Rome's Deserted Mosque
By Hadi Yahmid, IOL Correspondent
The mosque is the biggest in Italy, with a complex that is considered one of the major monuments built in Rome in the past few decades. (IOL photo)
It's prayer time, but the silence is deafening inside the massive prayer hall of the Islamic Cultural Centre in the Italian capital, also known as Rome's Grand Mosque.
"There is another small prayer room underground, there might be some worshippers there," Ahmed Adam Ya`qoub, the mosque's keeper, told IslamOnline.net.
Inside the 100m2-room, there are only three or four people praying at one corner, and one man reciting Qur'an in another.
"They are of the mosque's workers. And the man reciting the Qur'an usually comes to the mosque every now and then," said Ya`qoub.
Yet, inside the mosque, which was inaugurated in 1995 to serve the growing number of Muslims in Rome, there are no signs of life.
The mosque is the biggest in Italy, with a complex that is considered one of the major monuments built in the city in the past few decades.
It was built on a site covering 30, 000 m2 in a residential area at the heart of Rome, and its construction was funded by donations from 23 Arab and Muslim countries.
The mosque's huge prayer hall accommodates some 5,000 worshippers, and the massive empty spaces that surround the building can take up to 5,000 more.
However, despite the massive building, prestigious location and unique design, the mosque remains abandoned by worshippers through out the year, except on Friday prayers and the days of Muslims celebrations of `Eid.
The Islamic Cultural Centre is considered the biggest mosque in the Italian capital.
The rest of Muslim worship places are mostly garages and small halls turned to prayer yards.
Italy has a Muslim population of some 1.2 million, including 20,000 reverts, according to unofficial estimates.
Ya`qoub, the mosque's keeper, says the reason behind the rarity of worshipers lies in the mosque's own administration.
"People usually attend a mosque for the popularity of its imam or for the different kinds of activities carried in it," he explains.
"In our mosque, this is not the case."
The mosque is run by authorities back in Islamic and Arab countries which established it.
The Makkah-based Muslim World League appoints the center's head, whereas authorities in Northwest African countries appoint the mosque's manager. The mosque's imam is appointed by the Egyptian authorities.
IslamOnline.net tried to contact the Center's head, Prof. Abdullah Radwan, but he was "in a business outside the center."
Italian Muslim leaders also blame the mosque's empty hall on bad administration.
"The mosque's affiliation with authorities back in Arab countries has certainly led to its current situation," Hamza Picardo, former secretary general of the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy, told IOL
They have turned it to a mere decorative mosque, just a place for ceremonies during Friday prayers and Muslim celebrations."
Picardo affirms that the lack of activities in Rome's grand mosque has led worshippers to abandon it for other mosques.
Samir El-Khaledi, imam of Al-Huda mosque in Rome, agrees.
"The grand mosque's administration has forced worshippers to seek other places even if they are more distant of smaller in size," he believes.
The Islamic center is provided with an educational section containing a library, classrooms, a conference auditorium and an exhibition area. Yet, none of these facilities is used throughout the year.
In Al-Huda mosque, on the other hand, there are daily and weekly activities that is catering for youth, children and Muslim converts.
"Our mosque, though located 20 km. south Rome, accommodates 300 worshippers daily and 800 worshippers on Friday prayers."
For Khaledi, the emptiness of Rome's grand mosque is regrettable, given the struggle Italian Muslims face for building their own places of worship.
"The emptiness of Rome's Central Mosque is a great loss for all Muslims in Italy,"