Italian police were out in force Friday at a Milan stadium converted into a makeshift mosque by Muslims who were forced to abandon their previous place of worship. Organizers of the Friday prayers said they expected some 5,000 Muslims at the Vigorelli velodrome which also contains a disused cycling track.
The decision by Milan’s town hall to allow Muslims to use the facility on a temporary basis has triggered protests from local residents, raising concern of possible attempts to disrupt the prayer session. On Friday, several dozen protesters, including far-right political leader, Daniela Santanche, gathered near the stadium. “We are here to prevent a symbol of Milanese sport from being transformed into a mosque,” Santanche, who leads the opposition party, The Right, said.
Earlier this month, Italy’s centre-right government ordered the closure of the so-called Jenner mosque – the converted garage where for over 20 years, thousands of Muslims in Italy’s financial capital attended prayer sessions. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said the decision was based on public order and health concerns – worshippers often spilled out on the street – and complaints from local residents. Maroni, a member of the anti-immigration Northern League, drew sharp criticism for the move, with one prominent Catholic cleric, Monsignor Gianfranco Bottoni, who deals with inter-faith issues in Milan, describing it as “fascist”.