Muslims Find a Welcoming Home in Famously Catholic Ireland


Perhaps because of its strong religious background, the nation has been more accepting of Islam than many of its European neighbors.

DUBLIN – A new 60,000-square-foot development is likely to generate friction in any urban setting, much less a mosque in the capital of a historically Catholic country.

And yet a proposal to construct a multi-use Islamic center — including a three-story domed mosque, school, and fitness facility — in the north Dublin neighborhood of Clongriffin has triggered little of the anti-Muslim blowback surrounding similar projects in other parts of Europe and in the United States.

“Any politician I listen to in Ireland always reminds himself and the audience that we were and still are an emigrant nation…that we left home for a better future, and should treat people who are coming to this country fairly.”

In some ways, the reaction, or lack thereof, is symbolic of the Republic of Ireland’s relationship with its burgeoning Muslim population. It’s one of acceptance – at least on the surface — that is partially rooted in the successful narrative of the country’s earliest Muslim immigrants, many of them university students.

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

The relationship is also shaped by a long Irish history of poverty and emigration, according to some. Most notably, the Irish Potato Famine, which started in 1845 and lasted several years, 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.”

Muslims make up just 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.

They are one subgroup in a rapidly diversifying country. The demographic changes were fueled in part by workers seeking opportunities during the Celtic Tiger, Ireland’s economic boom that ran from the mid-1990s until 2008. Almost simultaneously, the number of asylum seekers and refugees began to climb. The once-homogenous Ireland is now 17 percent foreign-born.

In many ways, the Irish Muslim community is a cross-section of the Islamic world. It is increasingly diverse not only in origin — members hail from dozens of different countries — but also in education level, socioeconomic status, and in their motives for immigrating.

The first Muslims in Ireland began arriving in the 1950s, most to study medicine. The stream of students continued for decades. Many returned home, but some stayed, forged careers, married, and had children.

Ireland does not have a long history of viewing its Muslim population as a social problem, largely because those early immigrants integrated relatively easily, Scharbrodt said.

During orientation at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1994, newly arrived post-graduate scholarship student Mustafa 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.

“The Irish are very friendly people, very religious people,” said 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.”

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.

Elsewhere in Europe, anxiety about Islam abounds. Voters in Switzerland passed a constitutional referendum in 2009 prohibiting the construction of minarets, or mosque prayer towers. In 2011, the French government implemented on a ban on the wearing of face-obscuring veils in public.

“[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.”

To be sure, Muslims in Ireland confront their share of challenges, especially recent arrivals. During the last decade, unemployment among immigrants was consistently higher as compared to Irish nationals. That gap only widened with the onset of the economic recession.

They also face a different culture and climate, as well as a new language. Even those who arrive speaking English have struggled.

“If I talked to someone from the north [side of Dublin], I wouldn’t understand anything,” said Bushra Ibrahim, a 43-year-old mother of five who immigrated from Iraq a decade ago. “It is English, but it doesn’t sound like English.”

Head coverings worn by some Muslim women in Ireland sometimes attract unwanted attention. Ibrahim said that once she was approached by half a dozen teenagers who addressed her as “Paki” and told her to “go home.”

“In Ireland, religion and politics have always been connected together.”

Isolated incidents aside, Ibrahim and other Muslims said they find parity between their own faith life and their adopted country’s conservative religious history. They like that the Catholic-dominated education system offers numerous single-sex schools, and said that school officials typically accommodate the needs of Muslim students, including dietary restrictions and uniform modifications.

“The articulation of a religious identity in the public arena is not seen to be that problematic,” Scharbrodt said. “In Ireland, religion and politics have always been connected together.”

The story of Muslims in Ireland will likely grow more complicated in the coming years, Scharbrodt said. The community is no longer made up entirely of students and professionals, but now includes many asylum seekers with little education and few skills.

The socioeconomic shift has broad implications. There is a certain nostalgia among long-established Muslims for an earlier time when members of the religious minority were closely associated with education and elite career fields, Scharbrodt said.

What’s more, some children of Muslim immigrants could find themselves straddling two worlds and not really feeling at home in either, a reality for many young people in other parts of Europe, Scharbrodt said.

Still, Muslims said they see a bright future as they carve out a place for their faith in Ireland. It will likely include plenty of growth — the population is projected to hit 125,000 by 2030, according to an analysis published by the Pew Research Center.

After being approved by the Dublin City Council in March, the proposed Clongriffin Islamic center is now under appeal — but the biggest complaints about the project aren’t its purpose, but rather over its size and potential impact on traffic.

“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. “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.”

via Muslims Find a Welcoming Home in Famously Catholic Ireland – Megan O’Neil – The Atlantic.

via Muslims Find a Welcoming Home in Famously Catholic Ireland – Megan O’Neil – The Atlantic.

Advertisements

About Old Boy

Love the past and the future but live in the present

Posted on May 20, 2013, in Ireland, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Has Irish birth rate dropped, like many other countries with growing immigrant populations?

    • Birth Rate has increased. Immigrant population is now more than 10% of the population. Polish number one. Saw a strange fact a few days ago. The nigerians in Ireland according to the world bank on average sent home approx Euro 26,000 per head. Outcome a likely government inquiry

      • N has a reputation for scams. Much of my email spam folder is from there. How can your beautiful island support so many people?—I meant native Irish birth rate rather than over all With the Pope (and Cromwell) loosing influence, I would expect it to go down. U.K. altogether, NOT counting Muslim immigrants is 1.6/family Muslim families are 8.?/family. Belgium and the Netherlands are worse. The demographics are changing fast in many areas.

      • In truth Ireland needs an inward flow as the population is too small. We need more people working and paying tax

      • Or is that from street beggars who also get welfare?

      • No must say I have never seen a nigerian begging on the street. Most of the street beggars are Romanians

  2. Religion has been political since the beginning of time! Good example in your article: Remind me of Santa Sofia in Constantinople!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Canadian Cinephile

"For me, cinema is a vice. I love it intimately." Fritz Lang

Dispatches from the Asylum

I believe in only one thing and that thing is human liberty ~ H.L. Mencken

Jacolette:

a gallery of Irish snapshot and vernacular photography.

lifesdailylessonsblog

Exploring life lessons though the Arts

Classic for a Reason

Reviews of Classic Films from the Golden Age of Hollywood

Burrello Submarine's Movie Blog

cinema esoterica obscura

Motion Picture Blog

Indie Film Reviews & Recommendations

First Night Design

Art, Design, Theatre, Literature, History, Food, Laughter ...

Paddy Healy's Blog

In defence of Education and the Public Services

shivashishspeaks

ALL U WANNA KNOW

Riding the High Country

Reviews and ramblings

Movies Tavern

Horror e Exploitation, B-Movies & Trash, Rarità e Capolavori. Insomma, ciò che mi piace.

CravenWild

The life and times of a filmmaker: fashion, beauty, books and life.

spearfruit

....................................it's my life

vinnieh

Movie reviews and anything else that comes to mind

renxkyoko's space

Just another WordPress.com site

TheMarckoguy

"TheMarckoguy" is the alternate name for Markus. Markus is a human who reviews stuff.

Tippity Tappin Away in the Coffee Shop

I write a lot, and I wanted a place to share my flash fiction stories.

/ EXPERIENCE OF THINKING / EXPÉRIENCE DE PENSÉE / ESPERIENZA DI PENSIERO /

The world is everything that is the case. --- Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Erin's Movie corner

Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn

Come Here To Me!

Dublin Life & Culture.

Ghost Dog

Notes From the Underground with Pictures

Karmic Reaction Blog

#Arts/#Culture/#History/#Music/#Politics/#Science/#Writing

Product of Half-glass.com

An average guy capable of discussing TV & film on a higher level but would rather do it from the couch.

Kate Bowyers Media Adventure

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” — Maya Angelou

Reel Realities

A blog about my love for movies

Silent-ology

Uncovering the silent era

American History-8th Block

Made by Alyssa Carlton

31 Horror Movies in 31 Days

Celebrating History and Horror Films

Gizmo February

The Literary Explorations of a Bulldog

Year of Horror

One full year of clammy hands and sweaty butt cheeks

Danyeti

Design as understood by Danielle

Bradley's Basement

Tim Bradley's Blog

Champagne for Lunch

"Only on special occasions."

Save Celluloid

Information on Film Preservation and Restoration

Media coursework

By George Milton

Ciryan

Crazy,Batty

Nitrate Diva

Old Movies. Fresh Takes.

Kid Slender

Let all the children boogie

%d bloggers like this: