Priest invites Muslism without a Mosque to pray in churchyard

Muslim faithful pray under a tent set up by the Church of Gallarate in its courtyard.

In the town of Gallarate, north of Milan, Muslims have no mosque in which to celebrate Ramadan. Instead, for the past three years, they have prayed in a plot of land belonging to...the local church.

The parish of San-Nazario and Celso set up a large, carpeted tent in an unused courtyard behind their church to offer their Muslim neighbours a place of worship during Ramadan. The local priest, Father Adriano Colombo, took this initiative in the hope of "opening dialogue between different cultures". The townspeople were reluctant at first, but eventually came to terms with the decision.

Gallarate counts about 50,000 inhabitants, of which 2,500 are Muslim. It is situated in a region led by the Northern League, Umberto Bossi’s xenophobic and far-right party.


"We are very grateful to the church for its hospitality, but we wish we could have a place of our own"

Hamid Khartaoui, 43, is originally from Morocco. He has lived in Gallarate for 22 years and is the spokesperson of the Muslim community there.

Usually Friday prayers are held in the indoor part of a small stadium, which we rent for 115 euros per hour. But during Ramadan, there can be up to 200 worshippers, and the rented room is too small to accommodate us all. We’re very grateful to the church for its hospitality, but we wish we could have a place of our own.

We’ve been fighting about this with local authorities for several years now. In 2005, the city hall closed down our cultural centre, which we also used as prayer room, claiming it didn’t meet minimum hygiene and security standards. Two years later, the Muslim community began paying a special tax to finance the purchase of a 400 meter-square hangar for the sum of 300,000 euros. The transformation of an industrial building into a cultural and religious centre needs to be approved by city authorities. So far, however, it has refused to grant us permission to begin the refurbishing work. I don’t think the citizens of Gallarate have anything to do with this – there’s clearly a lack of political goodwill. After all, we are in Lombardy, the Northern league’s stronghold.

Surprisingly, though, neighbouring towns run by Northern League mayors all have a space specifically for Muslim communities. I think the only reason Gallarate is holding out is because our mayor is from the centre right PDL party [the coalition headed by President Silvio Berlusconi], and he’s afraid he could lose his mandate if he’s accused of being too ‘soft’ on immigrants.

The League uses xenophobia as a campaign argument to get popular support, but once the elections won things change. In Varese [the first town to elect a Northern League mayor, Raimondo Fassa, from 1993 to 1998], the mayor had promised to close down the Islamic centre if he was elected. He did, but soon afterwards authorised a new and larger one to open! In Gallarate, however, the situation seems deadlocked. The administration presented a new urban development plan early this summer, stipulating that the city’s only places of worship are Catholic. This is contrary to the Italian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion. "

Muslims pray in a tent sent up in Gallarate's churchyard.


The imam of Gallarate adresses worshippers

The tent set up and furnished by the Church of Gallarate.

The churchyard where the tent was set up.

The church of Saint-Nazario and Celso à Gallarate.

All photos were sent by our Observer Maurizia Bonvini.



lets sort this out once and for all. its 2010, I think we can all now confidently say, religion shouldn't bare so much influence on the world, no?

Be kind to everyone

Be kind to everyone- only love will win this battle- Pray that no one will suffer the torment of Hell" what is your worst fear the thing you loath the most- for me it would be bug, flies and Maget's crawling all over my body- The devil is creative- Think you are unrecognized? He has a special supprise already lined up- I got a glimps of Hell and I seen bodies- slimmy bodies all piled up on each other in something like a dump- I seen the most depressing swamp one has ever seen and I seen a man- looked familiar floating in a tub of puke- Then I was told to pray .pray . pray, And I grabbed my Rosary and began to pray for poor disalusioned souls who don't know whats ahead for them.


Of course, the Muslims who have been given a place to pray: by the church In the town of Gallarate, north of Milan, should be grateful for this act of broad-mindedness and inter-faith harmony.
But, Can we Muslims present any such example, so that Christians can also be grateful to us??
We are always demanding our rights from the West and have never fulfilled our responsibilities. With rights come responsibilities. How many countries in the Muslim world would allow the Christians to build churches there? Not to talk about allowing Christians to perform Sunday Mass at the Mosque.
It is a good example of religious tolerance. Muslim should also become tolerant enough to create a one.I salute to the priest of this church.



History is a proof of muslim tolerance. The muslim impire allowed Christians and jews to worship and pray in mosques without fear( example: the moores in southern spain before the inquisitions). And it is so far the only impire who done so in the same worship place. As for todays muslims they have forgotten their history and they have been infiltrated by extreme sects that have nothing to do with islam. the best proof of muslim tolerance is how the prophet Mohamed(PBU) lead his life and how he treated people from other faiths.



Muslims not broad minded?

Br. Fazal - Once the Islamic world is free from monarchs, dictators and theocrats, then perhaps those countries would return to pre-colonization days where other religions lived with Muslims in peace and safety.

Broad minded??

Mr. Farid, the church approved for Muslims to perform prayer, we are very greatful for that. But how could you ever think that we Muslims can approve them to Build church in Muslim countries. Are you really Muslim by the way?? Do you want to see a church in Macca, and do their Shirk?? No way, I dont think you are muslim anyways. Whether the Muslims grant a place to perform prayer or not, they will perform their prayers in anyway they can, its an obligatory for them all. But for a priest to give a place to perform a prayer in a church is not a big deal, unless he has to make an issue out of that.

To Mr Unregistered User (01/09/2010)

Mr Unregistered User,so you think the church allowing their muslim brothers to celebrate Ramadan in their church compound,is not a big deal?why don't the muslim do same then?Huh?can you remind me of any time ever?don't worry,i will help you...NEVER!!first,you start by not leaving a name,n then you make these condescending comments.I strongly believe it is muslim fanatics like YOU that give Islam a bad name/attitude all over the world! you pretend to appreciate favours done in good faith,only to stab the person in the back as he turns away!You need to overhaul your way of thinking,Mister! If not,you will only end up same as fanatics before YOU,Mr Unregistered User!
I bless all good n faithful muslims in the world!! Happy Ramadan celebration in arrears!!

where do the women pray

I noticed the tents were filled with only males. Do the women have a place to pray or are they at home fixing the evening meal. After fasting all day and not working the men pig out on a meal after sundown which is fixed by the women who have to work all day. I have seen this activity in a documentary on Turkish Muslims. I think it is big deal that the CHurch lets them use their churchyard when we look at the people in this country USA trying to keep a mosque from being built.

Muslim, Mormon, Jew, Christian

It is true that the Muslim women worship separately during most of the service. The same is true of the Mormons and Christians who frequently break into gendered splinter groups to complete their worship. How can we condemn religious practices when America was FOUNDED on the right to worship how we wish, as long as it does not infringe on those who have no interest in worshiping with us. Myself, I am a UCC Christian, and have several Muslim friends that I met while journeying through Turkey. People are people. Extremists are extremists, and give any religion a bad name.