Ireland’s Muslims don’t expect major backlash after Paris
‘Irish people understand what it is to be tarred with the same brush,’ says imam
These are uneasy times for Muslims in the West. On Saturday in Dublin a man pointed at Imam Dr Umar Al-Qadri in his clerical attire “and said one word – ‘Evil’.”
But in general things are possibly less difficult in Ireland. Muslims might “get suspicious looks on trains or buses, on the streets,” but “these are isolated incidents,” says the imam at the Islamic Educational & Cultural Centre Ireland, in Coolmine, west Dublin.
“Irish people understand more than any others what it is to be tarred with the same brush,” he says, adding that his community has had “phone calls and emails from people saying, ‘Isn’t it a terrible time for you’.”
Ireland’s Muslim community is young, dating from the 1950s when it was made up mainly of students at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin.
The Dublin Islamic Society was formed in 1959 by a group of such students. A premises at Harrington Street in the city became Ireland’s first mosque in 1976.
Today the estimated figure for Muslims in Ireland is 75,000, most of whom arrived during the Celtic Tiger years. In 2002 they numbered 19,147. According to the 2011 census that figure was 49,204, though the belief then was that the actual figure was around 60,000.
A high proportion are professional people, including more than 2,000 doctors. And also, unlike elsewhere in Europe, they are not ghettoised but live all over Ireland. It is estimated there are 54 mosques in the Republic, mostly suburban houses in towns and cities across the State.
The great majority are Sunni with a Shia mosque at Milltown in Dublin. The Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, the largest in Ireland, was opened at Dublin’s Clonskeagh by then President Mary Robinson in 1996. It was built by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai.
In Clonskeagh, Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre said: “In Ireland we wouldn’t expect a bad reaction. It was the same after 9/11, when Muslims suffered we got support. The Irish suffered similar experiences in the past.”
“We wanted to send a strong message, that they cannot divide us. We are united against terrorism. We cannot let these people win.
“We cannot let them make Muslims believe that Europe is not inclusive.
“We have to send a strong message that we are accepted here, this is our society and that it is untrue to say Islam and the West are not compatible,” he told The Irish Times.
Ireland, he also felt, was “quite different to other European countries”. In Ireland, Muslims are not alienated, even if “a very small number” had become radicalised.
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, he says, puts the number at 30.
He blames social media for their radicalisation, pointing out that this could happen within three weeks among vulnerable young Muslims.
“The question for Muslim leadership is what went wrong, how texts could be misinterpreted and misquoted,” he says, calling for guidelines to promote moderation and tolerance.
Recently, he called for the standardisation of the syllabus at the Muslim faith schools (madrassas) in Ireland and insistence on qualifications for the teachers.
Since then, they have returned to live normal lives. Currently, no one from Ireland is fighting abroad, he claimed.
“IS has created a nightmare situation and confusion for everybody. It doesn’t appeal at all,” he said.
Late on Friday night, Dr Al-Qadri was quick to condemn the Paris killers “an enemy to Islam and all humanity”, adding that IS’s “cancerous ideology”can only be defeated collectively by Muslim leaders.
Meanwhile, the Irish Council of Imams, which represents Muslim religious leaders across the state, emphasised that the killings “can by no means be classified as a just struggle”.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, based in Galway where they’ve recently opened Ireland’s newest mosque, condemned the “ barbaric attacks” in Paris.
A statement on behalf of 18 Islamic organisations across Ireland, condemned “in the strongest terms the heinous attacks and series of explosions that rocked the city of Paris.”
Relations between the Muslim community and broader Irish society are good. Successive governments have ensured Muslims are represented at various State events and in structured dialogue meetings between State and church, faith communities, philosophical and non-confessional bodies.
In fact the Irish Council of Imams was set up in 2006 at the request of the State so Muslims might be represented at the structured dialogue meetings.
It has also helped that Ireland does not have a colonial history, except as a colony and, as Dr Selim put it, that “Ireland didn’t invade anywhere.”