Dante, whom two Muslim students have been exmpted from studying.

Teacher exempts Muslim students from studying Dante


A middle school teacher in the northern city of Treviso has exempted two Muslim students from studying Dante. The teacher cited that it is a religious work conflicting with their Islamic faith, local dailies reported Friday. This decision has sparked a major controversy on integration and an alleged affront to Italian culture.

Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” with its depictions of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, is deeply rooted in medieval Christianity, and the Prophet Mohammed is among the historical figures placed in the Inferno.

The teacher consulted the families of all students exempted from religious studies on religious grounds, asking if they also wanted to be exempted from studying Dante, considered by many as the greatest Christian poet or poet of any kind. Two families agreed, and their sons were assigned to study Boccaccio, another of Italy’s great medieval poets, alongside Petrarch.

The decision ignited a wave of criticism. Centre-left Democratic Party (PD) Senator Simona Malpezzi declared it “profoundly wrong” to deprive any student of the “deep knowledge of Italian culture that studying Dante brings.” She said, “Knowing Dante does not take anything away from the children’s religious confession.”

Bipartisan indignation over decision

The indignation was bipartisan. Deputy Senate Speaker Gian Marco Centinaio of the right-wing League party stated, “Not studying Dante is an insult to our culture.” League leader, Deputy Premier, and Transport Minister Matteo Salvini said, “It’s demented not to study Dante because some people might get offended.”

Roberto Vannacci, a League MEP candidate and army general suspended from duty over a controversial best-selling book, commented, “They are trying to destroy our identity.”

Deputy Lower House Speaker Fabio Rampelli of Premier Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing Brothers of Italy (FdI) party added, “Excluding Dante from the curriculum on request is mad.” FdI prominent figure and Tourism Minister Daniela Santanchè said, “We are continuing to be subjugated by Muslims, giving in to their extremist demands.” FdI cultural spokesperson Federico Mollicone, chair of the House culture committee, asserted, “The Divine Comedy is universal, and we must resist curricula personalised on religious grounds.”

On the left, PD MP Debora Serracchiani also lamented the teacher’s decision, underscoring that “Dante is an irreplaceable cultural heritage of humanity.” Irene Manzi, the PD’s national schools spokesperson, remarked, “Integration is also achieved by studying other cultures,” echoing a point made by many critics of the move.


The language used by the right-wing in criticising the teacher’s decision is overly dramatic. A decision by two families, when offered a choice, not to study Dante does not mean Italy is being “subjugated by Muslims” as the Tourism Minister suggests. (And let’s face it, she is under investigation for fraud, so hardly a pillar of the community).

Nor, as the disgraced General Vannacci claims, are they “trying to destroy our heritage”.

Yet again, Salvini has grabbed the wrong end of the stick saying students aren’t studying Dante as some may be offended. This was a decision made by a teacher to consult with families over the matter. Two children are exempted as a result.

Are they going to lose a form of integration in doing so? I’d say, yes.

Every Italian school child has Dante drilled into them. This means these two students could possibly miss cultural references in the future.

Would it undermine their own religious beliefs by studying Dante? Hardly likely.

Are these two students undermining Italian culture? No, of course not. They are going to be studying Boccaccio and Petrarch, also pillars of Italian literary heritage.

The comments coming from the PD were far more reasoned and balanced, taking into account that Dante is not only Italian cultural heritage, but universal. Furthermore, as the PD’s schools spokesperson remarked, integration is achieved by studying other cultures.

Study your new country’s culture

This is a universal fact, and the study of culture spans everything from literature to cuisine, understanding how religion has shaped a country’s mentality, to history and language.

As a foreigner, both in Italy and Spain, I make an effort to understand the local culture. Why the locals eat what they do. Where certain phrases originate from. I have watched religious processions even though I am not religious. Why? Because to do so helps me adjust to a new culture, and a new way of life.

Personally, I think the students should not have been given a choice. They should study Dante, understand why Dante and the Divine Comedy is important to the Italian people, and be taught how to critique the work without taking offence. Because the former helps them assimilate, and the latter is a life lesson.

Literature from previous centuries comes with a caveat

There is an ongoing ‘ban books’ phenomenon, particularly in America, that is taking root because some people don’t like the subject matter within them. It offends them. Well, deary me – that’s life, folks. Stuff happens which we don’t like, which offends us, which goes against our personal belief system. But it would be a strange world, if we got through life without something upsetting our sensibilities. As humans, we need to be able to shrug that off and move on.

We certainly need to be able to do that with pieces of literature written hundreds of years ago. That was then. They had a different approach to life, both secular and religious, then. It shouldn’t bother us now; we read it, understand it, discuss it, and if we don’t like it, so be it. Move on.

What you will have though, if you’re not completely blinkered, is an understanding of fellow human beings, and their culture. And the more we do that, the easier life will become for all of us.

I believe the students should not have a choice and study Dante. I also believe the right-wing parties need to rein in the rhetoric. Their inflammatory language is what helps cause division, making integration more difficult, because it take two sides for the integration to work.

Bury the hatchet – in the ground, not each other – learn about each other, and move on together.

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