Islamophobia in Malta

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!

4 thoughts on “Islamophobia in Malta

  • Reply Jennifer Colombo 24th October 2013 at 10:58 am

    Part 1:
    Asma, first of all thanks for your article. I think this is the first article I am reading that is coming from a Muslim girl speaking about such issues in Malta. I am really sorry for what you have been through and such treatment can never be justified. I think that it is a great first step that you are speaking out and saying your story – I hope it will create more awareness.
    I am going to be very honest here – but I just want to make a respectful and healthy discussion not distribute hate. I feel that Islam (and other religions), as a religion, has opinions and beliefs which deeply clash with what we are trying to achieve in Europe. Let’s take one issue – sexism. The woman is made to cover up with a hijab, or some other garments to err…’preserve her modesty’ (men don’t need to preserve their modesty right?). Some Muslim women go as far as saying that the hijab is a choice – but is it exactly a choice when these women wear it EVERYDAY when they step out of their homes as if it were a uniform? Rather than a choice I find that it’s peer pressure, from their families and culture and in the end, from their religion. Now the hijab is not the worst of the worst, I’ve seen women in Dubai wearing a matte black niqab or burka in temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (or even more!) – really, a choice?! I bet these women don’t even DARE to consider removing such garments.

  • Reply Jennifer Colombo 24th October 2013 at 11:01 am

    Part 2:
    Are you really surprised that people ask you things about your religion when Muslim countries are amongst the most violent in the current world and blatantly deprive its people, especially women, of their rights? Rights which on our side of the planet we have fought so hard for in the past. I don’t even dare to even consider to travel to a Muslim country.
    Of course, I am NOT saying that all Muslims are violent – I, myself have Muslim friends with whom I joke with and I enjoy the occasional cup of tea, and I can assure everyone that I’ve never had a wrestling match during these encounters. But still, at least from the Muslims I know, I can sense a pinch of disgust from them towards the ‘Western’ world. Generally speaking, the Muslims I know of want all the liberties and money of the ‘West’, but still want to impose backwards features of their religion on others.
    Now I am not saying all of this so that you justify behaviour of other Muslims other than yourself. I am not Islamophobic – however, I would be extremely scared should a Muslim end up in Maltese Parliament one day.

  • Reply martin bruno 30th October 2013 at 4:46 pm

    The article submitted is interesting, especially because it challenges us to reflect on issues that are currently important to us as an evolving multi cultural society.
    The writer needs to sit on the opposite side of the fence and try to understand what it means to be Maltese and non-Muslim. In no way is this intended to justify any discrimination suffered, but if one wants to understand an action, it is also necessary to understand its historical and social context.
    Our own survival to large extend has been determined by our ability to resist the Islamic onslaught as represented by the Ottomans who destroyed far greater Christian civilizations, Byzantium included. Our history cannot be rewritten and whoever chooses to be Maltese has to accept it or at least understand it.
    That said, it is also obviously clear that much work needs to be done and good will exhibited by all, so that fellow citizens, independently of their faith or lack of it, do feel a part of the our country. What it means to be Maltese is itself a concept that is evolving, changing as a new unknown situation is encountered.
    Yet Muslims are still in the popular imagination associated with a danger to our way of living. Is it simply because we are racist, or is the issue far more complex than meets the eye?
    Are Muslims able to integrate in a modern secular society as ours is bound to be one day, or are they unable to free themselves from an Islamic Umma perceived as the only legitimate social context to live in?
    The author ignored the problem that Muslims have when public relations are concerned. Muslims appear insular, isolated from the rest of us and there is really little human contact between “us” and “them”. Obviously, this is a two way problem, surpassed only through desired human contact and the willingness to learn from each other.
    More importantly, at times we non Muslims are given the impression that Muslims fail to appreciate our long and suffered struggle for a democratic state: if in any doubt, watch the interview with the Imam as broadcasted last Friday on Xarabank.
    I personally love Arabic, so much so that I have studied it: it’s a beautiful language and more should be done to promote it.
    Through personal experience and my travels in the Arab world not all we watch on T.V. actually reflects the reality of a suffered world that is beautiful and in search of a better future.
    However, it is also obvious that the freedom that Muslims enjoy in our still Christian country is not necessary reciprocated in Islamic countries.
    The face of Islam is unfortunately not associated with salam (peace), but with violence that threatens the world at large. This is a factor that has obviously benefited all those who dislike and mistrust Islam, but perhaps it is time that Muslims themselves try to do something about it. One person that comes to mind who is actually doing something about it is Sami Yusuf.
    We are frightful of Islam, because it does not in any way appear to be tolerant, nor is it beneficial to a democratic state such as ours: at least that is the popular comprehension. So what can we do about it?
    Paradoxically Islam is not in itself intolerant, and history proves it, but present day Islam seems to be afflicted by an identity crisis that somehow prevents it from transforming itself into a dynamic force focused on dialogue.
    It’s not a question of dooming, but concerns our ability to focus on how we can help each other surpass an issue that simply cannot be ignored as we seek to live peacefully together in this smallest of nations.
    Speaking personally as a person who has lived most of his life overseas, it is up to the new comer to integrate and challenge society, but one must first of all be convinced that he or she is at peace with his her adopted homeland.
    I wish you all the very best with regards your studies.
    As-Salam ala Al-Ardd

    Fr. Martin Bruno

  • Reply Mark Said 4th November 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Unless Muslims start to strive for world peace in peaceful ways, there will always, unfortunately, be a somewhat justified fear of Islamophobia. Still, I have compassion towards you personally after all that you had to go through.

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