Imam of Florence Izzeddin Elzir is one of the most prominent religious leaders among the Islamic community in Italy. He recently made headlines after posting a picture showing some nuns on a beach, in reference to a decision made by some French cities to ban the 'burkini', a type of swimsuit worn by some Muslim women.
The burkini covers the entire body with the exception of feet, face and hands. Some people have pointed out that rather than a symbol of modesty, the garment is offensive and it represses Muslim women.
However, others have disagreed with this view, claiming that women of other cultures and religions cover – or once used to cover – themselves.
"I posted the picture to prove that Christian and Muslim values are not different," Elzir, president of the Union of Islamic Organizations and Communities, told IBTimes UK.
"The photo proves that both Muslim women and nuns dress in a certain way. If you look at churches, if you go to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, you will see that the Virgin Mary is covered. This concept of covering oneself, in a peaceful way and without offending others, is also present in Europe's roots."
"Some have pointed out that nuns choose to cover themselves while Muslim women have no choice, but this is untrue. Muslim women are not oppressed, and we encourage anyone who is being oppressed to report it. We condemn anyone who limits other people's freedom."
After he posted the picture on 17 August 2016, Elzir's account was temporarily deactivated.
"Someone reported my account to the authorities claiming it was fake," Elzir, of Palestinian origin, said. "I had to send a document to prove my identity and my account was reactivated. However, it feels strange that Facebook would deactivate it without verifying the claim first."
The burkini ban is an instrument
Elzir, who has been living in Italy for the past 25 years, welcomed the country's decision not to ban the burkini and added that Muslims are integrated into Italian society.
He also expressed concern at France's stance against the garment, claiming that politicians are failing to focus on the real problems. The burkini ban came after a series of terror attacks by Islamic fundamentalists that have left France in a state of heightened tension.
"In countries like France, secularism has become a new religion that leads to the elimination of all religious symbols. At this point, they will also get rid of mosques, of churches, of everything. And this concept must be changed," he said.
"The burkini is simply a swimsuit and is a symbol of modesty. Some women like to wear the bikini, other the burkini, which originated in Australia around some 50 years ago. On what basis do we say that one woman is oppressed and the other one isn't?" the imam continued.
"Politicians have to focus on how to solve problems related to the economy and security instead of looking at whether women's legs are covered or not. Diversity means richness and it is sad that people use the burkini to create a useless debate to try and hide real problems affecting European societies."