Islam in Italy: a profile

There has been much talk in the media about ‘Italy’s Islamic community’ in recent weeks, but the label is rarely accompanied by facts and figures that give a clear idea of how this community is made up.

How many Muslims are there in Italy and where are they from? What denomination of Islam do they follow? What is the balance of men to women and where in Italy do they live? How many are native Italians who have converted to Islam? Where do they worship and how are the places of worship regulated (assuming they are)?

I put some of these questions to the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy (U.CO.I.I.) and the Islamic Cultural Centre of Italy, two of the most representative bodies in Italy, and got no reply.

So this is what I have managed to piece together based on December 2014 estimates reported by Corriere della Sera and Repubblica newspapers on 27 November based on an internal interior ministry report.

If other information becomes available from the Islamic community directly I will of course make it known to readers as soon as possible. I would also be grateful for any additional details you can provide.

There are reportedly just over 1.6 million Muslims in Italy, or 2.6% of the total population (60.7 million). The number has fallen by about 40,000 over the previous year as a result of the economic crisis. Muslims account for just under a third of immigrants in Italy. However, in 2013 42% of children born of foreign parents were Muslim, suggesting that the Muslim community is growing faster than other foreign communities.

Some 98% of Muslims in Italy are Sunni and half come from North Africa (particularly Morocco). Other significant communities come from Albania and Bangladesh.

58% of Muslims in Italy are male and arrived in their youth to look for work.

The number of Italian converts to Islam is estimated at 70,000. To this figure must be added a similar number of Muslim immigrants who have obtained Italian citizenship.

Generally speaking Muslims are concentrated in the north west (39% of the total) and north east (27%). Some 26.5% of the Muslim population lives in Lombardy, putting the region in top place followed by Emilia Romagna (13.5%), Veneto and Piemonte (9%). On a provincial level Milan, Rome, Brescia, Bergamo and Turin have the largest number of Muslim residents. In Milan 45,000 of the province’s roughly 120,000 Muslims are Egyptian. In Rome 32,000 of the approximately 90,000 Muslims are from Bangladesh. In Turin 27,000 of the roughly 54,000 Muslims are Moroccan.

There are four purpose-built mosques in Italy, in Rome, Segrate (Milan), Ravenna and Colle Val d’Elsa (Florence). In addition, there are a handful of official mosques in converted buildings in other cities such as Catania, Palermo and Lecce

In addition there are thought to be over 700 informal places of worship known as ‘Islamic centres’ in premises originally built for other purposes. These include the so-called ‘garage mosques’, “independent Islamic centers without a link to any national network” that are of concern to interior ministry officials because of the difficulty of monitoring activities there. Communication is informal, internet-based and exclusively in Arabic. These centers “represent a grey area, certainly traditionalist and of fundamentalist inspiration, but without this necessarily always meaning the adoption of jihadism,” according to the interior ministry report. A recent study reportedly counted nearly 30 in the capital alone.