Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s appeal to hundreds of glamorous Italian hostesses to renounce Catholicism and convert to Islam has fallen on fertile ground after some of his guests agreed to consider becoming Muslims.
By Nick Squires in Rome
Published: 3:06PM GMT 18 Nov 2009
Of the 400 young women who were asked to two events hosted by the Libyan leader in Rome this week, a few said they were interested in travelling to Tripoli or even Mecca to consider becoming Muslims.
“The meeting with Muammar Gaddafi has changed me,” said one of the women, Alda Ribeiro, 27.
“Islam used to frighten me, now it fascinates me. I don’t know how my mum will take it – her name’s Maria de Lourdes, so you get the idea that she is a staunch Catholic,” she told the newspaper Corriere della Sera.
“For me, Islam was always associated with the concept of the submission of women. The other evening there was fear among the girls that we would all end up in a harem,” added Miss Ribeiro, whose family is originally from the former Portuguese colony of Sao Tome and Principe, off the coast of West Africa.
Col Gaddafi was in Rome for the UN World Food Summit but devoted much of his attention to two soirees on Sunday and Monday at which he subjected the women to a lecture on Islam, the failings of Christianity and his view that sexism is rampant in the West.
The girls were recruited from a Rome agency, Hostessweb, which provides attractive women for corporate functions.
They are known in Italy as hostesses and the word carries no sexual connotation and they are not escorts.
The agency stipulated that they must be at least 5ft 7in tall, between 18 and 35 years old and soberly dressed. Each girl was paid 50 euros (£44) as a “tip” for attending the events.
A graduate who speaks five languages, including Portuguese and Italian, Miss Ribeiro said that since receiving a free Koran after the meeting at the Libyan ambassador’s residence in Rome she had been studying its teachings.
“Would I convert? I certainly think that the Catholic Church today is too caught up in itself. I only go to mass when my grandmother comes to Rome.
“I asked Gaddafi what he thought of the role of women and he replied that he had always been a supporter of women’s rights. I hadn’t expected that.
“That’s why I decided to accept his invitation. I’m going to go to Libya. I want to understand, to see with my own eyes. Then I will decide.”