Ireland’s Muslim population has grown tenfold in 20 years and is still expanding. In 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.
Darul Ihsan Media Desk