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   Conferences / The Eleventh General Conference: Towards a Civilized Project for the
                         Renaissance of the Muslim
An European civil project of a documentation centre on Islam

An European civil project of a documentation centre on Islam
Ahmad `Abd al-Waliy Vincenzo
One of the greatest Islamic teachers of all time, Abu Hamid al Ghazali, also
rector of the Madrasa Nizamiyya in Baghdad, the largest university in the Medieval
world, wrote the following regarding the education of the young: "Children are
receptacles entrusted to their parents; their pure souls are precious, innocent
substances devoid of all inscriptions or images. They receive everything inscribed
there, bend where they are inclined". The educational responsibility of always has
assumed a special coloring as a result of the profound changes affecting the
contemporary world. Europe, and Italy in particular, are preparing to reinterpret the
very concept of society, as we are conventionally used to imagining it, in a strongly
Mediterranean direction.
One could object, and rightly so, that if we consider history in its more general
sense, at least from the 4th century BC to today, we should speak of a Mediterranean
civilization rather than an European civilization.
In this perspective, in fact, the passage from the Greco-Roman world, the
mare nostrum, to the development of the three traditional civilizations - Hebrew,
Christian and Muslim, which share a common Abrahamic monotheism - was must
less traumatic that is generally imagined today, especially if we consider that the
Muslim intellectuals, by translating and studying the works of Plato and Aristotle,
provided intellectual continuity with the tradition considered the very foundation of
the western world. In fact, through this same Islamic world, most of the scientific and
philosophical knowledge of the time was transferred to Europe in 12th century, when
authentic universities were founded at Bologna and Paris, on the model of the Islamic
Unfortunately, the identity of intellectual principles among the Abrahamic
civilizations now only applies to the past, since a strongly Euro-centric mentality has
been developing for centuries, severing every link with the roots that could have
united them, at least to those intellectuals who lived on the other shores of the same
In particular, Islam has been the primary target of action that is
discriminatory on the one hand and politically motivated on the other. Despite its
profound ties to Judaism and Christianity, it has gradually come to be regarded as
the quintessence of the incomprehensible and diverse, guilty of every vice from
fatalism to violence, overlooking the obvious contradictions. To "modernize" Islam at
any cost, support has even been given fundamentalist movements, whose founders are
of clearly western ideological origin but then conceal their hand and attribute to the
Islamic religion the responsibility for inhuman and monstrous movements that go
beyond heresy. On the other hand, the social upheavals of recent decades have
created profound breaches in that invisible "southern wall" that seems to have
differed little from the more famous "Berlin Wall'. The challenge thus seems to be to
confront growing educational responsibilities with an awareness of possessing a
cultural heritage that is still strongly colonial in nature, in which the numerous
prejudices and commonplaces function as true border sentinels guarding that
imaginary wall. It is an enormous undertaking, which will have a profound impact on
the future development of civil life in Italy and Europe.
Such a task cannot be brought to a successful conclusion except through the
coordination of all the entities involved in the educational process. This is why
CO.RE.IS. (Islamic Religious Community in Italy), which represents Islam within the
National Intercultural Commission of the Ministry of Public Education, has
promoted the creation of an Islamic Documentation Center in Milan, as a point of
interchange and coordination among the various institutional entities, the scholastic
world and Islamic civilization.
Many primary and secondary schools exist today thanks to the large number
of students from non-western cultural backgrounds, even though this requires the
development of didactic content unprecedented, perhaps, in the Italian schools. With
the new programs of teaching autonomy, the schools will be called to directly manage
the programs related to cultural and social integration. The need will arise to collect
the various experiences within thematic areas, to create places of consultation and
study that offer the basis for effective contacts between school and immigration.
Teachers themselves will therefore have to be sustained with the institution of new
training programs that permit them to confront and manage what is increasingly
viewed as an emergency situation. The Islamic Documentation Center intends to
provide a concrete response to these problems of the school by collecting the data on
teaching experiences throughout the country and organizing training courses for
teachers of all levels and fields. Program agreements are being formalized in this
sense with the provincial education offices in the areas most subject to immigration
such as Milan, Genoa and Rome.
In addition to teachers, a fundamental educational role is played by families,
for which the Center intends to be a point of reference that can provide them with
models of integration that will safeguard the cultural and religious specifics of their
civilizations of origin. Our objective, in fact, is even more ambitious: to channel the
resources existing in the Italian and European institutions, as well as those in the
Islamic countries, through a program of effective integration between the realities of
immigration and the realms of school and work, so that the Islamic presence in Italy
will not be perceived not just as a national problem but as a precious resource for
intellectual rapprochement and economic development in the Mediterranean. As a
stimulus for profound reflection on the reality of intellectual knowledge and daily life.
Thus, in the last country in the world to have a true Mosque, Islam seems to
have gradually come out of hiding and show its multifaceted but basically unified
face. The institutional representatives of the past probably understood it when, in
1974, they recognized the Islamic Cultural Council of Italy (CICI), which administers
the Mosque in Rome, under the law of 1929. That law, still in effect today for
religions without conventions, governs the representation of the religions and should
thus identify the exclusive interlocutor for each religion, according to the old
ecclesiastic interpretation. But the CICI alone cannot represent Islam in Italy, since
its board of directors includes ambassadors from part of the Islamic countries, and
the ambassadors cannot sign agreements of "national" law. Islam in Italy thus seems
destined to express plurality, despite the hegemonic dreams of the pan-Arab
movements and the exuberant individualities attracted by personal power. Precisely
to prevent the intemperance of individuals and the coarseness of the fundamentalist
organizations from being taken as a pretext for avoiding an understanding with the
Islamic community - while understandings have already been stipulated with
Christians, Jews and, most recently, Buddhists - CO.RE.IS. in July of this year sent
the Prime Minister a text that, in the unanimous opinion of jurists, avoids a contrast
between Islamic law and the laws of the state. In the hope that the perception of every
form of conflict between Islam and Italy will cease.
With the project to open an Islamic Documentation Center in Milan,
CO.RE.IS. Italiana intends to present fundamental support to the process of
integrating the adherents to the Islamic religion at all levels of national life. Its
multipurpose and interdisciplinary nature is intended to form a common forum for
the various viewpoints on the immigration phenomenon and the presence of Islam in
Italy in general. This will create the premises for overcoming the phase of emergency
and social welfarism and finally stress the positive, constructive aspects of a
multicultural society.
The Islamic Documentation Center will essentially constitute a point of
reference for all persons operating in administration, education, religion,
communication, culture and business.
They will be able to access services directly by telephone or computer network
or even through specific course organized by the faculty and staff of the Islamic
Documentation Center. The staff and faculty of the Center, in fact, have almost 20
years of experience collaborating with municipal, provincial and regional government
agencies and other national institutions, with the European Parliament and with the
Islamic countries, with libraries, cultural centers, schools and universities and, lastly,
with chambers of commerce and industrial companies.
- Legal-Administrative section:
The Islamic Documentation Center intends to provide complete support on
training and information regarding the laws and regulations that intervene in the
relations between state institutions and the Islamic community, which will be
extremely useful to persons in the public administration. CO.RE.IS. Italiana, in fact,
was the first organization in Europe to conduct an in-depth legal study on the
problem, combining the expertise of Muslim experts with those of a group of leading
Italian jurists. The Islamic Documentation Center will constitute a technical-legal
database that can provide legal opinions on European and national legislation in real
time and collect data regarding legal practices in all areas of the public
administration. It will provide useful information, for example, to social-healthcare
and scholastic workers, as well as indications on laws regarding the opening of places
of worship, the performance of mixed marriages, ritual slaughtering, religious
assistance in hospitals, in military barracks and penal institutions and on cemetery
This section will be expanded to create a true communication node that can be
addressed with particular reference to the mass media. This would create a truly
professional "press agency" capable of furnishing detailed information in real time
on the most significant events regarding Islam in the world.
- Education section
With the Italian school system developing ever more in the direction of
teaching autonomy, and with the growing number of initiatives aimed at integration
and reciprocal knowledge from an interdisciplinary and intercultural perspective,
there is a national scarcity of points of reference that collect the various didactic
experiences produced in the country and make them available to students and
teachers from schools of all levels. In this sense the Islamic Documentation Center
will be included in the broadest initiatives of reflection and coordination at the
national and international levels, such as the National Intercultural Commission of
the Ministry of Public Education, to which CO.RE.IS. belongs as the representative of
Islam, the European Parliament, which has established official relations with the
Council for Cooperation of Muslims in Europe, in which CO.RE.IS. represents Italy,
and ISESCO (Islamic Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization), with which
CO.RE.IS. has signed a bilateral agreement.
In agreement with Italian and foreign universities, a database may be created
on scientific and intellectual interchange among the various civilizations around the
Mediterranean rim, contributing toward the creation of an actual circuit of
intercultural academic experiences. The Center will document all graduate and
doctoral theses concerning Islamic civilization and its relations with the West, also
furnishing bibliographical support for students and professors.
- Business section
Milan is one of the European areas that attracts the largest number of non-EU
workers, and at the same time the Lombardy Region must have structures that can
valorize its economic potential.
In a highly competitive international market and the gradual rise of
internationalization in business, the Islamic Documentation Center will be the ideal
interlocutor for companies seeking to enhance their chances of entering, or
consolidating their presence in, new markets, coming into contact with new business
opportunities especially toward the emerging countries.
The Islamic Documentation Center could serve as a collection point for
requests of commercial and technological interchange coming from those countries,
offering a series of structured services available to Italian and foreign companies,
- identification and reporting of international and local calls for tenders
- business processes with local government offices
- contractual and legal consulting
- market research
- joint ventures with local sponsors and consulting on EU subsidized financing
-assistance in all phases of international negotiations, from design to

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