[WATCH] Majority muslim imam launches salvo against persecuted Ahmadiyya minority

Imam Mohammed El Sadi says he represents 30,000 Muslims in Malta and says extremism tarnishing fomenting hatred against Muslims

Saviour Balzan interviewing Imam Mohammed Elsadi (centre) and Fr Charles Mallia
Saviour Balzan interviewing Imam Mohammed Elsadi (centre) and Fr Charles Mallia

Imam Mohammed El Sadi launched a salvo against the persecuted Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, a minority Muslim group, when he claimed that its representative in Malta was not representing mainstream Islam, by which he meant Sunni muslims.

The Ahmadiyya community is an Islamic religious movement founded in Punjab India, originating from the 19th century teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who claimed the end times would bring about, by peaceful means, the final triumph of Islam. He claimed to have been divinely appointed as the promised Messiah awaited by Muslims.

There are just 10-20 million Ahmadis but in many Islamic countries the Ahmadis have been defined as heretics and non-Muslim and subjected to persecution and often systematic oppression.

Appearing on Saviour Balzan’s Xtra on TVM to discuss his call for Islam to start being taught and state and church schools, the Imam said that the press should be careful as to which so-called Muslim leaders it afforded any airtime or publicity, taking exception at comments made by Laiq Ahmed Atif.

Atif represents a small community of Ahmaddiya muslims in Malta, but is a regular participant in public debates on religion and serves as an interlocutor for his community with the press and the community at large.

But El Sadi, who represents part of Malta's Sunni muslims, said that Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta was a sect which did not represent mainstream Islam and Atif should stop claiming to represent mainstream Islam. “It is important that people realise how we ourselves view this sect and how much harm he is causing the Muslim community,” he said. “After all, Atif speaks for only five or six people, while I lead some 30,000 Muslims in this country.”

El Sadi then said that extremism was tarnishing the image of Islam and fermenting hatred against Islam and Muslims, but at the same time has raised people’s awareness of Islam. “People have started researching Islam, learning about it and reading the Koran,” he said. “And surprisingly, even after ugly events like the attacks on the Twin Towers, some people even converted to Islam.”

El Sadi said that people needed to distinguish between the true teachings of Islam and the practices of extremists and terrorists, who do not in any way represent Islam.

He acknowledged there were quite a few Maltese who converted to Islam and said that some of them were even more active than him, studied more than him, and were more passionate than him in serving their religion.

What leads Maltese people to convert to Islam?

El Sadi said Islam was a very simple religion, easy to understand and constant – having changed very little over the years. “It is a serious religion that offers viable solutions to social, economic and political problems,” he said.

Fr Charles Mallia, national delegate for Catholic education, said there were currently 20 Muslim students attending Catholic schools. “Admittedly this is not a lot considering we have 17,000 students in our schools, but we have never had any problems accepting Muslim students,” he said. “As to whether they should be provided Islam lessons, we have not yet committed to that and we all agree that it is also a question of logistics.”

El Sadi said that the parents of those 20 students chose to send them to Catholic schools because they felt – and right so, he noted – that those schools demanded a stricter discipline, provided a better spiritual guidance and were recognised as being the better schools overall.

Fr Charles Mallia, National Delegate for Catholic Education
Fr Charles Mallia, National Delegate for Catholic Education

As to whether he felt state and church schools should be forced to teach Islam, the Imam said that it was more a case of the Muslim students having the right to learn Islam just like other students.

Patriotism and the teachings of the Koran

In a live phone-in, Norman Scicluna of the Malta Patriotic Movement, said that introducing Islamic teaching in State or Church schools would mean having some students in a classroom being taught that Jesus was the Messiah, while other students would be taught that Jesus was only a prophet.

“Catholic students would be taught that Jesus was the son of God, the others would be told that is a blasphemy because God does not have children” he said. “Similarily, Catholic students would be told Jesus died for all of us, while the other would be told that is not true.”

The Imam did not agree.

“All true patriots should welcome the introduction of Islamic teachings in schools as that would ensure Muslim students are taught Islam as it should be taught, the moderate Islam that respects everyone,” he said. “That would be better than these students being exposed to extremist Islam that would harm the Muslim community and the country at large.”

El Sadi said that it was also not true that the Koran preached hatred.

“In fact, the Koran says that Christians are the most merciful and loving people and that they are the closest people to Muslims,” he said. “It also calls them the People of the Book, because they have a text inspired by God, and calls on Muslims to treat Christians justly and with tolerance.”

Mallia said that peaceful co-existence between people of different cultures and faiths, was indispensable if extremism was to be defeated.

Wasn’t it true, Balzan asked, that some people feared Islam because of its rigid stance, whereas Christianity seemed to have become more tolerant towards divorced couples and the gay community, to mention but two examples?

El Sadi said there are a number of dogmas in Islam that are the word of God and therefore cannot be changed. “But let us not frighten anyone,” he said. “We made it clear that any Islamic instruction curriculum in Maltese schools would be drawn up by the education ministry, according to the values, democracy and laws of Malta.”

Elsaid said that the Muslim community had in fact already prepared a draft curriculum and presented it to the education ministry for consideration.

The challenges of adding Islam to the curriculum

Mallia said that besides the logisitics problems that introducing a new subject would entail, one needs to consider if it is really necessary to introduce Islam classes in church schools.

“Is there really a need for it? After all, everyone knows the mission and ethos of church schools is what it is: when you walk into our schools, you will see the crucifix and we start the day with a prayer,” he said. “That said, if you are not Catholic and still want to attend, you will be welcome.”

Laiq Ahmed Atif, for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta community, said the state should not interfere in the indoctrination of religion in schools, because the state should not discriminate against anyone.

“I believe the state should only deliver a secular education, with the children then pursuing religious studies outside school,” he said.

Fr Eric Cachia, head of Savio College, said he was not opposed to exposing students to Islam but only to the idea of introducing Islam, or other religions, as a distinct subject.

“Students and teachers are already facing a lot of pressure due to changes in curriculum and external influences in what is commonly known change fatigue,” he said. “In the case of church schools in particular, because faith is not a simple subject in the syllabus, parents choose these schools because they know we try to offer students an experience based on a clear set of values and criteria.”

In the context of faith and religion, he added, having two or more parallel, but different, subjects would create a lot of confusion.

“This is, of course, my personal opinion but I am prepared to stand by it nonetheless,” he said.

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