Twenty-nine people attended the ‘Muslim Cultural Awareness’ evening hosted by the Welcoming Refugees Group in Churchtown Meeting on 23rd June.
Shaykh Umar Al-Quadri, Imam of the Mosque at Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre Ireland in Clonee and Chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, began the session by teaching attendees the Muslim greetings As-salamu alaykum (Peace be upon you) and Waʿalaykumu s-salām (And upon you, peace).
Shaykh Umar Al-Quadri is an Islamic scholar who co-founded the Al-Mustafa Islamic Cultural Centre Ireland and is also the Chair of the Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council, a national representative Muslim body with branches in Dublin, Cork, Athlone, Portlaoise and Belfast. He represents the Muslim community of Ireland in various governmental and non-governmental bodies and organisations, including the Fingal Ethnic Network, Fingal County Council, Citizen Information Centre Blanchardstown and TCD Scriptural Reasoning Group. He writes occasionally on Islam related affairs in Irish newspapers, particularly The Irish Times.
He was not eating or drinking until 10.00pm because it was Ramadan, fasting time.
Some of the other aspects he talked about were:
The difference between Arabs and Muslims. Arabs are people who speak Arabic. Of the 367 million worldwide, some are Christian or Jewish. 30% of them are Muslim. Not all Muslims are Arabs. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today, approximately 24% of the total world population.
Muslim attitudes towards the West. There are Muslims who hate the West. Some look up to the democracy, respect for human rights and some political systems of the West. There are Muslims in-between on this spectrum. While there are cultural differences between Muslims from different countries, the binding concept that all nationalities should worship together is central.
Integration. In Ireland Muslims are well integrated, unlike Britain where they don’t all speak English or even Arabic. There they often worship in their own language together.
The most important things for Muslims are first faith and then family. They would not consider having their elderly parents in nursing homes. They feel a duty to look after them at home as they looked after their children. And usually children would not marry someone of whom their parents did not approve.
Teachings. There are 3 major categories –
Iman i.e. Theology (what they believe). Jesus, Abraham and others were prophets but for them, Jesus is not the Son of God. There is life after death and its quality will be decided by how life on earth is lived.
Islam i.e. 5 pillars of faith –
Shahadah: to believe there is only one God, Allah
Salat: praying in the proper way five times each day
Zakat: paying alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy (2.5% of one’s annual savings : if paid during Ramadan its spiritual benefit is multiplied 700 times)
Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan (some women and children are exempt)
Hajj: the pilgrimage to Mecca
Ihsan i.e. the state of a person’s heart/a pure heart or actions for the love of God.
Correct knowledge of faith. Most Muslims are ignorant of their faith and some confuse faith and culture. This is because children from 5 to 10 years of age are taught to read the Koran but they may not necessarily understand what it means and their religious education may stop then. For instance, all that is required for an Imam to legally bless a Muslim marriage is that both the man and woman are adult and sane, that the man has paid a dowry and that there are two witnesses. Many Muslims think that the parents’ permission is also necessary but this is not so.
Many of the wars in Muslim countries, although described as wars between different branches of the religion, are cultural or economic. A comparison with the Troubles in Northern Ireland was made.
Sufism is the mystical movement in Islam.
Cultural habits and some hints when interacting with Muslim refugees
- Unrelated males and females do not usually shake hands although they may in an intercultural setting. Usually the man would put his hand on his heart and bow towards the woman. The men may kiss each other on the cheek. The women may hug each other.
- Visiting a Muslim home. Bring a gift but not alcohol or pork.
- In a Muslim community, unlike ours where it is considered polite to look someone in the eye, it is considered polite to be shy and not look someone in the eye.
- Id, which will fall on 6th July, is like Christian Christmas. It’s the end of Ramadan and people prepare a special meal and exchange gifts.
- Pakistani and Indian Muslims have a strong culture of sharing.
- It is considered rude to sit in such a way that you point the soles of your shoes at anyone.
- Syrians take off their shoes when entering a home.
- The only rule of the Koran for women’s attire is that they cover their hair, neck and the side of their face i.e. wear the Nicab. No other clothes are prescribed by the Koran.
- “Mashala” is a blessing on a new baby wishing that the Evil Eye may not look at it.
- It’s best not to talk differences – Sunni or Shia etc. The majority of Muslims are Sunni: they usually don’t go to Shia Mosques. There are less Shia and they will worship at a Sunni Mosque.
- Most Hollywood movies portray Muslims as fundamentalist suicide bombers. Some more balanced are:
- The Messenger – Muhammed’s life story.
- Le Grand Voyage – the story of an elderly man’s pilgrimage to Mecca
- Journey into Europe – Prof Akbar Ahmed’s film on life for Muslims in Europe after 9/11
- Rumi – a film still in production and starring Leonardo di Caprio, which aims to present a different Holllywood image of Muslims.
The evening concluded with Shaykh Al-Quadri inviting all present to the Mosque in Blanchardstown on Saturday 2nd July to celebrate an Iftar dinner.