Imam ‘stunned’ by Archbishop Scicluna’s openness

Imam Mohammed El Sadi himself said he was surprised by how quickly Archbishop Charles Scicluna made public his approval of the suggestion to introduce Muslim religious teaching in government schools

Imam Mohammed El Sadi
Imam Mohammed El Sadi

The Archbishop of Malta’s quick and open approval of Islam being taught to Muslim students even in state and Church schools – which attracted criticism from many quarters – even stunned the Islamic spiritual leader that recommended it in the first place.

Imam Mohammed El Sadi, the head of the Mariam Al-Batool school in Paola, had said he hoped Muslim religious teaching be introduced in government schools, as already happens with Christian teaching, following news of the closure of his school’s secondary section.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna said in reply that he was open to the recommendation, insisting inclusivity was part of the Catholic Church’s ethos.

But his opinion was not welcomed by many parents, as well as some heads of Church schools, who insist that Church schools should focus on Christianity and not serve as tools for other religions.

And El Sadi himself, in comments to MaltaToday, said he was surprised by how quickly Scicluna made public his approval.

“I was surprised by his noble approval of Muslim students’ right to learn Islam at state schools and I was stunned by his courageous openness to the recommendation of offering Islamic education for Muslim students at church schools,” he said. 

“Really he is an inspired fair and wise man.”

The Imam thanked Scicluna for welcoming the idea of religious teaching diversity.

“It is fair, noble, courageous and shows high self-confidence to secure teaching of other faiths for non-Christian students who study at church schools,” El Sadi said.

He admitted he had never had the opportunity to speak to the archbishop about the need for Islamic education for Muslim students.

But, on behalf of the Muslim community, he expressed “deep thanks to His Excellency”.

“I hope that the Maltese educational system will accommodate and adapt to the teaching of Islam as soon as possible,” El Sadi told MaltaToday. “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

The Imam said he felt the time was ripe for the introduction of Islamic education in state schools, especially having the blessing of the highest authorities.

“It is a matter of time,” he said.

Education minister Evarist Bartolo cautiously welcomed the recommendation but insisted that, as in the case of Catholic religion or ethics classes, these teachings in Islam would only be for those who specifically asked to attend and would not be compulsory for all students.

Bartolo said that like all other subjects, Islamic studies would need to adhere to a programme approved by the ministry and which would lead to SEC certification. 

“We will definitely not tolerate any teaching in favour of violence or of hate towards those who do not follow your own beliefs,” he said.

“All classes will be given by qualified teachers that would be approved by us, and all classes would have to respect the Constitution and laws of Malta, human rights and democracy.”

El Sadi pointed out that the request for the introduction of Islamic education in state schools had not been triggered by the closure of the secondary section of the Mariam Al-Batool school, but that this had been first put forward in 2013.

“Securing Islamic education for Muslim students doesn’t concern Mariam Al-Batool students only but all Muslim students, the majority of whom attend state schools,” he said. “Learning Islam is a right of Maltese Muslim students, just like the right of Catholic students to learn Christianity.”

El Sadi said that Maltese were equal in rights and obligations, irrespective of their faiths, and that the Maltese Constitution interdicts all kinds of discrimination based on faith, colour or race.

He acknowledged that religious schools were there to serve and promote their own faiths and said that church schools would “naturally” focus on Christianity.

“I would like to assure the Maltese public that teaching Islam at state schools will contribute to safeguard the society from exclusion, extremism, hatred and violence and will enhance integration, respect, peaceful co-existence and loyalty for the country,” El Sadi said.

But “peaceful co-existence” seems to be the last thing on the minds of many people who either misunderstood Scicluna’s position or were insisting Church schools were not there to serve other religions.

The dismay expressed by many at the archbishop’s apparently care-free acceptance of introducing Islam and other religion classes in Church schools, has now reached new heights with an online petition calling for the removal of Archbishop Charles Scicluna securing 2,049 signatures in eight days.

The petition, launched on 22 March, calls for the removal of Scicluna “ASAP”, describing him as a “black sheep”, a “traitor to our Church”, and undeserving of his appointment. A quick look at some of the 849 comments left by the signatories reveals that, although some were merely opposed to the idea of schools teaching other religions, many still thought that all students in state and church schools would be forced to start learning Islam, despite repeated claims otherwise by all parties involved.