Source/Credit: Sunday, October 13, 2013, 18:47 by Kim Dalli
Leafing through media reports depicting harrowing accounts of the shopping mall attack in Kenya by Islamist gunmen a fortnight ago, Laiq Ahmed Atif was overcome by sadness and grief.
“Ħassejt diqa kbira ġo qalbi,” (I felt sorrow in my heart) the 32-year-old says in fluent Maltese.
“Not just for the fact that they are giving such a bad name to Islam but ultimately for the loss of all those innocent lives – a heinous crime. The word ‘Islam’ traditionally means ‘peace’. Yet their actions can’t possibly be farther from that.
“Islam is in dire need of a reform.”
The soft-spoken Pakistani is the president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta, a Muslim community which has just published a book which discusses, among other things, whether Muslims can successfully integrate into western societies.
The book, World Crisis and the Pathway to Peace, was originally published in the UK but has just been translated into Maltese.
The author is the head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat (community), Mirza Masroor Ahmad who, six years ago, asked Mr Atif to emigrate to Malta as the president of the Ahmadi community.
Ahmadiyya is an Islamist reformist movement founded in the 19th century.
It encapsulates a few million people in more than 200 countries. Malta’s Ahmadi community amounts to a handful of people – around 25 in all.
They should learn all about Maltese culture and, especially, the Maltese language
“As a Muslim living in Malta, I believe it is my duty and part of my faith to love and to play my role in the progress and prosperity of Malta, said Mr Atif.
He lives with his wife and their two young children, the youngest of whom was born in Malta.
He is the ultimate example of successful integration, loving our island which brought out the best qualities in him, as opposed to life in Pakistan where his tolerant and benevolent interpretation of Islam was stifled by extremist groups.
He is fluent in Maltese and loved by countless Maltese whom he befriended.
“I believe Muslims in Malta can integrate very well – but they need to work hard at integration,” he said.
“They should learn all about Maltese culture and, especially, the Maltese language.
“If a Muslim practises those golden principles in daily life and feels that Malta is his country, then he will automatically show complete loyalty and struggle to make Malta a better country.”
And it is this “struggle” which leads Mr Atif to a contentious point – understanding the Jihad, which translates literally into “struggle”.
Ahmadis believes this struggle refers to the building of a better and more peaceful society.
However, extremists interpret it as referring to the struggle against those who do not believe in Islamic God (Allah).
“I think one of the crucial points is that there is no effective leadership in Islam,” Mr Arif reflects, comparing the situation to the leadership Pope Francis provides to Catholics.
“For instance, in Pakistan, three Imams from three mosques are utterly unable to sit at a table and engage in constructive dialogue.
“The problem is that many Imams in mosques fuel hatred. For instance, Shia Muslims are encouraged to kill the Sunni Muslims and vice versa, while being told that they will gain the blessings of God and go to paradise. I’ve gone through the Koran hundreds of times and never have I spotted even the slightest reference to violence.”
He believes that Muslims in Malta also need leadership and guidance – not only in spiritual matters but on a practical level, such as how to live and how to integrate.
And hanging on the wall of his office are dozens of newspaper cuttings, marking the thousands of euros and provisions donated by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta to id-Dar tal-Providenza, Malta Community Chest Fund, Richmond Foundation, St Vincent de Paul and other organisations which help make Malta a better place.