Milan: One of Italy’s most renowned Arabists, Paolo Branca, spoke to Al Majalla about his life and work in fostering understanding between the two cultures on either side of the Mediterranean.
Born in Milan in 1957, he is a translator specialising in Islamic affairs, he obtained a degree in Arabic language and literature in 1982 from the Faculty of Oriental Languages at the University of Ca’ Foscari in Venice.
In 1989, Branca began working as a researcher in Islamology at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan. Since 1994, he has taught Arabic language and literature at various Italian universities including the Pontificia Universitas Urbaniana.
PUU is directly affiliated with the Vatican – the Arab World Institute in Paris, the Centre for Higher Defence Studies in Rome, as well as the universities of Lausanne in Switzerland, Pisa and Florence in Italy, and Ain Shams in Egypt.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
When you completed your studies, what inspired you to pursue the Arabic language and literature further and devote a significant portion of your life to teaching it?
I chose to learn Arabic because I wanted to explore a language that was still uncommon in Italy at that time.
About 40 years ago, Arabic was not considered a popular language. I briefly considered learning Japanese, but I realised Japan was geographically distant from Italy.
Therefore, I decided on Arabic as it was the closest oriental language to Italy, and the historical and deep-rooted connections between the Middle East, North Africa, and Italy further influenced my choice.
Initially, I wanted to work for an oil company, but the opportunity never materialised. Although my current salary may be less than what I had envisioned as a young man, I am genuinely happy that I pursued this path and achieved significant academic success, becoming a researcher and lecturer at the Catholic University in Milan.
Meanwhile, the Arab and Islamic communities in Milan and Italy had grown significantly.
This allowed me to intellectually contribute even beyond the confines of Italian universities through actively participating in numerous conferences and public events held in mosques, public libraries, and churches, promoting interreligious dialogue and strengthening the ties between the diverse Mediterranean cultures.
It is important to recognise that we all belong to the same region since ancient times.