An anonymous reader speaks to Lovin Malta about her experiences identifying as a female Muslim convert in Malta, and what made her decide to become a follower of Islam after a typical Maltese upbringing.
I was born and raised in Malta as a Catholic. My parents, especially my mother, are devout believers; so I was Baptised and did my Holy Communion and Confirmation. By then I was very fond of Catholicism, there were no questions asked – I just took on whatever was fed to me.
At the start of secondary school nothing had changed, I went along believing what I was taught. But by the age of 13 I began to question things, thinking "Is this it? Is Catholicism for me or is there something bigger and better?”
"By the age of 16 I had stopped going to church"
When we would have Religion lessons at school I became the girl full of questions...and always got the same answers.
"Why are there three Gods not one?"
"Why can't we read the Bible?"
"Why do we acknowledge only Jesus but not the other prophets?"
"Why did Jesus have to die for humanity when humanity commit worse sins?”
And pretty much always, the answer was the same – "The answer is a mystery”. Apart from the Bible question, then I was told that by reading the Bible it would confuse me even more. After some time I realised why this would be the case. The Bible contradicts itself. It's written by humans and their own feelings after having been through certain experiences and it's not "God's" words.
By the age of 16 I had stopped going to church and just believed that there is a God. At 18 my faith took a big blow– I found out that the priest we had at secondary school was accused of pedophilia. The worst part of it all was that he was caught in the 80’s, and instead of bringing him to justice, the Maltese Bishop had sent him to Canada. After he was caught once again for pedophilia in Canada, he escaped, and when he returned back, the Bishop in Malta put him in a boys' institution.
That was the last straw for me. I didn't want to believe in a religion that didn't condemn these things.
It was around that time my great grandma passed away and I was angry, and unfortunately took it against God. I stopped believing in anything. Back then my friends didn't believe in anything either so it was an easy thing to do.
When I was 19 I met my current husband. He was a Muslim but was not following his religion. We met at Havana. When we first started going out we never broached the topic of religion – he knew I wasn't a believer and I knew he wasn't practising his religion so we just left it at that.
The only thing that we did agree on and talked about was that if we did ever had children one day they would be brought up Muslim. We discussed that after just a week of dating! I was fine with it because it didn't make any difference to me back then.
I had started to research other religions like Buddhism, which didn't make sense as a religion to me – Buddha was a prince who gave all his money to the poor and was made a 'God' for that. I also looked at Hinduism – a religion with over 200 gods – it was too confusing! Then I looked into different forms of Christianity, but it was all pretty much covering the same ground I had learned about as a child.
"He had said he didn’t want me turning round to him one day saying that he’d forced me to become a Muslim"
Time passed by and my relationship with my then-boyfriend got more and more serious. The inevitable debates about religion began. We would have arguments about it – I used to say that women in Islam are oppressed, they have to cover up, and that I'd never do something like that because it’s ridiculous. I'd ask why women were not equal in his religion – that sort of thing. Then something happened that set me off on my journey to Islam.
I was at a party with my friends and my then-boyfriend. He had entered into a conversation with one of my friends about pork, and why Muslims can't eat it. He was so passionate about explaining and debating it all, knowing that he was the odd one out and yet he still didn't give up on his point. That got me thinking – how could a person be so enthusiastic and determined to put a point across when he was the only one believing it? I admired that passion.
Soon after that night I spoke to him and told him I wanted to know more about Islam. He looked at me and told me that whatever I wanted to know I would have to look for and find out myself, because he wasn't going to help me one bit. He had said he didn’t want me turning round to him one day saying that he’d forced me to become a Muslim. Fair enough, I thought.
Back then I used to work for a confectionary chain and I would often come across a Maltese lady – a regular – who also happened to be a Muslim. One day I plucked up the courage to speak to her. As soon as she left the shop, I stopped her and asked if she could help shed some light on this religion. I told her I just wanted to find out a bit more, the basics and what it consists of, and that I had no intention of becoming Muslim myself.
She smiled and gave me her mobile number and told me to come to the mosque in Paola that Thursday, as there was a women's meeting. And that's when my journey to Islam had begun.
I attended the meeting and met a group of lovely ladies – all Maltese and all reverts. I spent almost a year questioning everything.
"Why do women have to wear the veil?"
"Why are men allowed to have four wives?"
"Why are we not allowed to eat pork?"
"Who's Muhammad? Why are Muslims so strict? What do Muslims believe in, Allah or Muhammed?!"
And sure enough, I had all my answers – not from 73 books, but from one book –The Qur'an. Everything I needed to know I could find in this one book. The Sunnhi faith follows the life of prophet Muhammad. It's easy, there's no mystery, no complications. You do as Allah – God – tells you and you will be rewarded. If not you will be punished, no matter if you're rich, poor, an imam or anything else. In Islam everyone is equal.
I fell in love with Islam and I didn't even want to become Muslim.
"When I started wearing my hijab, it only got worse. Nobody wanted to employ me because of it"
I've been a Muslim for 8 years now. As a Maltese Muslim it's very hard to live a normal life. Unfortunately prejudice is very prominent in Malta. It's starts with people you meet in the streets all the way up to those working for the Civil Department. When you try to speak about your human rights they shut you up.
I encountered prejudice when I wanted to obtain a civil partnership with my husband. The worst part was when I went to get the rights to get married from Kastilja. I felt as though they treated me like I was a bitch because I was marrying a Libyan. They told me I'm marrying a Libyan because I'm fat so none of the Maltese men wanted me. They said that I was second class, unwanted goods.
When I started wearing my hijab, (scarf), it only got worse. Nobody wanted to employ me because of it. Most of the employers told me to either take it off or forget the job. I didn't take it off, of course. I continued to search for a job that would accept me as I was.
I started working as a cleaner with a company after a constantly searching to no avail. At first it was difficult, co-workers and other people working there would look at me as if I was an alien. When they got to know me they accepted me. I rarely speak about my religion, especially in Malta – people don't want to know about it. If people don't want to learn on listen then it's better to not speak, I figured.
"Eventually my husband and I moved to the U.K and all that drama about hijabs and religion disappeared"
After a while working as a cleaner I did my care assistant's course and I became a care worker, but not without another challenge. They didn't want to give me the job because of my hijab, again.
I was determined to get the job, so I went to the manager and asked him why he didn't want to give me the job just because of my hijab. His answer was that the hospital “might have a problem with me.” I stood my ground and told him that if someone did come to him saying that they had a problem with my hijab then he didn't need to fight my battles for me, and that I'd be happy to take it to the European Court of Human Rights.
Thanks to Allah I've never had a single problem and I'm still friends with the nurses that I used to work with, and I go and see them every time I visit Malta.
Eventually my husband and I moved to the U.K and all that drama about hijabs and religion disappeared. Malta stays in my heart because it is my country, but each time I visit, there's always someone there to tell me to "go back to my country,” when I'm a Maltese citizen, actually on holiday and spending my money in the country, helping the economy.
I believe that by the time my son turns 20 years old, Malta will start to accept diversity. We've still got a long way to go.