On Location: Eid In Sicily

Journalist Marta Bellingreri reports on Eid al-fitr in Palermo where Arabs make up an integral part of the community

The Muslim community of Palermo presenting Mayor Leoluca Orlando and the Monk Biagi Conte a certificate during the public Eid celebration. Photo: Marta Bellingreri

by Marta Bellingreri

Culture 5 June 2019

As the voice of the Imam invites the devotees to come closer, Eid Mubarak  wishes are exchanged among the vital Muslim community in the capital of Sicily, the southern Italian island, Palermo.

The Mediterranean Sea, known in Arabic as Bahr al-Mutawassit’, (the Middle-Sea) is where Palermo in Sicily is located and today, represents a multicultural and multi-religious community, rooted in its history.

WATCH: Eid in Palermo and an interesting history of the city’s religious community

The Mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, has been invited every year to the ‘Salat al-Eid’ – the Eid al-Fitr Prayer, in front of the sea and nearby the city’s Port.

‘I am a person; we are a community,’ says the Mayor before the prayer starts.

‘This moment is important for all the people of Palermo. I believe that the Muslim community in Palermo is an essential part of its life and to be here today is a way to say thank you for your daily contribution to the cultural and social development of our city.

We belong to a community where we are all different because we are all different human beings, but we are all equal again because we are all human beings. I want to share the prayer together with you, to pray (to) One God and wish you a year of health, harmony and prosperity in your families and in the life of the city. Eid Mubarak… did I say it right?’

After the Mayor wished Eid Mubarak to the diverse number of Muslims sitting on prayer mats that were arranged on the ground for this very special occasion, he and Monk Biagi Conte, famous for founding a community to help homeless people and migrants in need, were presented with a certificate by the Muslim community.

The Muslim community of Palermo gather for Eid al Fitr prayers at Foro Italico park. Photo: Marta Bellingreri

For at least twelve years, the Muslim community has gathered at Foro Italico, a park in the city next to the sea, to celebrate and pray together.

While they prayed, cruise ships approach the city’s port, bringing every week thousands of tourists from all over the world.

Local people originally from Bangladesh – the largest Muslim presence in the city -, Pakistan, as well as Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and many others African countries such as Gambia mostly live in the city center of Palermo.

‘I have been living in Palermo for twelve years and I have always observed Ramadan here,’ says Zaid, 29-years-old from Tunisia.

‘Here you find the right atmosphere of Ramadan, because there are the spaces to pray and celebrate.’

Mustapha from Iraq who is seeking asylum in Italy finds it harder.

‘I prefer not to go out during the day because I’m distracted by the city’s routine. But after sunset I have places where I can share my Iftar with friends, Italian and African friends.’

During Ramadan there is a strong sense of community for Muslims living in Palermo.

Mustafa from Iraq (second from left) in front of the Moschea Tunisia for public Iftar.

A public iftar occurs in front of the Church Santa Chiara and in front of the Moschea di Tunisia a Palermo otherwise known as the Maghrebian mosque.

The Moschea di Tunisia in Palermo was previously a church while a second church that has been abandoned will be opened as a mosque in a year.

Some of the Palermo’s churches were originally built as mosques during the two centuries when Sicily was the Emirate of Sicily between 831-1091 AC. According to Arab geographer and traveller Ibn Hawqal, there was 300 mosques in Palermo at that time.

The Arab-Byzantine culture developed in the Emirate at that time and produced a multi-cultural and multilingual emirate whose influence still remains in Sicilian language, architecture and place names today.

The Muslim community of Palermo presenting Mayor Leoluca Orlando and the Monk Biagi Conte a certificate during the public Eid celebration. Photo: Marta Bellingreri

Marta Bellingreri is an independent researcher and journalist, focusing on Middle East’s politics and culture. She is author of two books about migrations in the Mediterranean, holds a PhD and regularly reports for Italian and international media. She was also involved in the production of movies tackling the issue of refugees. 

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