Let there be light

By Sara Ezabe

What Walid Nabhan has set fire to is a great discussion which has been long coming to transpire. My concerns is that it wasn’t the right time for all of this. The prayers in Msida provoked a long debate over the rights minorities have and the space they can be given in a democratic community which respects the religion of all.

Walid, a well integrated writer, raised many interesting points which need to be scrutinised in an unbiased manner and which to me sound purely political rather than religious in nature. This was a clear call to all the Muslim leaders in Malta that it is time to sit around a table and discuss the way forward in society.

It is known that Islam, like any religion, is going through a phase of division and fragmentation. In Malta, this fragmentation is dangerous because Muslims are a small community which is not yet integrated into society. This can cause more tension and lead people who are not part of the community to deviate and resolve to fundamentalism.

At the present stage, the Muslim community in Malta is constituted from many different nationalities, apart from the Maltese Muslims who are the least vocal in the issue. The majority are Syrians, sub Saharan Africans, Libyans and Palestinians. These are all countries of conflict and thus it is beneficial for these people to discuss a way forward in a society which is built on different values, mainly those of democracy. However, what is very dangerous to have is a community that bows its head to everything that the host country is providing.

Here, I strongly disagree with Walid, who suggested that Muslims should pray in the same place and politely suggested that they should keep their mouth shut. Muslims, he said: “should keep their mouth shut because they are in a foreign land to theirs”.

This is the recipe for extremism. In a society where people are integrated none will seek to overcome the other because everyone’s obligations are met. A healthy and united community needs dialogue, and this dialogue needs to be conducted amongst the leaders of the Muslim community in Malta in collaboration with the Maltese authorities.

A democratic country like Malta can provide for all religions and beliefs, however what it does not tolerate is people infringing the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. It is obvious that Muslims will have demands in a society and it is essential that these should not be ignored because that will cause unprecedented tension. Instead these should be discussed in the fora which Maltese law provides.

The Muslim leaders have to compromise political inclinations for that which is purely religious. Having people coming together from different religions united by the fact that they share the common dimension of humanity is what prayer should be about.

Integration should not be perceived as threatening and we should not fear that which is different. Instead we should open our arms to that which is different, because only when we understand the conflicts these people come from and the political disagreements they have that we can provide guidance to them.

It is evident that the integration project has failed us when this fragmentation remains the problem only of the Muslim community, and not that of all the Maltese nation. As human beings, that which can fragment one small community in a ripple effect, will be an obstacle for the whole nation.

As the Muslim community in Malta is growing, we need to start considering Muslim community leaders who are Maltese, who share the same values of the western world. This should facilitate the process for all the Muslims not to seek for political power but perceive the prayer on a Friday afternoon as that which unites and not causes further isolation.

As the saying goes, united we stand, divided we fall. The fact that there is strong resistance and ignorance from a not insubstantial number of Maltese people who are not reaching out to what is new, and are overcome by fear, means the conflict will grow.

I am optimistic that there will be an effective dialogue between the Muslim community and that the Maltese community at large will look at this issue with an open mind – after all religion is all about peace and that is what this should translate into in the community, not be a cause of tension and alienation. Focusing our energy on combating those who are in a dark room in fear and who are indifferent to the change around them is not the way forward. We should seek light in understanding what our differences are and bridge them by looking at all that which is familiar to us. The only darkness which is worrying is the fear from what is different and that is what extremism is all about!

Sara Ezabe is a recipient of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award