Mario Scialoja (pictured), a retired Italian diplomat and the first president of the Italian office of the World Muslim League, died Monday in Rome. His funeral took place Tuesday in Rome's Grand Mosque.
Scialoja, who was 82, converted to Islam in 1988 when he was an Italian diplomat at the United Nations in New York. His last diplomatic post was as Italian ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 1994-96.
At the end of his career, he decided to devote the last years of his life in the service of the Muslim community in Italy. He also served as an advisor to the Islamic Cultural Center.
Scialoja was active in interfaith initiatives in Italy and as a result, he is remembered by members of different faith groups.
The President of the Province of Rome, Nicola Zingaretti, declared: "I express my deepest condolences for the death of Ambassador Mario Scialoja, a man who throughout his life never stopped fighting to assert peaceful coexistence between cultures, religions and peoples. His good example of dialogue and promooting peace should become a model to follow for those who govern."
"He was a leading figure of the Islamic community in Italy, a passionate and intelligent advocate of dialogue and coexistence between religions and cultures," said Andrea Riccardi, Italy's minister for cooperation and integration.
The leader of Italy's Democratic Party, Walter Veltroni, said: "He was a man of culture who had an open mind, a man of dialogue and peace. The death of Mario Scialoja strikes me deeply, because I remember his commitment not to ever break the thread of a society, even in difficult times when the world seemed to be taken over by the language of violence."
"After September 11th," remembered Veltroni, "he expressed his sympathy and that of all Muslim Italians to the bereived in the United States. Similarly, he was able to dialogue with the Jewish community, visiting the synagogue, weaving a common desire for peace. With him in the Capitol over the years, I shared a commitment, and I have always admired his ability to balance integration and a deep religiousness, not segregation. His loss is very hard, not only for the Italian Muslim community but for Rome and for Italy. "
More than 300 people, Christians and Jews as well as Muslims, attended the funeral, including the Italian Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, Staffan de Mistura.
Also in attendance were Deputy Chairman of the Jewish Community of Rome, James Moscati; the councilor for culture of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Magiar Victor; the head of the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Guixot Miguel; the President of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy, Ezzedin el-Zir and the parliamentary Assembly of the PDL and the President of the Association of Moroccan Women, Souad Sbai.
The Jewish community in Rome particularly mourned the death of an Italian Muslim leader who was a key figure in promoting Jewish-Muslim relations.
"A sincere friend with whom we shared genuine dialogue initiatives has left us," said Riccardo Pacifici, president of the Rome Jewish community. "Even in moments of tension, he always demonstrated he knew how to maintain the level of dialogue and respect."
"E' morto Mario Scialoja Riccardi: un uomo del dialogo" Il Messaggero June 27, 2012
"Addio a Mario Scialoja I funerali in moschea" La Repubblica June 26, 2012
"L'ultimo saluto a Mario Scialoja In centinaia al funerale" Il Messaggero June 26, 2012
"Morte Scialoja: Zingaretti 'Modello da seguire' " Iris Press June 26, 2012
"Roman Jewry mourns Italian Muslim leader" IJA June 26, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today