"On my flight to Malta from Germany, I prayed a lot – because Malta was a completely new country for me, I prayed that God gives me courage and wisdom to get to know the Maltese people," says Laiq Ahmed Atif, 30, from Pakistan.
"As soon as I was out of Malta International Airport, I felt comfortable – I knew that Malta would be my second home."
Atif has been in Malta for four years and is the president of an organisation called Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta. He is married to Bushra and they have two children – a boy and a girl.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta, with headquarters in the UK, offers solidarity to all peoples from all cultures and religions. The organisation is present in almost 200 countries and has over 160 million members worldwide.
"There are a lot of branches in Islam. In Ahmadiyya, we believe that the Messiah and Mahdi (guide), who according to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would come to reform Islam, has already come."
The motto of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta is 'Love for all, hatred for none'.
"When we help people, we help human beings – we don't look at race, religion or culture," says Atif. Atif has worked hard to integrate.
"The Maltese people have a kind heart and that helped me integrate fast," he says. Atif has also learned Maltese. "I wanted to learn the language so that I can act as a bridge for cultural diversity and religious harmony in Malta," he says.
"I remember how, when Atif first came to Malta, he would read all the papers and watch the news so that he could understand the Maltese culture," says Justin Schembri, who teaches Atif Maltese. "He wanted to learn about the Maltese culture before he actually started participating.
"When I met Atif, there was a connection between us – we were not just teacher and student, but we also became friends.
"Atif managed to integrate so well in Malta because he is a very friendly and respectful man – he seeks friendship with everyone," Justin says.
"Integration is very important, especially in our globalised world" says Atif. "We cannot be isolated from others, and we must respect diversity – diversity is what makes the world beautiful.
"As a Muslim, it is my responsibility to love Malta as the country where I live. I do not want to be a burden on this country – rather, I want to be part of it."
Chicken haleem – When we eat as a family, we talk and discuss... food brings people together.
Ingredients: 350gr chicken; 200gr wheat; 40gr yellow split lentils; 3 onions, sliced; 1 tbs garlic paste; 1 tbs ginger paste; 1 tsp garam masala; 2 tbs red chilli powder; 8 green chillies; 1.5 tbs coriander powder; 1 tsp turmeric powder; 1 tsp cumin seeds; Salt to taste; Quarter tsp bicarbonate of soda; 5 tbs oil; Fresh mint; Coriander leaves; 4 lemons, quartered.
Method: Heat the oil in a pan and fry the chicken pieces. Add the garlic, garam masala, red chilli, coriander, turmeric and salt. In a separate pan, boil the wheat in water. Add salt. When the grains are tender, add the bicarbonate of soda. Cook for 15 minutes. Mix the wheat with the chicken. Grind the lentils and add water until it forms a thick paste. Add this to the meat and stir in well. Cook for 30 minutes. Fry the sliced onions until crispy. When the haleem is ready, garnish with the fried onions, mint, coriander leaves and lemon.
This interview was included in the publication InterAct – A Portrait of Third-Country Nationals in Malta, published as part of the Media InterAct project (IF 2010 02) and distributed with The Times. They are based on the TV programme Minn Lenti Interkulturali, produced/presented by Maria Muscat (PBS), and directed/edited by Godfrey Smith (PBS) and broadcast on Education22/TVM2 and TVM between January and March, 2012 and on TVM between April and June, 2012. The project is co-financed through the European Fund for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals. The project is led by SOS Malta, in partnership with the Public Broadcasting Services and the Institute of Maltese Journalists.
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