Italy wants to tighten controls on foreign cash arriving to build mosques and is studying a French proposal to create a state-backed foundation to filter religious funds for Muslims, the interior minister has said.
Interior minister Giuliano Amato told Italian reporters that Rome currently had little control over money coming into the country - especially from foreign governments - to help build mosques. He did not name any countries.
France announced a foundation in 2005 to channel Muslim donations from abroad to mosques and Islamic organisations there in a fair and transparent way. It was welcomed by French Muslim organisations but has not yet started operation.
Giving alms is a religious obligation in Islam. Some charities distributing funds have been accused of financing extremist groups, which has cast doubt over the practice and dried up some funds for legitimate religious work.
"I find the spread of mosques with cash from governments of other countries unacceptable... I want to understand who is financing what in our country," Amato was quoted as saying in La Stampa newspaper on Friday.
"I am studying, exactly like the French are doing, the hypothesis of creating a foundation that has a national component," he said. The French fund would be run by a board of Islamic leaders with an interior ministry representative.
Amato also said he wanted to make sure teachers in Islamic schools were properly qualified.
Italy's right-wing opposition applauded the move, with outspoken former reforms minister Roberto Calderoli saying Amato should also limit "the numbers and strange activities" of Islamic cultural centres.
But Omar Camiletti, a spokesman for the Rome Mosque, one of Europe's largest, criticised the proposal. He said the government should be looking instead to better integrate Muslims into Italian society, instead of restricting their charities.
"I think it (Amato's concern) is wrong-headed," Camiletti said. "You must not hinder charitable assistance from international organisations or from individuals. This is a principle of our open society."
Some Muslims in Europe have complained of increasing discrimination, citing recent controversy in countries like Italy over the use of some Muslim veils by Islamic women.
The growing number of mosques in Italy is also becoming an issue. The right-wing newspaper Il Giornale ran a story on Christmas Eve headlined "Mosques, The Silent Invasion: in Italy there are already more than 600".
Mario Scialoja, of the Italian Muslim League, played down any controversy, saying Amato had "every right" to seek restrictions.
"I think they are concerned that funds might be flowing, not so much from governments, but Islamic associations which might be used for unclear purposes. So they are quite right to check," Scialoja said, adding his groups would be unaffected.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally been a major source of funds for mosques in western Europe, but it has come under criticism since the September 11 attacks because it often spreads its puritanical Wahhabi form of Islam along with its largesse.