Italy: Illegal Islamic School to Close

Milan, Italy - The Milan city council has ordered the closure of Islamic school which has been at the centre of a long wrangle that has highlighted the issues facing Italy in accommodating a growing Muslim immigrant population. The premises of the school, where 500 children are enrolled, are meant for industrial use and don't comply with health and safety standards, said the city's education office after a technical enquiry was made in June. Bruno Simini, the council's education supervisor, said shutting down the school in via Quaranta, was a neccessary step, "as the school is illegal."

Already threatened with eviction by the local authorities, the Islamic centre that runs the school had asked the city council's help to find a new building. To grant the request, Simini asked the school to seek official state recognition and adopt Italian education standards - including the use of qualified teachers and state-approved subjects - a request which the Islamic school had resisted in the past.

The school agreed last month to seek official recognition, and a more suitable site was assigned for the school. However the paper work could take some time.

Religious schools in Italy are required to follow the official programme established by the education ministry, which allows extra-activities' time to be dedicated to the culture and religion of the confessional community.

With several probes identifying Milan as an international clearing-house for Islamic extremists, the spotlight has in recent years fallen on the city's Muslim community. Right-wing politicians, in particular those of the xenophobic Northern League, have often pointed to the Via Quaranta school's illegal status as an example of the Islamic community's refusal to integrate and its pursuit of radicalism.

"As far as I am concerned the children should go to an Italian school" said Simini, commenting that by taking this decision, parents would guarantee their children's integration to Italian society.

In the mean time, there are unconfirmed press reports emerging about plans for an official Islamic school. The project is called Fajr and is aimed at gaining state recognition for an Arab international school, like the Saudi school in Rome.