CAIRO – North Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson has paid a special visit to the Islamic Center in Belfast, making a public apology to the country’s Muslim community over comments he made against Islam.
"I have had a very welcoming visit to the Belfast Islamic Centre. I have been received in friendship, and respect," Robison said outside the Islamic Center after meeting Muslim leader, Blefast Telegraph reported.
"I came here to make it very clear that the members of the Islamic community are a very important and valued part of our society in Northern Ireland.
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"I know many of you centre on an issue of an issue of an apology - I apologize to these gentlemen, if anything I said had caused them hurt.
"I can see in many cases, it has. I say I apologize, face-to-face, man-to-man. The way it should be done.”
The controversy erupted ten days ago when pastor James McConnell of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast told his congregation that “a new evil had arisen” and “there are cells of Muslims right throughout Britain”.
Wading into the controversy, Peter Robinson, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) first minister, supported McConnell’s claims in an interview with the Irish News newspaper.
In a bid to calm rising anger in North Ireland, Robinson issued a statement in which he apologized to Muslims who had been hurt or distressed by his comments.
The apology followed Robinson’s meeting with three members of Belfast's Islamic Centre on Thursday to discuss the fall-out from his comments in support of anti-Islamic pastor McConnell.
Yet, Irish people went in huge anti-racism rally last Saturday, demanding a public apology from Robinson.
During Tuesday’s visit, the Irish First Minister was offered a one-hour tour inside the center after which he offered the public apology.
"I made it very clear to the people present tonight that I apologize for any offence that I might have caused,” he said.
"The very last thing that I would have ever have in my mind would be to cause anyone hurt or distress or to insult them and I make that publicly clear as well in the clearest possible terms.
"I cannot spend the rest of my life apologizing but what I can do is spend the rest of my life building the united community that I believe we want in Northern Ireland."
Hoping for fruitful cooperation with Robison, Muslim leaders said he should return to meet them about a range of issues surrounding ethnic minorities.
"He was clear about his explanation and apology," Dr Osama Chahrour, a scientist, who was among a large group of people who met Robinson, told Belfast Telegraph.
He added: "It was a good visit."
Robinson has also praised the warm reception he got at the Islamic center, expressing hope of drawing a line under the past and concentrate on building a united future.
"I came here to make it very clear that the representatives of the Islamic community are a very important and valued part of our society in Northern Ireland,” he said.
The first minister added that the hate crime committed against two Muslims of Pakistani origin earlier this week hurt him.
"Just because people are different doesn't mean there should be division between us and them,” he said.
"It adds to the vibrancy of our society, it adds to the culture that we have in Northern Ireland, the more people that we have from different backgrounds who can contribute to it.
"I hope that fellow citizens from throughout Northern Ireland recognize that it is far better to get to know people, to understand people, than to keep a distance from them and certainly to cause them any harm or hurt."
Muslims make up 1.1 percent of the 4.5 million people in Ireland, but their ranks are swelling due to immigration, domestic births, and in some cases conversion.
Two decades ago, they numbered about 4,000.
A 2011 census recorded 49,204 Muslims, including nearly 12,000 school-aged children. The numbers represent a 51 percent increase since 2006.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net - Read full article here
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