The Twelfth General Conference:Islam and Mutations of the Epoch
A European Civil Project of a Documentation Center on Islam
A European Civil Project of a Documentation
Center 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 has always assumed a special significance 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 form the fourth century BC to today, we should speak of
a Mediterranean civilization rather than a 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
mush less traumatic than 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 the twelfth century, when authentic universities were found at
Bologna and Paris, on the model of the Islamic madrasah.
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 sea.
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 to fundamentalist
movements, whose founders are of clearly Western ideological origin but then
conceal their hand and at tribute 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
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 in 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 (Communit Religiosa Islamica Italiana or 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
The Founding of CO.RE.IS
CO.RE.IS was created in Milan in 1993 by some Muslim intellectuals,
most of them Italian. At the beginning the association, chaired by Abdul Wahid
Pallavicini, was named International Association for the Information on
Islam (IAII) and its target was the fostering of useful initiatives in order to
spread the Islamic culture in Europe and Italy; it tried to distinguish itself by
organizing rich cultural activities including congresses, meetings, seminars.
In March 1996, ISESCO (Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization), a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC),
signed a bilateral agreement with IAII and committed some institutional tasks
in the scientific field to it.
IAII has slowly turned into a religious body, trying to satisfy the several
cultural needs of Muslims in Italy. Since its aim has become the religious, as
well as the cultural protection of Islam in Italy, IAII has now acquired a new
code of laws and a new name, CO.RE.IS, whose legal representatives and seat
have not changed. CO.RE.IS has recently made a petition in order to reach the
agreement with the Italian government provided for in article 8 of the
In February 1998, the organization entered the Commission for the
Intercultural Education at the Ministry of Public Education. At present, there
are some regional representatives of CO.RE.IS in Lombardy, Ve neto,
Piedmont, Liguria, Emilia Romagna, Abruzzi, Umbria, Tuscany, Latium,
Campania, and Sicily. There are some agencies in France as well, the European
country with the highest number of Muslims.
Education for Social Integration
Many primary and secondary schools exist today in Italy also 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 experience 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
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. It is hoped that the Islamic presence in Italy will not be
perceived just as a national problem but as a previous resource for intellectual
rapprochement and economic development in the Mediterranean and serve as a
stimulus for profound reflection on the reality of intellectual knowledge and
Thus, in the last country in the world to have a true Mosque, Islam in Italy
seems to have gradually come out of hiding and shows 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 (ICCI), 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 ICCI alone cannot represent Islam in Italy, since its board of directors
includes ambassadors from the Islamic countries, and foreign ambassadors
cannot sign agreements of national law. Islam in Italy thus seems destined to
express plurality, despite the hegemonic dreams of 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 texts 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.
The Documentation Center
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 welfare 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 courses 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
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 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 concessions.
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.
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, with which CO.RE.IS has signed a bilateral
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
Milan is one of the European areas that attracts the largest number of
non-European 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
- 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
The Center will be characterized by an information data bank working on
digital nets, a video library, a library and collection of multimedia publications,
concerning the topics and the issues of the suggested research.
Cost estimate: 5000,000 Euro.
Period beginning: 1 November 2000; completion: 30 November 2005.
Public: 50,000 people coming from nearby villages, provinces, other
regions, from across the nation and foreign countries.
Involved seats: Italian Association for Information on Islam-Milan.
Assistance Sought by the Sponsors
Minimum Financing: 100,000 Euro.
Goods and services to supply: not required.
Direct participation: not required.
For Further Information
CO.RE.IS.Italiano. Via Giuseppe Meda, 9-20136 Milano, Italy,
Tel.: 02/8393340, Fax: 02/8393350
E-mail: coreis @ iol .it. Website: www.coreis.it.
Person responsible for the external relations: Ahmad Abd Al-Waliy