The Italy lockdown for muslim people
30/03/2020 di Cristian "Karim" Benvenuto
The coronavirus, or rather the Covid-19, surprises me in Lecce, Apulia region, the South of the country. This city is really full of life, with a lot of people that walk and stay in the streets even in winter. So everything has totally changed, especially every form of social interaction, conviviality and aggregation between people. This moment has a precise date, 10th of March. The evening before, through a Facebook live stream, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has declared the application of the total lockdown to the nation.
As every Islamic community in Italy, also the community in my town has had to adapt to the new routine, following the directives of prevention indicated by the Government. My first impact with deprivation in my Muslim life has been the closing of the Mosque, or rather the and prayer room. So, I have renounced the prayers (Salat) in the Mosques, and the Jummah on Fridays, because I have been invited not to suspend the religious obligation, but to do it at home.
The second revolution has been the suspension of all teaching and educational activities aimed at children in the various Madrassas, and all the social initiatives for women. My wife and his female friends have suffered the suspension or cancellation of every convivial initiatives directed and organized by them and in some cases by the local Islamic centers.
Many women known by my wife have observed that this situation also meant to stay at home and spend more time with children. And we have personally tested that. The closure of schools caused by Italian educational institutions have set up distance lessons via the internet, with related homeworks to be done with the parents’ support. That it means a lot of time to spend together.
In addition to school duties, it’s mostly women who entertain their children, doing educational chores, one of which has become a symbol of coronavirus resistance. My entire family have taken part to it: we have drawn a cloth banner with a rainbow, reporting the slogan of this period, the hashtag #andràtuttobene (everything will be fine), to hang on the balcony with the aim to give courage and hope to those who see it.
The Islamic community in Italy has responded to the lockdown with multiple initiatives, both socially and religiously. There were many solidarity actions aimed at supporting the Italian health system. The Islamic associations scattered throughout the territory, have created fund raising, intended for local hospitals. Even in the Islamic associative world, focused above all in the areas most affected, such as Lombardy, in addition to having donated seven thousand Euros (7.000€) to the local hospital, the Islamic Association of Brescia has set up a food delivery for families in difficulty.
Even my muslim friend in Bergamo (one of the most affected cities, also in Lombardy), have said to me that three Islamic city associations have joined their efforts to carry out a noble voluntary initiative. They have set up a free food shopping and medicines delivery service for elderly people and families unable to leave. It is possible to request the service by filling out a flyer, which must be left on the front door of the house.
For the youngest and for the second generation immigrants the situation is very different, because many aspects of their daily lives have been distorted. The study and the social life have changed drastically: the education remains online because there is the concrete possibility that they cannot return to the classrooms before September.
For the same reason they no longer have physical contact with classmates. And that of social relations is a problem: it is impossible to go out or attend public or local places. The result is an incredible amount of time available for educational, cultural and further use of social networks.
But not everything comes easier. Young people face enormous questions, so suddenly, and often begin to suffer from anxiety, fear, stress, loneliness. Someone, like my family or other muslim people like my friend Maryam, have found joy restarting to study and read the Qur’an.
Because of the ordinance of the Italian government, which prohibits aggregations of any kind, several Islamic associations that manage mosques and prayer rooms, have set up to provide for the Friday sermon (khutba), many Imams and preachers have started to make the khtuba through live streaming, while a couple of associations have enhanced the creation of videos related to Islam, spreading them through social networks. Another nice initiative I’ve joined with my family has been held on 12th of March, where the local Islamic community observed a day of fasting and prayer for Italy, initiative started and spread through social networks, observed by a good number of people.
The scarcity of Islamic cemeteries on national territory is an ancient problem. Taking into account that in Italy there are 7904 municipalities, only a very small part of these are equipped with an area for Islamic rites. There are many fewer cities with an exclusive Islamic cemetery, practically only major cities. Especially in this emergency situation, this matter has emerged strongly, activating the majority of Islamic associations of any size to request a prompt response from the authorities, in some cases even sporadic protests. Before the spread of Covid-19, the situation was quite manageable, as the vast majority of the dead Muslims were buried in their countries of origin, but this essential factor has failed with the closure of borders and the suspension of links with other countries, forcing family members to bury their bodies by law in Italian territory.
Lombardy has the largest percentage of cases recorded in Italy of infections and deaths for Covid-19. At the date of 28th of March, 39.415 people are infected with the virus, numbers unfortunately, constantly increasing daily. Just in the province of Milan, which is among the most consistent of Italy as a presence of citizens of Muslim faith, the emergency of Islamic cemeteries: according to the latest data available, surveyed and processed in 2018, the Muslim faithful are almost 8,1% of the total population, mainly from North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt) and Asia (Bangladesh and Pakistan).
To solve the problem of the shortage of places in the cemeteries of Milan, the mayor of the city, Giuseppe “Beppe” Sala, issued on 26th of March an ordinance to authorize the burial of the deceased Muslims of the entire province in the monumental cemeteries of the city.
Under three conditions:
1) that the Consulate of the deceased’s State shall issue a certificate confirming that the body cannot be repatriated;
2) that there are no places available for the storage of the coffin at the Monumental Cemetery, where the coffins are normally deposited abroad;
3) that the nearest relatives of the deceased expressly state their obligation to request the extraordinary exhumation of the coffin in order to allow its transport in the country of origin when the emergency has ceased.
A final point to be dealt with concerns the halal product supply sector, which is not in short supply at the moment. There are no problems in the Italian regions and the supplies of meat and halal products continue to be constant, also because the majority of the production of halal meat always takes place in Italy. Companies and slaughterhouses almost always provide a sector dedicated to the production of halal meat, certified to be reserved for Muslim consumers. The sector, in fact, is not subject to lockdown, as it is considered a necessary activity.
I have had no difficulty in my town to manage that, but some supply problems have occurred only in small and remote areas of the country, but these are rare cases, because it is now possible to buy food anywhere in the businesses run by Muslims, such as butchers and small supermarkets. In some cases, especially in Northern Italy, where the presence of Muslims has large numbers, these products are also present in large-scale organized distribution. It is almost always a small portion of halal products (usually processed chicken).