Owen Bonnici – (Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts, and the Local Government.)
Today, Ramadan is expected to come to an end for more than a billion Muslims worldwide, including, of course, for those Maltese citizens who follow the religion of Islam and for other Muslims who, although not Maltese, live happily in Malta and are part of the socio-economic success we are going through as a country.
To all Muslims I wish, from the bottom of my heart and most sincerely, Eid Mubarak!
While writing this article, I went to find and re-read a very interesting interview which I had come across in a local newspaper back in 2019 with a Maltese Muslim called Ibtisam Sadegh. That interview had impressed me greatly.
Ibtisam, she had told the interviewer, grew up in Iklin to a Maltese mother and Libyan father. Today she is, if I understood correctly, a lawyer and a Ph.D researcher. She was brought up in the Muslim religion and Ibtisam gives a very interesting description of what that meant.
“It meant that in Ramadan, we fasted from sunrise to sunset, while at Christmas and Easter we ate like there was no tomorrow at organised family dinners. We celebrated and grieved besides our Christian families and friends in church weddings and funerals. And we travelled to Libya during summer school recess to visit our Libyan relatives and participate in their festivities,” she recalled.
Then she lists other realities which happened as a result of identifying as Muslim in Malta: being exempted from sitting for “Religion” exams in school and going to the mosque on Saturday afternoons to learn about Islam and socialise with other Maltese Muslims.
“Unlike my father or Muslim women with hijab,” she said, “at first sight I “pass” as the ideal Maltese candidate; until, of course, I reveal my Arabic name when introducing myself in person or in written correspondence in English.”
Then she goes on:
“‘I am Maltese,’ I assert to those who cynically question or glare the instant I pronounce my Arabic name or refuse to drink an alcoholic beverage. ‘But, my father is Libyan and my mother is Maltese,’ I add, when the sceptical or the curious refuse my answers, take guesses at my roots or demand further clarification. The response to this reply could range from polite silence and acceptance, to the friendly, ‘I have a Libyan/Muslim friend,’ or the most certainly absurd, ‘I can see it in your eyes!’”
Now comes the most heart-wrenching part. Ibtisam declares that she grew up seeing her migrant father being bluntly discriminated against.
In her words: “he was treated as if he were an outsider and a parasite siphoning off Maltese society and this despite his having lived here for over three decades, his fluency in the Maltese language (although with an obvious Arabic accent), Maltese citizenship, wife and kids.”
Consequently, she and her siblings were raised with the principle of publicly avoiding any discussions involving politics or religion, fearing prejudice in their regard.
“I thus learned from a young age,” she said, “the necessity to continuously navigate my Muslim background, manoeuvre my identity and emphasize my Maltese-ness. Such daily strategies include me explaining the meaning behind my given name; at times even de-Arabising it by abbreviating it to ‘Ibti’ or writing inquiring emails in formal Maltese – all in attempt to be recognised and treated as equally Maltese.”
Ibtisam then makes a very strong, and equally very correct declaration, which I would like to share with you.
“As of yesterday, we should take pride in all Maltese history, rather than distancing ourselves from our Islamic and Arab heritage in a desperate attempt to prove our European-ness. In no way does one contradict the other; likewise Maltese identity does not exclude other backgrounds,” she says.
I never met this inspiring fellow Maltese. If she is reading this article, I wish her the most splendid Eid ever from the bottom of my heart.
I do, however, meet a lot of Maltese Muslims in my day to day grassroot work and everyone has his or her story to tell. I sense that most of them fear prejudice because of what they believe in. By and large, they still feel the need, like Ibtisam explained, of continuously navigating their Muslim background.
It should not be this way.
Some of my Muslim friends tell me, with a feeling of sadness, that the glass-ceiling will only start breaking when the first Maltese Muslim MP is someday elected in the House, or the first Maltese Muslim Minister is some day appointed to office.
I strongly believe that change can start today.
This article in itself will not disrupt much. But it’s a tiny pebble being thrown against the glass-ceiling.
The public will have the opportunity to explore Fort Delimara, which is usually closed to visitors. The event will take place on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd April, and visitors will be able to see the progress that has been made by Heritage Malta in restoring the fort to its pre-1964 state.
Heritage Malta has undertaken several works to restore Fort Delimara, including cleaning the underground sections and parade ground, removing alien accretions and dangerous structures, and removing illegally dumped waste from the fort's ditch. Additionally, a new electricity and water system has been installed.
During the weekend event, visitors will also be able to watch demonstrations provided by K-9 Urban Search and Rescue Malta, the Malta Police Force's Mounted Section, and Dogs Section. K-9 will be conducting demonstrations on Saturday, while the Mounted Section and Dogs Section will be present on Sunday.
Fort Delimara was built in the late 19th century to defend Marsaxlokk Harbour and is a classic example of a Victorian coastal fortification. It still houses four of the original six 38-ton rifled muzzle loading guns, which are the last surviving examples in the world, still on their carriages in their original casemate emplacements. The fort remained operational until 1956 and was later used as a farm for more than 25 years before it was placed under Heritage Malta's protection in 2005.
Preserving our national places is essential to protect our cultural heritage and ensure that future generations can experience and appreciate our shared history. Fort Delimara is a prime example of the importance of such preservation efforts. This historical fortification was built to defend our country and played a significant role in our past. By restoring and maintaining Fort Delimara, we are not only preserving a valuable piece of our history, but we are also showcasing it to the world.
The upcoming event at Fort Delimara provides an excellent opportunity for the public to witness the progress that has been made in preserving and restoring this unique and significant fort. It's important to remember that such efforts require continuous investment and support to ensure that these important sites are maintained for future generations to appreciate and learn from.
Preserving our national places such as Fort Delimara is critical to safeguard our cultural heritage, and we should all do our part to support these efforts.