The future of Islamic Ireland by MARY FITZGERALD

The future of Islamic Ireland by MARY FITZGERALD

The Irish Times – Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ireland’s Muslim population has grown tenfold in 20 years and is still expanding. But official Ireland is failing to engage with the increasing number of ethnic and political groups

‘DOWN A ROAD on an industrial estate in Togher, a suburb two kilometres south of Cork city centre, stands a nondescript former engineering premises whose future will mark a significant chapter in the story of Islam in Ireland. Within a year the hulking concrete building will be transformed into a mosque complex capable of accommodating 1,000 or so worshippers. Design plans show a crescent-topped glass tower overlooking gleaming white arches and domes. The one-acre site will be the second-biggest such complex in the country, after the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI), in Clonskeagh in Dublin, and the second purpose-built Sunni mosque outside the capital. It is yet another sign of the deep roots Islam has laid in Ireland.

“This is a very important step for us,” says Salim al-Faituri, the mosque’s Libyan-born imam. “We have been moving from one rented premises to another for years. Finally we will have a place of our own.” The new mosque, funded by donations including one €800,000 gift from a Qatari benefactor, will cater for 6,000 Muslims in Cork and several thousand more living in its hinterland.

“This is the second-biggest Muslim community outside Dublin,” says Ahmed H Zahran, an Egyptian academic at University College Cork who sits on the mosque committee. “And it’s growing.”

Ireland’s Muslim population, when compared with other European countries’, is relatively young, but it is changing fast. Almost 10 times more Muslims live in Ireland today than lived here 20 years ago. The 2006 census put the figure at just under 33,000, but most observers agree the true figure is well in excess of 40,000. The number of Muslims here increased by almost 70 per cent between 2002 and 2006, making Islam one of the fastest-growing religions in the country.

Ireland’s Muslim community is also becoming more diverse – so much so that it is truer to speak of a constellation of communities. In the past Muslims from the Middle East and north Africa tended to predominate. Most of this earlier generation came for educational or professional reasons and decided to stay, often marrying Irish citizens. From the early 1990s, however, the population swelled to include more Muslims from south and southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Balkans. Many of the new arrivals were young economic migrants; others were asylum seekers. (Muslims from Nigeria, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Algeria and elsewhere have sought asylum in Ireland.) Irish converts make up a small percentage, with some estimates putting the number in the hundreds. The vast majority of Muslims in Ireland are Sunni, but there is also a substantial Shia population in Dublin.

“This is probably one of the most diverse Muslim populations in Europe,” says Dr Oliver Scharbrodt, who is leading a pioneering three-year research project on Islam in Ireland at UCC. “In other European countries you have a particular ethnic group or nationality being dominant because of historical or colonial links, but that is not the case in Ireland. One could say that Ireland constitutes a microcosm of the global ummah [community of believers], with all the different nationalities, trends and movements present and visible in a fairly small geographic and communal space.”

Muslims here cherish that diversity, but there are increasing signs that the growing number of nationalities and ethnicities, as well as doctrinal and political cleavages, brings its own challenges, not least the vexed question of who, if anyone, speaks for Islam in Ireland.

Most Muslims will argue that, given the traditional lack of anything resembling a church-like structure or hierarchy in Islam, it is impossible for any individual or organisation to claim to represent Muslims living here.

But there is one institution – the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI) – that because of its size and financial resources, plus its long-standing relationship with the Government, towers over the rest. According to many disgruntled Muslims interviewed for this article, the centre jealously guards its self-appointed position as the voice of Islam in Ireland. Superficially, the ICCI is the most visible face of the faith, from its sprawling mosque complex in south Dublin, which hosts school tours several times a week, to the frequency with which its representatives participate in public debate.

When official Ireland wants to reach out to Muslims it will most likely turn to the centre in Clonskeagh. President Mary McAleese made the most recent of several visits in December. The centre has welcomed Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his predecessor Bertie Ahern, plus a parade of ministers. (Dick Roche visited during the Israeli military offensive on Gaza in early 2009 to explain Ireland’s position on the conflict.) Such high-profile visitors are usually hosted by Shaheen Ahmed, a Pakistan-born businessman and friend of Ahern’s who ran unsuccessfully as a Fianna Fáil candidate in the 2009 local elections.

The Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland’s four-acre complex, which includes a school, was built in 1996 with funding from the al-Maktoum Foundation, headed by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum, deputy ruler of Dubai and finance minister of the United Arab Emirates. The al-Maktoum family has extensive business interests in Ireland through its involvement in the bloodstock industry. The centre has about 20 members of staff, mostly of Arab origin, who are full-time employees of the al-Maktoum Foundation. Its chief executive is the Iraqi-born Dr Nooh al-Kaddo, who moved from Britain to Dublin in 1997 to run the complex.

Many Muslims in Ireland speak of the ICCI as the “Ikhwani” mosque, an Arabic-language reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which, since its foundation in Egypt, in 1928, has grown to become the world’s most influential transnational Islamist movement.

As Scharbrodt notes in a forthcoming volume on Ireland’s new religious movements, the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland is “part of a network of European organisations and groups with close links to the Muslim Brotherhood and its various European branches – a connection that has caused some controversy”. He stresses, however, that these affiliations are “very often loose and informal” and include, apart from personal connections of staff at the centre, institutional ties with the Brussels-based Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe, an umbrella organisation of various branches and affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Association of Ireland, which is based at a mosque in Tallaght, also comes under the federation’s umbrella. Senior figures at some other mosques also have links with the Muslim Brotherhood, mostly dating back to political involvement in their countries of origin. “The Muslim Brotherhood influence constitutes one of the strongest elements of Islam in Ireland,” says one well-placed source.

THE IMAM AT THE Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, Egyptian-born Hussein Halawa, is the secretary of an offshoot of the federation called the European Council for Fatwa and Research, a group of scholars that issues religious opinions on practical matters specific to Muslims in Europe. Because of Halawa’s role, the council has its headquarters at the Clonskeagh centre. “With the [ICCI] hosting the secretariat of this leading body of Islamic jurisprudence, Ireland has become the centre of one of the most influential ideological and intellectual trends of the contemporary Muslim world,” says Scharbrodt.

The European council was established by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric based in Qatar who is considered a spiritual guide for the Muslim Brotherhood. Qaradawi, who presents a popular TV programme on Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel, has drawn controversy in the US and Europe for his pronouncements, including the sanctioning of Palestinian suicide bombing. He has visited Ireland several times, and is expected to travel to Dublin later this year.

In a 2010 report the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that about 400 mosques across Europe are said to be at least indirectly associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. It noted that European organisations with roots in the brotherhood have begun working more closely with governments in Europe, as has happened in Ireland. “In part because of their professional staffs and middle-class leadership, groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood are sometimes seen by government officials and other influential members of society as being proxies for the Muslim community as a whole,” the report said.

However, as Scharbrodt notes, while organisations such as the ICCI and the Irish Council of Imams – which is chaired by the ICCI’s Halawa – have emerged as the public face of Islam in Ireland, the majority of Muslims living here have no official affiliation with them. “Hence,” he says, “the question of how representative these organisations are needs to be raised.”

In recent years a number of individuals and groups have challenged the role of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland and other long-established organisations, such as the Islamic Foundation of Ireland, which is based at the South Circular Road mosque in Dublin.

In 2008 an Irish convert from Gorey, Co Wexford, named Liam (or Mujahid) Egan, set up the Muslim Public Affairs Committee. This was little more than a website on which he and his associates excoriated the ICCI and other bodies while propagating the austere Salafist strain of Islam that Egan had imbibed while living for more than a decade in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Egan, whose daughter’s request to wear the hijab at school prompted the principal to call for official guidelines on wearing headscarves in state schools, accused Ireland on Al Jazeera of “repressing Muslim rights”. The 2008 TV report, which featured no representative from any Irish mosque, led the ICCI to complain to the Qatar-based channel.

Egan’s website disappeared last year, shortly before he left Ireland. “I didn’t like the direction it was going in due to some contributors,” he said. “It was becoming very anti-Irish and counterproductive. It needed to be reined in.”

Another organisation, which bills itself as a think tank under the name Glór Moslamach, is made up of at least 10 Muslim doctors working in Ireland. One member, a Pakistani named Qasim Afridi, has written for the Metro Éireann newspaper and frequently contributes to online forums where he takes the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland and other organisations to task for not criticising the US military use of Shannon Airport or Ireland’s participation in the Nato-led mission in Afghanistan. In one column last year Afridi challenged what he said was the ICCI’s pro-integration stance. “We won’t integrate . . . Why should we? It’s nothing but assimilation in different clothing,” he wrote.

Others, like Abdelrazak Zeroug of the Arab Community Forum advocacy group, say the ICCI is guilty of acting like a closed shop and complain that other Muslim voices have been marginalised. “Many organisations try to have an input or try to give suggestions for the community, but they find all the doors are shut and no one is listening to them. There is a sense within the community that the ICCI is dominating everything and isolating everybody else.”

Nooh al-Kaddo of the ICCI disputes this. “We have never sought to present ourselves as speaking for Muslims in Ireland,” he says. “This is a misperception.”

The opening of a Saudi embassy in Dublin in 2009 has added to the dynamics shaping the Muslim experience in Ireland. Embassy officials told Muslims living here that they plan to open a school and a mosque in Dublin. “If that happens it would be a challenge to the status quo,” says Umar Qadri, imam at the al-Mustafa Islamic Centre, in Blanchardstown. “It would have a very big impact, as we have seen in other countries.”

In the meantime, Scharbrodt says, the Government should engage more with the diversity of Ireland’s Muslims, particularly as the numbers grow and second-generation Muslims come of age. “Ideally it should try to relate to and establish links with as many mosque groups and organisations as possible. That requires a high investment of time and resources, because it’s obviously easier to just talk to one mosque and one organisation than to make efforts to reach out to the actual diversity within the community.

Hope for the future? ‘I see an opportunity in Ireland to get the issue of integration right’

Fatima El Khomssi Vice-chairwoman of the Irish branch of the Muslim student society FOSIS

I’ve been living in Ireland for around 17 years and consider myself Libyan-Irish. I haven’t faced any difficulties because of my religion, but some Muslim students here have experienced racist attacks. I believe the more we get involved with Irish society, the more open people are. The older generation prefer to stick together, but my generation have greater experience of the Irish community. There’s a difference in lifestyle, especially when it comes to drinking alcohol, which creates a gap that can sometimes be difficult to bridge. Difference is good, but I think some young Muslims are confused, and they don’t know whether to stand for what they believe in or go with the majority.

Eoin Whelan Architecture graduate

As a convert I feel the biggest challenge facing Muslims in Ireland today is how little awareness other people have of their faith. When a Pakistani, Malaysian, Chechen or Arab walks down O’Connell Street he’s not judged by Irish people, which is a good thing. But if you ask Irish people about his religion, they unfortunately have either little or no knowledge. Muslims would have an easier life here if the Irish tried to understand what it is they believe.

Abdul Haseeb Editor of Irish Muslim magazine

I see an opportunity in Ireland to get the issue of integration right and avoid the mistakes that have alienated Muslim populations elsewhere. Muslims here must realise that they need to participate in their local communities with as much vigour as they would in their countries of origin. For example, there is more discussion taking place among Muslims here about the situation in the Middle East or in Pakistan than the political situation in Ireland. Differences are inevitable. What is essential is how we work around them respectfully, avoiding conflict while dealing with sensitive issues.

Yameema Mitha

As a minority, the challenge is not to use our religion as a fortress or a weapon when we feel alienated or attacked or face ignorance. Nor to drop our religion to make it easier to fit in. To make it part of our lives, so that it doesn’t come up as an aspect of the war against terror but an aspect of living. To be self-critical but well-informed enough never to be apologetic. To make our traditions and culture alive for our children, and part of the Irish fabric, so that friends say Eid Mubarik as comfortably as merry Christmas. To enjoy being Irish and Muslim, and for me, as a Pakistani, to share our rich heritage as part of what we have to offer Ireland.

Ebou Ndure Imam at Kilkenny Islamic Centre

Identifying suitable places of worship is a big challenge. We don’t expect to have the same as in our countries of origin, but the community in Ireland is growing, and people need proper places to pray. At the moment many Muslims are gathering for prayers in places like warehouses and private homes across the country. It’s not just about worship; it’s also about having somewhere to meet and get to know other Muslims.

Lorraine Irish convert

When I changed my religion to Islam I felt as if I had become a foreigner in my own country. People don’t seem to realise that I am 100 per cent Irish and my religion does not conflict with my Irishness. People seem to think I have forgotten my roots just because I put a headscarf on. Islam is part of the Irish social fabric. And we as Muslims must be given a chance to play our role in building the future of the nation.

Islamic organisations: Who’s who?

The Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI), in Clonskeagh Dublin, was built in 1996 with funding from the al-Maktoum Foundation. Staff members are full-time employees of the foundation, which is headed by the deputy ruler of Dubai.

The ICCI is connected to the Brussels-based Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe, an umbrella organisation of various branches and affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe.

The ICCI’s imam Hussein Halawa is the secretary of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, established by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric considered a spiritual guide for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Halawa chairs the Irish Council of Imams, which comprises some 30 clerics from mosques throughout Ireland.

4 Responses

  1. Moslems are an even bigger threat.
    All the proof you need is to read their main ‘holy’
    book. Qoran You would need to have your head in the sand to not see how vicious, unforgiving and hateful a religion it is.

    Have you ever read your own holy book Michael? For example:

    Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.” – Hosea 13:16

    I think a phrase about logs, eyes and splinters is relevant about now. There is certainly an issue with extremism, but it will require significantly more sophisticated argumentation to tease it out than what you offer here Michael.

    We get what we deserve as shown over our EU vote.

    Are you referring to our recent banking debacle? Because, if so, I’ll have to ask to explain how our banks going broke, largely due to our regulators and our government being asleep at the wheel while our developers ran amok, has anything to do with our EU vote.


  2. Wake up Ireland to the threat and rise of the Islamic religion in our country. You were asleep as the EU robbed you of your freedom.
    Moslems are an even bigger threat.
    All the proof you need is to read their main ‘holy’
    book. Qoran You would need to have your head in the sand to not see how vicious, unforgiving and hateful a religion it is. Do not be sidetracked by the nice Muslims you may know Have them condemn first Mohammid’s satanic thinking and plans to rule (Ireland) and the world by force if we don’t go quietly. They will not do so and often for fear of retaliation. Do not do anything until you read their horrific ‘bible’
    We are their sworn enemy / everyone is.
    They even will snub their noses at us as they build their gigantic temples and mosques on lands owned by the very people they hate.
    Their arrogance is mind boggling.
    How little Mary Fitzgerald really knows about a subject she writes about in such great detail.
    Read The Islamic Anti Christ. by Joel Richardson. He may not be right about everything but he has many Mulim and Koran quotes that will make you shiver.
    And do not be mislead by comments such as . ” ” The Koran is a book of peace ; it’s only that the extremist interpret it in a violent way.”
    One of their revered prophets is our God Jesus who Mohammid says will come back in the last days and renounce everything about Himself including his death and resurrection. He will turn against his own people and gladly take a back seat to their prophet the Mahdi. Mohammid is not content to ignore Jesus son of God he wants to humiliate him this way.
    His brute book is a diabolical STEAL from our Holy Nible turning right on it’s head and Mary Mc Aleese and our politicians bow to such people.
    We get what we deserve as shown over our EU vote.
    Read the non watered down Koran and watch your back.
    If you wonder why our holy father Pope Benedict is so nice to them they are still God’s children who need converting and in that sense we must respect them as such but NOT as Muslims
    As Christians we are not sworn to decapitate Muslims if they do not convert but live them anyway as our brothers in Christ. That is the purpose of this strongly worded letter — to bring forth TRUTH.
    “Truth can be known and truth does violence to noone.”.
    Pope Benedict.

    We are their sworn enemy. Anyone who is not Muslim


  3. Note that when a comment includes two or more weblinks it gets placed in a moderation queue, which leads to a delay in the comment being posted. Restricting comments to only one weblink will prevent this from happening.


  4. Dear Sir/Madam,

    I wonder if any of your members might be interested in attending the book launch below, which includes
    research related to your organisation? Attendance is free and there will be refreshments”.

    Marion Bowman will launch the just-published Ireland’s New Religious Movements with a talk on “Contemporary Celticity” in Dublin on Wednesday, March 30th.

    Dr Bowman is Senior Lecturer and Head of Dept. of Religious Studies at the Open University and a leading researcher on contemporary paganism, Celtic spirituality, the New Age, folk religion, place and tradition. More details on her work are available at

    The book launch is at 6.30 pm on Wed. March 30th in the Gutter Bookshop (“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”), Cow’s Lane, Temple Bar, Dublin 8 (opposite Lord Edward St.) Admission is free and refreshments will be provided. For more information on the event, please contact Ciara at 086 3678501.

    The event will also see the launch of an Irish research network on alternative spiritualities, the New Age and new religious movements (contact: olivia.cosgrove AT

    Ireland’s New Religious Movements
    Editors Olivia Cosgrove, Laurence Cox, Carmen Kuhling, Peter Mulholland
    Cambridge Scholars Publishing | ISBN 978-1-4438-2588-7 | hbk | €60 | 425pp illustrated

    Until recently Irish religion has been seen as defined by Catholic power in the South and sectarianism in the North. In recent years, however, both have been shaken by widespread changes in religious practice and belief, the rise of new religious movements, the revival of magical-devotionalism, the arrival of migrant religion and the spread of New Age and alternative spirituality.

    This book is the first to bring together researchers exploring all these areas in a wide-ranging overview of new religion in Ireland. Chapters explore the role of feminism, Ireland as global “Celtic” homeland, the growth of Islam, understanding the New Age, evangelicals in the Republic, alternative healing, Irish interest in Buddhism, channelled teachings and religious visions.

    Ireland’s new religious movements will be an indispensable handbook for professionals in many fields seeking to understand Ireland’s increasingly diverse and multicultural religious landscape, as well as for students of religion, sociology, psychology, anthropology and Irish Studies. Giving an overview of the shape of new religion in Ireland today and models of the best work in the field, it is likely to remain a standard text for years to come.

    “This collection of essays offers a unique insight into the emerging scene. The papers are well-written and informative, combining both empirical data and theoretical insight. It is a book that should be read well beyond the confines of Ireland – and it will be an enjoyable read for scholars and lay alike” – Prof. Eileen Barker, LSE

    “Provides a comprehensive map of an area of Irish culture that has been previously ignored. It shines an important new light on the diversity of religious life in Ireland. With the decline in the significance of institutional religions, it reveals the alternative ways in which contemporary Irish people seek to be spiritual and moral. It is a remarkable achievement.” – Prof. Tom Inglis, UCD

    “The breadth and depth of scholarship and the wide range of topics addressed in this volume signal a new energy, resolve and spirit of co-operation among the growing ranks of scholars of religions in Ireland. This is in every sense a pioneering volume.” – Prof. Brian Bocking, UCC


    1) Editors’ Introduction: Understanding Ireland’s New Religious Movements. Olivia Cosgrove, Laurence Cox, Carmen Kuhling and Peter Mulholland
    2) Mapping the “New Religious Landscape” and the “New Irish”: Uses and Limitations of the Census. Malcolm Macourt

    Part I: The Changing Religious Faces of Ireland
    – The Long History of New Religions in Ireland
    3) The Wild Irish girl and the “Dalai Lama of Little Thibet”: The Long Encounter between Ireland and Asian Buddhism. Laurence Cox and Maria Griffin
    4) Inventing the Concept of Celtic Buddhism: A Literary and Intellectual Tradition. John L. Murphy

    – Alternative Spiritualities and New Religious Movements in Contemporary Ireland
    5) Irish Travellers and “Powerful” Priests: An Alternative Response to New Age Healing Techniques. Attracta Brownlee
    6) Irish Neo-paganism: World-view and Identity. Jenny Butler
    7) The Changing Face of Irish Christianity: The Evangelical Christian Movement in the Republic. Ruth Jackson Noble
    8) A Course in Miracles in Ireland: From Channelled Authority to Therapy and Self-help. Ruth Bradby

    – Making Sense of Religious Experience
    9) The Psychological Dimension of Religious Experience: Spirituality and Schizotypy. Diarmuid B. Verrier and Brian M. Hughes
    10) Marian Apparitions, the New Age and the FÁS Prophet. Peter Mulholland

    Part II: Irish Religion as Global
    – The Globalised Irish Religious Market
    11) New Age Re-enchantment in Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. Carmen Kuhling
    12) “Becoming Whole”: An Exploration of Women’s Choices in the Holistic and New Age Movement in Ireland. Ciara O’Connor
    13) A Crucial Site of Difference? Minority Religions and Attitudes to Globalisation in Ireland. Olivia Cosgrove

    – Ireland as Global Homeland
    14) Irish Base, Global Religion: The Fellowship of Isis. Catherine Maignant
    15) “Celticity” in Australian Alternative Spiritualities. Carole M. Cusack
    16) “Celtic Spirituality” in Contemporary Ireland. Bozena Gierek

    – Migrant Religion in Ireland
    17) Islam in Ireland: Organising a Migrant Religion. Oliver Scharbrodt
    18) Turkish Islam in Ireland: Exploring the Modus Operandi of Fethullah Gülen’s Neo-brotherhood. Jonathan Lacey

    About the editors

    Carmen Kuhling (senior lecturer in sociology, University of Limerick) is author of several books on Ireland, modernity and the New Age. Laurence Cox (lecturer in sociology, National University of Ireland Maynooth) is author of various pieces on the history of Irish Buddhism. Peter Mulholland (independent scholar) holds a PhD in anthropology from NUIM and specialises in the study of Irish religiosity. Olivia Cosgrove (PhD candidate in sociology, University of Limerick) is carrying out research on religion, globalisation and identity.

    Please forward this to anyone you think may be interested.

    Department of Sociology
    National University of Ireland, Maynooth
    Co. Kildare
    Republic of Ireland

    Tel. (+353-1) 708 3985

    Interface: a journal for and about social movements
    MA in community education, equality and social activism

    Dhammaloka Day
    Ireland’s new religious movements


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: