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Rome's Envoy to Saudi Arabia Converts to Islam

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Rome's Envoy to Saudi Arabia Converts to Islam

November 26, 2001 12:51 PM ET

By Luke Baker

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's ambassador to Saudi Arabia has converted to Islam, the second time in seven years that an envoy of Rome to the land of Mecca has adopted its religion.

Torquato Cardilli, a career diplomat from overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Italy, revealed his decision to Saudi newspapers Saturday, his 59th birthday. Italian diplomatic sources confirmed the announcement Monday.

His official conversion was made on the eve of the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan, which began on November 16 in Saudi Arabia. Cardilli himself could not be reached for comment but an employee at his embassy in Riyadh confirmed the reports.

The Saudi embassy in Rome said it planned a statement later. An embassy spokeswoman said there was no record of any Saudi ambassador to Italy ever converting to Catholicism.

Italy's Foreign Ministry had no comment.

The conversion of Cardilli -- who is married with two children -- follows the move to Islam made by Mario Scialoja, Italian ambassador to the Arab kingdom in 1994-95, who has since left the foreign service and is head of Italy's Muslim League.

Scialoja's decision came as a shock, made while he was Rome's permanent representative to the United Nations in New York and long before he was posted to Riyadh.

Cardilli's change of faith follows years of study of Islam. A graduate in oriental culture and languages from the University of Naples, Cardilli has spent much of his 33-year diplomatic career in the Muslim world.

Following postings in Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Libya, he took over the embassy in Riyadh in October last year. Cardilli has also served as ambassador to Albania and Tanzania.

His personal move comes at a sensitive time, with Italy a member of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the hardline Islamic Taliban movement in Afghanistan and barely two months after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi offended the Muslim world by saying Western Christian civilization was superior to Islam.

Corriere della Sera newspaper said Cardilli had been recalled to Rome "for consultations." Some 3,000 to 5,000 Italians have converted to Islam from Catholicism in recent years, according to figures from the Union of Islamic Organizations and Communities. A spokesman for the Italy-based group said it welcomed Cardilli's entry into the Muslim community, saying of his conversion: "The ways of the Lord are infinite."

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I don't know why Mr. Cardilli embraced Islam. However, it is a shame that most people embracing Islam don't do it because of the character of the muslims, rather despite it. They are driven to Islam by its study and a survey done by the Qur'an Institute in Multan reveals that over 70% of the converts surveyed in the world did so after reading the Qur'an or its translation. Subhan'Allah.

I just wonder how many more would do so if OUR character was any better. Astaghfir'Allah.

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MashaAllah... this is indeed a very good news.

Allah (swt) works in a ways that are far and beyond our thinking. Only few weeks back the head of Italian country was boosting about their civilization being better than the Islamic civilization and now, one of his own man has proved him wrong. You can also read this story in

A couple of weeks back, I received the following in an email and I think it is better that I put it here rather than opening a new thread.



28th of Shaban 1422 : 13th Nov.'01 Tue: 8.30 p.m. (UK)

From Abu Muntasir,

Assalaam 'alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuhu.

Innal hamdalillaah was-salaat was-salaam 'alaa rasoolillaah.


Pointed out by Hassan Morrison:

Posted on: Sunday, November 11, 2001

More in Hawai'i turn to Islam

By Mary Kaye Ritz

Advertiser Religion Writer

Less than three weeks after terrorists struck New York

City and Washington, Heather Ramaha stood among a group

of women at the mosque in Manoa and recited the shahada

in Arabic:

Heather Ramaha, a Navy petty officer, is among those in

Hawai'i who have converted to Islam since Sept. 11.

By doing so, she became a convert to the Islamic faith,

extending a recent national trend.

Some Muslim clerics across the country say they are

seeing a fourfold increase in conversions since Sept.

11, when stories about Islam jumped from the back pages

of the religion section to front pages worldwide.

Hakim Ouansafi, the president of the Muslim Association

of Hawai'i, said that prior to Sept. 11, there had been

an average of three converts per month.

In the two months since then, there have been 23.

And oddly enough for a religion that is often perceived

as one that cloaks its women from head to foot, the

newly converted Westerners tend to be female. Ouansafi

said the national ratio of converts is 4-to-1, women to

men. Here, he said, it's closer to 2-to-1.


One thing Sept. 11 did was remind people that life is

too short: "If I'm going to die, I want die a Muslim,"

a convert told Ouansafi.


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An Italian Envoy to Saudi Arabia, and to Islam

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By Howard Schneider

Washington Post Foreign Service

Monday, December 17, 2001; Page A12

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- It is a fact that the Italian ambassador here, Torquato Cardilli, who was raised Roman Catholic in the land of prosciutto, Chianti and Sophia Loren, is now a Muslim living in a land of no pork, no alcohol and no public display of skin.

This became clear to the sharp-eyed Saudi media, Cardilli said, when he was shown on state television in mid-November dining with Defense Minister Prince Sultan, accepting a boxed, royal edition Koran -- a gift that would never have been offered to a nonbeliever.

What happened next is not so much a comment on Cardilli's beliefs as it is on the state of the world since Sept. 11 -- a reflection on the sensitivities in relations between the West and Islam, and the eagerness of Saudis to seize on anything like positive news after weeks of hearing about native son Osama bin Laden and the involvement of their citizens in the attacks on the United States.

Though the ambassador said he has considered himself a Muslim since the early 1960s, the Saudi media launched a series of stories trumpeting his conversion in the land of the Prophet -- a fitting counter to the statements that Cardilli's own prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, made and then denied, about the superiority of Western culture.

Outside of Saudi Arabia, the incident was seen more as a cultural curiosity -- a career Arabist gone native in the aftershock of the attacks on New York and Washington, embracing a faith that seemed so distant from his roots.

Cardilli sighs over all the fuss, more than a little agitated that a faith he preferred to hold privately is being dissected as if it carries anything other than personal significance. Cardilli said he visited the Islamic center that supervises conversions to Islam near the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, not with the intention of "going public" about a conversion made long ago in his heart, but to get some advice on observing the daily fast.

"I became a Muslim in 1964, in Jerusalem, before the Israeli occupation," Cardilli, 59, said at his ambassadorial residence recently. He was studying Arabic at the time in preparation for joining the Italian foreign service.

Over a lifetime of diplomatic postings that included other Arab and Muslim nations, he kept his faith to himself. Only after being posted to Saudi Arabia last year did he feel compelled to begin a more public observance.

"This was not supposed to be known. Are you Christian? Do you say publicly how many times you pray in church? . . . This belief has always been most discreet," he said.

"Being converted to Islam and being appointed to the land of Islam -- I saw it as a sign of destiny," Cardilli said. "Before the 11th of September this would not have been so interesting. There is a lot of criticism of Islam, and there is no distinction between Islam and deviations from Islam."

Indeed, in the wake of the terrorist strikes in the United States, the perception of Islam in the West has been a heated topic, particularly in the Arab world -- and perhaps most of all in Saudi Arabia, which regards itself as a protector of Muslim piety and tradition.

This country's very existence as a modern state is tightly bound to the faith. An alliance with the Muslim reformer Mohammed Abdul Wahhab helped the powerful al Saud tribe achieve dominance over others on the Arabian Peninsula, and ultimately brought them under one flag. The country's role as guardian of the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina remains central to Saudi national identity. The practice of other religions is forbidden here, and it is a capital crime to forsake Islam.

It is a country, moreover, that is keen to proselytize. Saudi government agencies and charities build mosques and fund religious schools throughout the world. The in-flight entertainment on Saudi Arabian Airlines features a taped lecture by former rock star Cat Stevens, now a Muslim who lives in London under the name Yusuf Islam.

The fact that 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 airplane hijackers came from Saudi Arabia was a serious blow to the local psyche. It was widely denied at first, and is now accepted only with a prickly insistence that the culprits are at least as isolated from this country's mainstream as white supremacists are in America.

In that environment, signs of Western openness to Islam have been highlighted as vigorously as evidence of hate crimes against Muslims, and offered as a counter to what the Saudi leadership has deemed the media "smear campaign" against their beliefs. There are between 800 million and 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide; estimates of Muslims in the United States vary widely, but range as high as 7 million.

"It is not unusual, even in the United States," Mohammed Salem, president of the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, said of the Italian ambassador's conversion.

"When people learn about Islam and understand it as it is . . . people come to that conclusion," he said. "Jesus. Moses. We look at them as our prophets, but since Muhammad came later, and built on the previous work, it is a continuation."

That is what Cardilli came to believe when, as a 22-year-old student in Jerusalem, he entered that city's al-Aqsa mosque and felt the call to become a Muslim.

Compared to Catholicism's plethora of saints and its complex rituals, the comparative simplicity of Islam -- a religion that speaks of a direct relationship between man and God, without formal clergy -- is what attracted him, he said.

But he is uncomfortable discussing the fine points of his personal faith. He muses instead on the misunderstandings in the West, displays the Koran and a fragment of cloth from the Grand Mosque in Mecca he received as gifts from the Saudi royal family, and points out an ornate clock in his study, modeled after one that the caliph Haroun al Rashid gave to the Emperor Charlemagne. That was in the 9th century, during Islam's golden era, when it eclipsed the West in openness and scholarship. The clock, a technical triumph at the time, Cardilli notes, provoked concern about evil spirits in Charlemagne's castle when it chimed the hour.

Its hands approached noon on a Friday. The ambassador checks his watch.

"Oh my." He jumps up, ending the discussion. "I have to go to mosque."

© 2001 The Washington Post Company

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