Almost seven years after the third workshop of The Delos Initiative, held in Inari, Finland, the fourth workshop took place in Malta from 24-26 April 2017. The workshop, which was funded by the MAVA Foundation, included experts from different fields, coming from twelve countries: Bosnia, Greece, Indonesia, Lebanon, Malta, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Serbia, Spain, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey. It was organised by MedINA, with the collaboration of the University of Malta and Silene Association. The workshop focused on natural sites spiritually significant for Islam and for various other religions.
The opening session included addresses from Louis F. Cassar, from the Institute of Earth Systems of the University of Malta; Victor Axiak, Chairman on Environment and Resources Authority of Malta; His Grace Mgr. Charles Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta; and the Imam Mohamed El Sadi. After an introduction by Thymio Papayannis on the workshop’s purpose and audience, Josep-Maria Mallarach explained the developments in IUCN and UNESCO during the last 14 years regarding sacred natural sites.
Session 2, devoted on Islamic protected areas, was opened with an address of Godfrey Baldacchino, Pro-Rector for International Affairs, University of Malta. It was followed by the presentation “Encounters with a lost sacred landscape: The case of Late Neolithic Malta” by Reuben Grima professor of Archaeology in the University of Malta, one of the leading experts on the megalithic temples of Malta. The next presentation was on the “Sacred Belt Kramat of Cape Town, South Africa” by Susana Molins-Lliteras from the University of Cape Town, a unique case of a sacred belt around a metropolitan area. It was followed by a presentation on the “Alevi Cultural and Religious Heritage; The Case of Hacı Bektash Dervish Lodge and environmental values in Cappadocia” by Erhan Kurtarir, from the Yıldız Technical University and the Alevi Philosophy Centre. The final presentation was about “The Place and Functions of the Sacred Mountain Sulaiman- Too in the Sacred Geography of Contemporary Kyrgyzstan” by Gulnara Aitpaeva, director of the Aigine Cultural Research Centre in Kyrgyzstan.
Session 3 concerned the conserved natural areas related to more than one faith and sacred natural sites (SNSs) of Malta. The first presentation was devoted to “The Larnaka Salt Lakes, Cyprus: narratives of a sacred landscape” by MedINA’s Irini Lyratzaki and Stefanos Dodouras, followed by “Mt. Rumija and the Cult of St. Vladimir as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Three Living Religions and Skadar lake, Montenegro” by Svetlana Dingarac, tourism consultant and photographer. The presentation about the “Jordan River ecological restoration project, Jordan, Israel and Palestine” by Anwar Abu-Hammour from EcoPeace Middle East was not included, as the author could not get the visa to attend the workshop.
Session 4 was devoted to areas conserved using other effective means of the Islamic tradition, including “The Haraman and the Hima: Inviolable Sanctuaries and Protected Areas in the Islamic Heritage”” by Othman Abdar-Rahman Lewellyn and Abdallah Altlasat from the Saudi Wildlife Authority; followed by “Selected Hima with spiritual values: Anjar – Bekaa Valley, Lebanon” by Bassam Kantar and Assad Serhal from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon; and “Relict forests protected by Mazarat in the Maghreb: the case of the Rif mountains, Morocco” by Lahcen Taïqui, Houda Bensaleh and Josep-Maria Mallarach of Abdelmalek Essaâdi University and the Silene Association.
A fieldtrip was organised for the second day of the workshop, which allowed the participants to visit some of the finest megalithic temples of Malta, including those of HagarQim, Mnajdra and the Neolithic tombs of Xemxija, guided by Reuben Grima. They also visited Mdina, the old capital city of Malta; some of the main holy places related to the visit of the Apostle of Jesus, St. Paul, such as the Grotto in Rabat, a chapel in Bugibba and Naxxar, which show how a tradition was inscribed in the landscape during the time that the island was ruled by the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem.
In the last day of the workshop, session 5 was devoted to ecosystems and landscapes protected by Muslim local communities. The session included a presentation on “Perceiving the Creator through the veils of oblivion: Submitting nature to culture at Bosnian Sufi sites, Bosnia/Herzegovina” by Amra Hadzimuhamedovic from the International University of Sarajevo. It was followed by a presentation on “Faith-based ecosystem protection in Sumatra, Indonesia: the case study of Minangkabau tradition” by Fachruddin Majeri Mangunjaya and Yoan Dinata from the Center for Islamic Studies, of the Universitas Nasional. The final presentation was on the “History and present transformations of Agdal sacralisation of the landscape in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains” by Pablo Domínguez from the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
Each session was followed by a lively discussion on the topics presented, which helped at the end to build the conclusions in a participatory manner.
Session 6 was concerned exclusively a discussion on the Delos Initiative contribution to the future IUCN-UNESCO Guidelines for Protected Area managers on Sacred Natural Sites related to the world’s religions. These Guidelines should complement the existing ones that focus on managers of protected areas including SNSs related to indigenous peoples. An agreement was reached to move forward, and the next steps were briefly discussed, including next workshops, collaboration with other groups within IUCN and fundraising.
The main conclusions of the workshop were discussed during the second part of session 6 and they were agreed through consensus by all participants. The Malta Statement on Sacred Natural Sites with a primary focus on Islam is available for downloading in the three official languages of IUCN from this article and from the Delos web page.