Muslims still praying for a place to pray

Planning applications were always turned down

Bader Zina conducting a prayer meeting at the Ospizio in Floriana, which a group Muslims in Malta have been using for two years. Photo: Jonathan Borg

Bader Zina conducting a prayer meeting at the Ospizio in Floriana, which a group Muslims in Malta have been using for two years. Photo: Jonathan Borg

Muslims in Malta are still waiting for prayer venues to be regularised under Maltese law, giving them not only peace of mind about fulfilling their religious duties but also helping to keep any possible radicals at bay.

Co-founder and Malta Muslim Council volunteer Bader Zina told this newspaper that while the Muslim community was grateful for the temporary provision of the Ospizio premises in Floriana, its hands were tied when it came to long-term community projects.

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The community did not expect the government to provide it with spaces in which to pray, and for over 18 years had been trying to obtain permission for centrally located venues to hold prayers, Mr Zina added.

Through the years, he continued, donations made by the congregation had been invested in planning applications, which were always turned down.

Read: Church school offers facilities to Muslims; Council ‘wants no part of far-right, extreme protest’

The latest such refusals – in 2015 – saw the community being evicted from a building in Msida and denied a permit to change the use of a large garage in Santa Venera against the recommendation of a Planning Authority case officer. This led the community to hold prayer meetings in Msida for three Fridays in a row, causing an outcry from some parties.

The Education, Justice and Civil Liberties Ministries stepped in and two years ago provided the Ospizio premises as a temporary measure, while talks started on a long-term solution.

Watch: Muslims gather again for prayers in Msida while search for premises continues

Mr Zina, who leads Friday prayers at the Ospizio, noted that the need for some regular structure for prayer facilities was not limited to Muslims.

People might be killing and harming others in the name of Islam but Islam forbids such acts

The more cosmopolitan the island became, the higher the number of people with different beliefs who needed a place to fulfil their religious duties.

Of Palestinian and Syrian origin, Mr Zina moved to Malta 26 years ago, aged 17.

Read: Muslim congregation just wants permit for a stable place to pray

Though the number of Muslims here is in the thousands, he lacks an official figure – but the council is holding a census. Muslims meet for prayers in Buġibba, San Ġwann, Msida, Birkirkara, Floriana, Blata l-Bajda, Marsa, Mater Dei Hospital and Paola.

The Muslim prayer regime is quite strict, he said: “We are required to pray five times a day, at a specific time and preferably in a gathering. Friday prayers are compulsory, just like Sunday Mass for Catholics, but have to be carried out in the middle of the day. It is painful for a Muslim to miss prayers, as they feel they are not fulfilling their duty towards their creator.”

Watch: Muslims pray again on the Sliema front

The community needs a long-term base where it can plan educational initiatives, support the congregation’s social needs and meet other religious leaders.

“As a council, we want to build bridges with society, for the better of society. The more we know each other, the better the understanding and respect towards each other,” he noted.

Read: Islamic Centre 'not content' with holding Friday prayers in public places, situation reflects 'need' for another mosque

But how does he plan to do that, when Christianity and Islam seem to clash, especially in the current turbulent atmosphere?

“According to the Holy Quran, the closest religion to Islam is Christianity. Neither of these two religions ask followers to kill or hurt others in the name of God.

“Neither encourages immoral values but rather generosity and peace,” Mr Zina said.

“There are some beliefs that Christians and Muslims do not agree on, but these differences do not encourage harm to others. The biggest clashes between the two are misconceptions that are often fanned by the media.

“People might be killing and harming others in the name of Islam, but Islam forbids such acts. People who commit such acts are not Muslim, and, according to Islam, they are criminals who should be brought to justice,” he added.

Mr Zina believes that by regularising its prayer facilities, the community will be better able to keep an eye on anyone who tries to corrupt believers. So far, there have been no such reports.

“Proper facilities would even benefit the country’s security. If, God forbid, there was someone who started preaching unacceptable ideologies, we would take action and report them to the police,” he said.