. The Iman explained the lamp faced Mecca and was where the Iman would lead prayer.
The Iman displayed the Quran and informed us that Muslim people are traditionally peaceful, and ISIS and other terrorist groups are not acting in accordance with the faith.
The Iman believes the local community of Naples has accepted their presence and respects their culture and faith. The community cooperates with them by moving their vehicles from the street during holy days to allow the Muslim people to congregate for prayer. He thanked us for attending the Mosque and hopes in the future the world will see Muslims in a different light.
- Barbara Brown