Did Egypt torpedo a Muslim-Jewish meeting in Rome?

January 23, 2008

Rome’s chief rabbi Di Segni (C) visits capital’s main mosque, 13 March 2006/Chris HelgrenIt would have been a first. The imam of Rome’s mosque was due to visit the city’s synagogue on Wednesday, but unexpectedly called off the meeting on Tuesday, citing unspecified logistical problems. Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni visited the mosque in 2006, so Imam Ala Eldin al Ghobashy would have been returning the compliment. It would have been an important symbolic step forward for inter-religious dialogue, right in the Vatican’s backyard.

Di Segni told journalists there had been “alarming signals from Egypt” indicating opposition to the visit among Islamic scholars there because of Israel’s recent blockade of the Gaza Strip. Italian newspapers said the signals came from al-Azhar University in Cairo, the leading centre of Sunni Islamic learning. Muslim leaders in Rome denied any intervention from abroad and blamed the delay on “excessive interest in the visit”.

Di Segni has said he hopes logistical problems were “the only motives that determined what we hope is a temporary delay”. We reported the reason given by Abdellah Redouane, secretary general of the Islamic Cultural Centre attached to the mosque, because that’s how he explained the decision. We’re trying to find out more, but this kind of story is notoriously difficult to nail down.

al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, 13 July 2006/Suhaib SalemRegardless of whether al-Azhar was involved or not, there is a widespread suspicion among Italian journalists that the Middle East conflict has once again been “imported” to Europe. Look at the headlines — “Islamic veto, imam won’t go to synagogue” (Corriere della Sera), “Veto on imam, Roman Jews say it’s serious foreign interference” (La Stampa), “Roman Jews saddened by imam, the stop is serious foreign interference” (La Repubblica).

What do you think? Do some Muslims in Europe let inter-religious tensions elsewhere, such as in the Middle East, get in the way of better relations with other faiths in Europe? Or is this just an impression that headlines like those cited above create?

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