Malta: The Other Side of its History
I recently visited Malta for a weekend excursion and was amazed at the people and the culture and the nostalgic feel I got after leaving the country.
Maltese people undeniably have a huge Arabic influence with some elements of the culture being intermingled with those of European. I also observed that Maltese seem to be in denial about this Arabic (No, I’m not an Arab) influence calling it as being minimal at best.
Muslim occupation, or Muslim period for a better term (870-1090) saw tolerance and integration of the people with Jews (prospering in Mdina) serving as civil servants and even as a Vizir.
But with “foreign” take over (as it might be called at that time), eventually Muslims were expelled (religious discrimination as well call it now) in the 13th century. The Islamic culture and religious motivation was such that, the majority (in 1249) of the Maltese had converted to Islam until all the converts (and other Muslims) were expelled. Jews were expelled in 1492 which shows how hard Malta had become a dark, sinister world of religious intolerance – which is probably even worse than the short periods of war for domination which Malta encountered previously – where a huge population is simply told to “get out”. This isn’t much different from the dispersion of Jews and Muslims to starve to death during the Communist USSR era.
This expulsion gave North Africa a flavour of different kinds of people that you see today. For Malta to progress, while maintaining its existing culture has to be multicultural, diverse in its people and more cosmopolitan for which there is still a long way to go. To reach the highs of Paris or London, diversity in terms of religion has to be apparent as it also brings in culture, food and tourism from all kinds of people. Some may ask, why does Malta not appeal as much to Muslims?
London has seen opening of Halal (Jewish equivalent – Kosher) McDonalds, and Subway, Paris and Brussels have Halal donor and other shops everywhere which Muslims can go to eat from, whereas in Malta, Muslims would stick with either seafood, or vegetarian (cooked without alcohol, of course). Having Halal restaurants in touristy areas would make it more attractive to the 1.4+ billion Muslims of the world. Maldives and Cyprus thus offers a better option currently.
Malta has to recognise and be proud of its Muslim heritage and it is engrained in their history. Accepting it would bring new arts beyond glass blowing such as art, crafts, and calligraphy. Denying the past, and considering it as abhorrent would only increase animosity and distrust, and isolate the local Muslims Maltese from integrating more fully.
Not recognising, and suppressing this part of their culture would make Malta seem more inward rather than being more open. By not acknowledging the good Muslim Malta did for its people would be discriminatory by showing Malta as being embarrassed from its Muslim past.
The reason I mention this is because, describe Malta as being tolerant verbally – once in a while, a letter gets published in Malta about non-Muslim Maltese being scared of inter-marriage between people of different religions (Muslim-Christian mainly). But tolerance also means respecting as well as being aware of another persons religious preferences and restrictions and at the same time, how the friendly Maltese can accommodate that.
Iran is a well known rival of Israel, but has the largest Jewish population in Middle East that are protected by the state and living peacefully in that country. Likewise, same goes with Jordan and Syria that have huge Christian populations. The minority people as are the sugar of the community as they show how well they are respected, and that they can live peacefully in such a tolerant country.
Being religious as opposed to not believing in God is a good thing in this day and age, however, there has been lack, or no attempt at all to investigate Islam and what Muslims in Maltese are. It is as though the latter do not exist.
It’s about time that as Malta enters the fold of Euro it also makes itself attractive for Muslims visitors and accept the Muslim past of Malta. It should accept more (of course, the type that can contribute positively to the community) Muslims into its society more openly rather than move backwards by expelling them, or creating barriers, or turn Malta into a society which looks downwards on people of other religions.
It’s about time Malta knows it was Muslims majority country once, and how that contributed to its development.