The public acceptance has also helped Muslims to easily integrate into Irish society
DUBLIN – Giving an example for Europeans and Americans on integration, Muslims in Ireland are finding a welcoming atmosphere in the historically Catholic nation.
“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, toldThe Atlantic.
Muslims and their traditions are being greeted with welcome in Ireland.
For instance, Muslims find no major public obstacles in building worship places to fulfil their religious duties.
In the Dublin neighborhood of Clongriffin, a new multi-use Islamic center, that includes a three-storey domed mosque, school and fitness facility, has not faced public protests similar to the situation in Europe and the US.
The welcoming reaction was symbolic of the Republic of Ireland’s relationship with its burgeoning Muslim population.
The acceptance of Irish 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 the Muslim population.
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 US and elsewhere.
“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,” he said.
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.
The public acceptance has also helped Muslims to easily integrate into Irish society.
“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 told his guide that he would need to pray.
Immediately, he was shown the chapel, and soon the campus priest began to anticipate his daily visit.
Ireland is known for its history of tolerance.
A 2012 survey by the European Commission on discrimination in the European Union found that 79 percent of Irish describe 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.”
The Irish respondents 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 said.
“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.”