"Christianity and its symbols are a part of Italy's history, culture and art. We have no interest in ignoring that or taking it away," Umar Camiletti, an Italian Muslim said.

Acting on a complaint by Adil Smith, a Muslim activist who did not want his children to see crucifixes on their school walls, a judge last week ordered the school in Italy's central Abruzzo region to take down the crosses.

The decision sparked outrage across Italy, prompting rebukes from the Italian president and the Vatican.

Muslim leaders across the country have distanced themselves from the case and accused Smith of giving their faith a bad name.

"It causes acute embarrassment not only for the majority of Italians of Christian faith, but also for me personally and for other Italians of Arab origin or Muslim faith," Ali Yunus, the former head of the Arab-Abruzzo Association said.

Fears

"It causes acute embarrassment not only for the majority of Italians of Christian faith, but also for me personally and for other Italians of Arab origin or Muslim faith"

Ali Yunus,
ex-head,
Arab-Abruzzo Association

Many Muslims say the controversy could undermine strengthening ties between Italy's Catholic majority and its estimated one million Muslims.

On Wednesday, the official responsible for delivering the court order to the school refused to deliver it on religious grounds. Her replacement was accompanied by a police escort.

The judge who delivered the ruling had also requested a police escort after receiving death threats.

Two laws stating that schools must display crucifixes, which date from the 1920s when Italy was a monarchy, are still on the books but not enforced.

The Justice Ministry has ordered a review of the ruling and most ministers say the verdict will be overturned on appeal.