“Education is the only way to make change. What’s in the media doesn’t represent the whole religion of Islam, and it is important to show people what Islam actually is.”
The concept of an open day for a religious institution is becoming more popular as the Muslim population in Ireland continues to grow. This is possibly a response to the increased negative media attention they have been receiving since the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Open days serve to highlight issues faced by Muslims in Ireland, such as the lack of mosques for this increasing minority. This year, the building of a much-needed mosque in Kerry was delayed due to a decision by the county council to exclude the playing of the adhan, the call to prayer, from the accepted planning permission application.
The Sunni mosque on South Circular Road operates an biannual open day, the most recent one taking place on October 15, along with many other events that are accessible to the public such as jewellery making workshops. The congregation also travels around the country, setting up the exhibition in hotels and schools, but this time it returned to the local centre. This mosque in question however faced some controversy in May when they were accused of preaching religious intolerance by inviting two Salafi speakers from Kuwait to the Dublin Islamic Conference held there by their parent group, Islamic Foundation of Ireland.
The open day mainly consisted of an exhibition in the cultural centre next door, but tours were offered to visitors by members of the congregation. The exhibit compensated for what it lacked lacked in size in quantity; the posters and artifacts gave an overview of Islamic history and focused on the achievements of Muslims and explained some of the basic tenets of the faith. The diversity of the community was shown through the various copies of the Qu’ran on display in the centre of the room, ranging from a highly decorated German translation to a carefully conserved braille edition from the early 20th century.
The attention to detail paid by the organisers showed how important this event was for the mosque; to the floor of the centre was covered with a plastic sheet to avoid awkward conversation with those entering to take off their shoes.
Science and Culture
The most eye-catching posters were those regarding culture and science, as they served, possibly subconsciously, to prove the proactivity of the ummah since Muhammad set up the first mosque in Medina. In some circles Islam has a long association with scientific discoveries and innovation, with the first successful flying apparatus and widespread use of surgical instruments being but a few of their associations. The section regarding the sciences was the most contentious, with verses from the Qu’ran implying discoveries made recently had always been known by the ummah. For example, the fact that the universe is constantly expanding was only discovered in the last century, but a verse was provided from surah 51 of the Quran to support it. There was also a verse from sura 21 on another poster explaining how Allah made every living thing out of water. Some may take this scientific fact as proof that Allah exists, with the Qu’ran completed over a thousand years ago, but it is also true that those living in the desert would have had a greater understanding and appreciation of the necessity of even a drop of water to sustain life. It was also a common feature in early creation myths in the Ancient Near East in particular, with the waters being divided to create the earth.
Breaking up the exhibition were tables seeking to normalise facets of Islamic culture. The first table took on an item of clothing that has divided opinion for decades — the hijab. Scarves of many colours and patterns were available with offers to show the female visitors how to put one on. Beside that was traditional henna with face-painting for the children. All were free and encouraged by the female members of the congregation who took charge in this particular section. There was a substantial amount of literature that was also free for people to take, including illustrated guides to reading the Qu’ran.
With halal food stores becoming more noticeable across the city centre, the female members wanted to make these shops more accessible to all by providing a selection of Middle Eastern foods which they made themselves, including baklava and Moroccan coffee.
“The fact that a child no older than eight could laugh off racial abuse as if it was just a passing comment shows how prevalent Islamophobia is in Ireland.”
Although the event was intended to be apolitical, the posters on display gave a message that was very much the opposite. The final section of the exhibition focused on the importance of Jesus as a prophet in Islam, and Mary as an important female role-model. This could be seen as an attempt to appeal to predominantly Catholic Ireland, if not only to find a meeting point for the parish groups who were receiving tours of the mosque.
There was one quite worrying anecdote from that day that emphasised how necessary this event was: a conversation I overheard with two young girls. One was telling the other about how people on the street keep thinking that she’s an Arab, one man even shouted at her “Go back to Arabia!” to which she replied, laughing as she told her friend, “But I’m from Dublin!”. The fact that a child no older than eight could laugh off racial abuse as if it was just a passing comment shows how prevalent Islamophobia is in Ireland; something like that would have to happen to her on a regular basis in order for her to feel so comfortable with it.
The members of the congregation were very willing to converse with the visitors to the exhibition, and one member Romaysa agreed to talk to Trinity News about the event and her personal involvement in educating about Islam. Romaysa works with a group called Discover Islam on Upper Abbey St. who provided them with the material for the exhibition. When asked about what the overall objective of that day was she said their aim was simply to educate people.
“Education is the only way to make change. What’s in the media doesn’t represent the whole religion of Islam, and it is important to show people what Islam actually is. We’re here to answer any questions but we can’t answer why they’re doing what they’re doing because they are a terrorist group, all we can do is explain what Islam actually is. ISIS are not representative or a part of Islam, they are a radical group that are using the religion as a front.”
The media perpetuates the image of a passive Muslim population who don’t do enough to combat extremism in their communities, and Romaysa is keen to dispel that myth. She did some work with Ruth Coppinger AAA TD last year and was present at the anti-Pegida protest in February. She said it was heartwarming to see so many people come out and support them against a political group whose main selling point is their extreme Islamophobic stance, but that she understands why there weren’t more.
“I understand fear, I understand that people see these things in the media and if they don’t know more about the subject they will believe that what is presented to them is fact. I completely understand that.”
She told Trinity News that she would like to continue being an activist in college, and she hopes to apply to TSM History & World Religions and Theology for the academic year beginning in September 2017. She wants to do these subjects together because she believes they are too intrinsically linked to attempt to study separately. It’s impossible to study history from a purely secular view, and it is impossible to study theology without taking into account the historical contexts.
The interview was concluding when the adhan sounded and Romaysa invited me to the women’s gallery to observe as they took part in their daily prayers, but I politely declined and left them to have that intimate moment in peace. The open day at the mosque on South Circular Road was a wonderful experience, no doubt enjoyed by all who visited that day, but it is still quite disheartening that these communities feel the need to do open days in order to be understood by their own neighbours.