Having to guess where is the biggest mosque of the Western world, one would say France with its around 10% Muslim population, or maybe Spain that has a history of Islamic influence. But no. Not even London with its 21,000-square-meter Baitul Futuh Mosque.
With an area of 30,000 sq. meters and the capacity to accommodate more than 12,000 people inside its structure and more than double this figure in the whole complex, the Mosque of Rome in Italy is the biggest of the Western world.
Some might be surprised, considering that the headquarter of the Roman Catholic Church is in the Eternal City too.
During the most important Islamic feasts, around 30,000 worshippers gather in the Mosque, as it happened on this September 1 during Eid Al-Adha.
Inaugurated in 1995, this Mosque was built as an initiative of former King of Saudi Arabia, Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who financed most of the project along with 22 other Arab and Islamic countries.
A marble tag in honor of former King Fahad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Saudi Arabia’s King at the time of the inauguration, is at the entrance of the Mosque to remember his bond with the Italian Muslim community that today counts around 2 million people.
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Italian and Arab architects worked on the project: Paolo Portoghesi, who also designed the Palace of the Jordanian Royalties in Amman and who directed the Biennale of Venice back in 1979, and Sami Mousawi, architect of Iraqi origins who believes that contemporary architecture should be a true interpretation of traditions. The relation between the two architects was very conflicting, resulting in Portoghesi completing the work alone.
The Mosque was built mainly with travertine, a limestone typical of the region around Rome, putting together different art styles including Medieval and Moroccan elements.
The columns inside the complex were designed with five pillars, as the Five Pillars of Islam, and the internal part of the dome recalls the one at the Pantheon.
Pro Loco online page, which is in collaboration with the Municipality of Rome, reports that when the Italian authorities gave the authorization to build the Mosque of Rome, they gave two conditions: one, the dome of the Mosque shouldn’t be higher than the one of Saint Peter’s Basilica; two, no speakers on the minaret.
The staff of the Islamic Cultural Center where the Mosque is held denied there were these two conditions.
“The limitations related to the height of the dome and of the minaret were dictated by the proximity with Urbe airport, while the decision to have no speakers was adopted for urbanistic reasons, as the Mosque is close to Parioli residential area and the voice of the muezzin wouldn’t reach the worshippers,” Omar Camiletti, spokesperson of the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy and of the Great Mosque of Rome, said to Al Arabiya English.
The fact is that the biggest Mosque of the Western world is also the only one in the world with no outside speakers for the call to prayer. Despite that, there is a muezzin performing the call to prayer inside the Mosque.
There are two main rooms for prayer, one that is open every day and a bigger one open only on Fridays and on special occasions.
Sermons are held in Arabic and in Italian as the Muslim community in Italy is very much diversified with people from Albania, Morocco, Bangladesh and other countries, all speaking different languages and sometimes finding a common ground in communicating in Italian.
This Mosque is held within the premises of the Islamic Cultural Center that includes also a library, a conference hall and a school of Arabic.
In the library one can find important editions of the Quran donated by leaders of the Arab world as Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, showing that history passed through this place.
Many politicians and key personalities from different countries and religions visited the Mosque, including the Italian President of the Republic, the Italian Prime Minister and also the Rabbi of Rome.
The Pope was invited too, but he never came. “The relations with the Catholic Church are very good and the invitation from our side is still valid,” Camiletti explained to Al Arabiya English.
The Islamic principles of peace and love are engraved in Arabic and in Italian on a tag at the entrance of the Mosque, expressing the nature of this place.