Muslim Community Lobby Ireland is an independent organization established 1st May 2007. Its motto is TO USE THE VOTE RIGHTLY AND TO RAISE THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY AWARNESS WITH THEIR RIGHTS AND TO PROMOTE TOLERANCE AND UNDERSTANDING OF OTHER EXISTING GROUPS. لترشيد استعمال الصوت الانتخابي ولتوعية وتعريف المسلمين بحقوقهم في ايرلندا وان يعيشوا بتفهم للواقع وللجماعات الاخرى الموجودة على الساحة
Monday, February 25, 2008
Irish Muslims at a Crossroads (Part One)
The first wave of Muslims came for higher education, notably to study medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin.Although the roots of Islam in the Republic of Ireland can indeed be traced further back, the visits of Muslim trading ships in the 1950s triggered the real presence of Muslims in Ireland. This in itself is interesting because, unlike the presence of Muslim minorities in other European countries, the arrival of Muslims to Ireland was not connected with citizens from former colonies as in Britain and France, or with labor agreements signed after World War II as in Austria and Germany to which many Turks moved in search for work.Unlike the large numbers of underprivileged and undereducated Muslims who are now the feature of Islam in many European countries, the Muslims who came to Ireland were of an altogether different type. In a sense, then, there is a parallel here with the growth of Muslim communities in the US and Canada.
The first wave of Muslims came for higher education, notably to study medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. Students initially came from South Africa, and further students began to arrive from Malaysia and the Gulf States. Once they had graduated, many of these students stayed on and took Irish citizenship, becoming valued professionals within the Irish community. In 1959, these students founded the Dublin Islamic Society, which grew and grew until it became the Islamic Foundation of Ireland.
In the 1970s, large numbers of Muslim doctors came to practice medicine, and there was also an influx of trainees in aircraft engineering from Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia. So, the foundations of a Muslim presence in Ireland were based on a usefulness to the state. Although many Irish citizens could look upon these foreigners as having strange backgrounds and unfamiliar religious beliefs, they could nonetheless appreciate the contributions they were making.
Ireland has a very small population of about 4.2 million people. Any increase, then, in doctors and trained professionals would have a "felt" positive effect on the nation as a whole. Since Ireland became a member of the European Community, its economy has boomed and there have been significant improvements and much progress in many areas. Along with this boom, though, there have been two other significant developments: the decline in religious practice among the Irish in general and the huge increase in the number of Muslims.
Census of Irish Muslims
According to the official census of 1991, there were less than 4,000 Muslims in Ireland. In the official census of 2006, this number grew to over 30,000. The problem for many Irish is that this huge increase in numbers has not been of doctors and trained professionals. Rather, it has been of refugees and asylum seekers who fled for their lives from many of the world's war-ravaged areas and gave a whole new flavor to Islam in Ireland.
The first group of Muslim refugees came from Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, seeking solace from the carnage and destruction of the civil war back home. At first, 350 refugees arrived, and they were later followed by military personnel (those injured in the war) and the families of the refugees. At present, there are about 1,200 Bosnian Muslims living in the Republic of Ireland.
The second group of Muslim refugees came from Somalia. While not a large number (only 100 people), these Somali Muslims added to the new makeup of Ireland's Muslim community, with all the resulting negativity that nationalists and bigots can throw at any minority. There are also still about 1,100 Muslims from Kosovo living in the Republic of Ireland. They came as late as 1999 to escape from the war there.
As well as the refugees, the numbers of the Muslim community were swelled even more by about 3,500 official asylum seekers who came to live in Ireland from Nigeria, Kenya, Algeria, Libya, Iraq, and Egypt. From 4,000 in 1991, the numbers of Muslims in Ireland have increased after the addition of 6,000 refugees and asylum seekers, which seriously altered the makeup of the Muslim community.
Muslims believe that Islam is the natural religion of humankind and that it has existed since the beginning of time. Its members cover the whole globe and look upon one another as brothers and sisters, regardless of their country of origin. For Ireland's Muslims, then, the addition of significant numbers of other brothers and sisters was a blessing, not a problem. If anything, it has meant that the state has had to take into account Muslim ideas and sensitivities because Islam is now a bigger player on the Irish stage. For those who are not Muslim, though, there is a potential problem.
Ireland's Muslims have always been moderate in outlook, well able to integrate into the mainstream of the Irish society, and demonstrative of their belonging to both Islam and Ireland. Yet, the recent years have seen an increase (albeit small at the moment) in Islamophobia and verbal and physical attacks on Muslims, often fueled by more sensational media reporting.
There is a parallel here, once more, with the US and Canada, where recent months have seen politicians and others beginning to point fingers in the direction of the Muslim community, where fingers had not been previously pointed. Ordinary citizens pick up on this media attention, and the seeds of trouble begin to be sown.
On the Edge of Change
The other background against which Irish Muslims find themselves is that of declining religious practice in the country as a whole. The Irish Constitution of 1937 recognized the special position of the Roman Catholic Church. The majority of the people were Catholic. The voice of the Church would be neglected at the peril of those who neglected it. The Constitution also recognized Protestants and Jews, but Islam was not mentioned because there were no Muslims. The Constitution was changed in 1972, and the whole article about the special position of Roman Catholicism was abolished. In this sense, Islam is now as much recognized as any other religion, because none is mentioned in particular.
Alongside constitutional change came a change in the mindset of many Irish Catholics who no longer looked to the Church for guidance. Their views on divorce and abortion came to be in direct contrast to Church teachings. Numbers attending the Church have seriously declined in recent years.
Given all this, then, the growth of Islam at the heart of what was once perhaps the most Catholic country in the world has been too much for some. They see Islam as foreign to their way of life and a threat to many of the values they hold dear.
Muslims in Ireland are poised for a changing role. It is for Muslims there to grasp the chance they have been given or to throw it away. They can retreat into ethnic and cultural groups, as has happened in many other countries of Europe, shunning contact with non-Muslims and mainstream society. This will bring with it all the accusations against Muslims of not being really wholehearted citizens and not having the best interests of Ireland at heart. Or they can immerse themselves into a society in need of God.
People of Faith
This does not mean for one minute to give up anything of what it means to be Muslim. It does not mean submitting to those secular forces that have no place for religion and spirituality in the Irish society either. Those groups gloat over any division they see among the religious people, and it is for Muslims and others to challenge such ideas wherever they find them. Muslims should hold fast to the rope of Allah and extend their hands to other people of faith within the island of Ireland.
People of faith have so much in common. Islam is not a threat to any community or to any other faith. Indeed, no one should ever feel threatened by goodness wherever it is. By being strong in faith and faithful to prayer, the Muslims of Ireland have so much to offer to their nation. Hopefully, they will seize this chance.
What do you think of the current state of Irish Muslims?
How can they make the best of their existence in Ireland?
In your opinion, is there any other obstacle that Irish Muslims encounter?
Idris Tawfiq is a British writer who became a Muslim in 2000. For many years, he was head of religious education in different schools in the United Kingdom. Before embracing Islam, he was a Roman Catholic priest. He now lives in Egypt.
You can visit his website here.