The word “Islam” or “Muslim” in Malta comes with a lot of labels; and these labels are something that children are brought up learning. Whether it is from the poetry of Dun Karm depicting how the “mislem” mercilessly slaughters and kills, or how the history books repeatedly emphasize the cruel treatment of Christians under the Islamic rule, or simply the presupposition that illegal immigrants are all Muslim and they are in Malta, somehow, to take over the country.
Islamophobia in Malta is not a current issue, Muslims for years have been labelled and discriminated upon on basis of stories of history, many of which could not possibly be true. I have attended both primary secondary school in Malta, and now I am at the University of Malta. As a child in a non-Islamic school, I was forced to live with the “shame” of being a Muslim.
But, how could you blame them if the media, the educational system as well as the society continuously renews their set of labels?
However, University is another story. Although Maltese students still find it hard to approach muslims and speak to them, however, they are more accepting and respecting.
The large number of Muslim students on campus and the diversity in the University is reflecting well on the students. They are more aware of the real issues and problems in the world and understand better how to interpret media. Islamphobia is not a problem found only in Malta. Islamphobia is also not the only form of religious or ethnical discrimination. People fear what they do not know. And that is why we have to educate, we have to help people understand our points of view.I was continuously reminded of how “my people” were carrying out terrorist attacks and how “horrible” and “violent” my religion was.
At the age of 11, I was continuously challenged by other students as well as teachers to justify the actions of other Muslims around the globe and to defend what I believe in. It was never enough… and I was never right. Stereotypes followed me everywhere, whether from the most ridiculous – of arranged marriage, to the most offensive – of being oppressed. Everything I did was thought to be something forced upon me from my parents, as if I couldn’t think for myself and make conscious choices! I can simply say that they were the most horrible years of my life!