Tuesday 23 October 2018

Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Malta

The story of rise and fall of Muslim rule and in Malta is similar to that of Spain and Portugal in almost the same time period. Today while Christianity is the dominating religion of Malta, as against Islam which once was in the 8th to 10th centuries, Muslims can just be counted on fingertips as compared to  the majority Christian population.

Muslims came to Malta, an island state in the Mediterranean Sea, after capture of Sicily from the Byzantines in 870. Thereafter Muslims ruled the island till Malta fell to a Christian European power with the Norman Conquest in 1091. Muslims were allowed to practice their religion freely until the 13th century. after this period, Muslims were either forced to convert to Christianity or leave the island as was  the case in Spain and Portugal.

The Muslims came back to Malta in the 15th century, but this time as slaves - in fact it was during the period of rule under the Knights Hospitaller, when thousands of Muslim slaves, captured as a result of maritime raids were brought to Malta. In the mid-18th century, there were around 9,000 Muslim slaves in Hospitaller-ruled Malta.

In 1749, after a failed Conspiracy of the Slaves, laws restricting the movement of slaves were made stricter. They could not go outside the city limits. They were not allowed to gather anywhere except from their mosque, and were to sleep only in the slave prisons. There was also a deliberate and ultimately successful campaign, using disinformation and often led by the Roman Catholic clergy, to de-emphasize Malta's historic links with Africa and Islam. This distorted history "determined the course of Maltese historiography till the second half of the twentieth century", and it created the rampant Islamophobia which has been a traditional feature of Malta, like other southern European states.

Like everywhere where Muslims have ruled, one can find imprints of Arabic and scattered architecture and impact on daily lives of the Maltese. Like Portugal, the strongest legacy of Islam in Malta is the Maltese language. Most of the places have their names in Arabic (other than the names Malta and Gozo) while most surnames, e.g. Borg, Cassar, Chetcuti, Farrugia, Fenech, Micallef, Mifsud and Zammit have Arabic tinge. 

The word God, in Maltese, is ‘Alla’, clearly taken from the Arabic ‘Allāh‘. In fact, a rudimentary search using Google translate will enable you to discover for yourself just how many words are taken from Arabic such as numbers, e.g. ‘One’ being ‘Wieħed’ taken from the Arabic of ‘Wahid’; ‘Fasting’ being ‘Sawm’; ‘Heart’ being ‘Qalb’; ‘Book’ being ‘Ktieb’ taken from the Arabic of ‘Kitab’; ‘Heaven’ being ‘Genna’ taken from the Arabic of ‘Jannah’; ‘Fire’ being ‘Nar’ taken from the Arabic of ‘Naar’; colours such as ‘White’ and ‘Black’ being ‘Abjad’ and ‘Aswad’; ‘Great’ being ‘Kbira’ taken from the Arabic of ‘Kabir’; ‘Soul’ being ‘Ruh’, the same in Arabic; ‘Holy’ being ‘Qaddis’ taken from the Arabic of ‘Quddus’; ‘Bread’ being ‘Hobz’ taken from the Arabic of ‘Khubz.’  [4]

The Muslims also introduced innovative and skillful irrigation techniques such as the water-wheel known as the Noria or Sienja (as was done in Portugal) all of which made Malta more fertile. They also introduced sweet pastries and spices and new crops, including citrus, figs, almond, as well as the cultivation of the cotton plant, which would become the mainstay of the Maltese economy for several centuries. The distinctive landscape of terraced fields is also the result of introduced ancient Arab methods.

As of today, a very modest Muslim populations is found in Malta. By 2010, there were approximately 6,000 Muslims in Malta—most of whom are Sunni and foreigners. Mario Farrugia Borg was the first Maltese public officer to take an oath on the Koran when co-opted into the Qormi local council in 1998.

There is one Muslim mosque, known as Mariam Al-Batool Mosque, with an attached  Muslim primary school in Malta. The Mariam Al-Batool Mosque is also known as "The Virgin Mary Mosque", Paola Mosque or Corradino Mosque) located in Paola. The mosque was funded by the Libyan government and its first stone was laid by the then Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi in 1978 and opened to the public in 1982, and officiated in 1984. The initial scope of the building was to serve the Muslims in Malta, at the time mainly economic migrants from Libya, and to promote conversions to Sunni Islam among the Maltese society. [3]

I also read at one site that In addition, the Maltese Catholic Churches have over the centuries, assimilated many Muslim practices. Instead of the Muadhin (calling the faithful to prayer) five times a day from minarets, the island’s churches call their faithful to prayer five times a day by the sound of melodious church bells. [4]

However, despite the tolerance, Muslims in Malta are still waiting for prayer venues to be regularised under Maltese law, giving them not only peace of mind about fulfilling their religious duties but also helping to keep any possible radicals at bay, as reported in Times of Malta.

Muslims who wish to travel to Malta as tourists and looking for Halal food will be able to locate a variety of restaurants, most of which are located in Valletta, capital city of Malta. Cuisines ranging from Moroccan, Turkish, North African, Indian and Italian, to traditional Maltese, can be found at the several Halal restaurants found here. Malta is a peaceful  county and Muslims traveling to Malta would feel the love and warmth of Maltese hospitality. [1]

Now watch an informative video on Maltese language:

Header Photo: Bader Zina conducting a prayer meeting at the Ospizio in Floriana, which a group Muslims in Malta have been using for two years. [Photo courtesy: Jonathan Borg / Times of Malta |

References: | Islam in Malta (Wikipedia) | 1 | 3 | 4 |
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