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Muslims Welcomed in Catholic Ireland

Published: 21/04/2013 12:18:30 PM GMT
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DUBLIN - In a country that describes itself as an immigrant nation, a growing Muslim community is welcomed in historically Catholic Ireland, giving a model for Europeans and Americans on integration.“When we talk about wid (more)

DUBLIN - In a country that describes itself as an immigrant nation, a growing Muslim community is welcomed in historically Catholic Ireland, giving a model for Europeans and Americans on integration.

“When we talk about wider Irish society, there is not that much preoccupation within public discourse with the Muslim presence in Ireland,” Oliver Scharbrodt, a professor at University College Cork and an expert on Ireland's Muslim population, told The Atlantic.

Scharbrodt was referring to the acceptance of a growing Muslim population in Ireland.

In the historically catholic country, a new Islamic center on a 60,000 square foot was not likely to generate friction in Ireland.

In the Dublin neighborhood of Clongriffin, a new multi-use Islamic center, including a three-story domed mosque, school, and fitness facility, has not triggered the anti-Muslim sentiments surrounding similar projects in other parts of Europe and in the United States.

The welcoming reaction was symbolic of the Republic of Ireland's relationship with its burgeoning Muslim population.

The acceptance of Muslims was partially rooted in the successful narrative of the country's earliest Muslim immigrants, many of them university students.

A long history of Ireland's poverty and immigration also helped in the acceptance of Muslims in the European country.

That history began with the Irish Potato Famine, which started in 1845 and lasted several years, and killed an estimated 1 million people and drove millions more to the United States and elsewhere.

The pattern of emigration carried on well into the 20th century.

“There is a history that has shaped what an Irishman is,” said Said El Bauzari, a Moroccan native who moved to Ireland 14 years ago.

“Any politician I listen to here in Ireland always reminds himself and the audience that we were and still are an emigrant nation.

“We should not forget our past, that we left home for a better future, and we should treat people who are coming to this country fairly,” El Bauzari added.

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.

In 2011, the census recorded 49,204 Muslims, including nearly 12,000 school-aged children. The numbers represent a 51 percent increase since 2006.


Arriving in Ireland in the 1950s, Muslims have easily integrated in the Irish community.

“The Irish are very friendly people, very religious people,” said Mustafa Alawi, 44, a native of Bahrain who now operates a private clinic providing cosmetic procedures in the heart of Dublin.

“Everybody called you doctor from the first time they saw you.”

During orientation at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1994, newly arrived post-graduate scholarship student Alawi mentioned to his guide that he would need to pray midday.

He was shown the chapel, and soon the campus priest began to anticipate his daily visit

In a 2012 European Commission survey on discrimination in the European Union, 79 percent of Irish respondents described discrimination based on religion or beliefs as “rare” or “non-existent” in Ireland.

Meanwhile, 66 percent of French respondents described religious discrimination in their country as “widespread.”

Irish also expressed the highest comfort level of any of their European neighbors with having a member of a religious minority fill the highest elected office in Ireland.

“[In France], if you have a beard like this you would never find a job,” said Riadh Mahmoudi, a 35-year-old Algerian immigrant, gesturing to his chin.

“My wife, for example, wears the full niqab. If she wears the niqab [in France], she would be in trouble. She would be fined. You don't see these things happen here.”

Being widely accepted in Ireland, Muslims said they see a bright future as they carve out a place for their faith.

“Once you make this place your home, and once your neighbor feels okay with you becoming his neighbor and that you have made your home next door to him, that is integration,” El Bauzari, the Moroccan immigrant.

“For me, it has already happened. My neighbors are Irish. My kids go with Irish kids to school. I think it is really a positive story to tell from this country.”

Reproduced with permission from