Monday 26 January 2015

The Irish Muslims who mourn Bin Laden

Gemma O'Doherty reports on the very mixed reaction among the Islamic community here to the killing of the al-Qa'ida leader this week

Sheikh Ismail Kotwal isn't that bothered about the death of Osama bin Laden, even though he once compared the world's most wanted man to the prophet Mohammed.

The British-born imam, who runs Blackpitts mosque in Dublin's Liberties, says there are more important things in life to worry about.

Beyond supporting his home-town team Bolton Wanderers, he has little time for modern mores.

He believes women should wear the burqa. He doesn't own a television. He has no interest in the news.

But Imam Kotwal has made the headlines several times.

Last week, a US government cable released by WikiLeaks described his mosque as a "suspected gathering place for some radical elements within the Pakistani community".

Five years ago, he was the subject of a Prime Time documentary, which reported that during a religion class at De La Salle school in Dublin's Churchtown, he praised Bin Laden as "a great leader", causing two students to walk out in anger.

At the time, he accused RTE of having "evil intentions" and twisting his words. During the programme, he said bin Laden's appearance was "like prophet Mohammed -- you can see he is a good god-fearing man".

Speaking to the Weekend Review this week, he toned down that comparison, claiming the only similarity he ever saw between the two men is their facial hair.

"I said his (Bin Laden) appearance looks like prophet Mohammed because he has a beard," he said.

However radical his views, they haven't done business any harm.

Kotwal's mosque has one of the biggest congregations in the country, with more than 700 Muslims gathering there every week for Friday prayers.

This week, as the world absorbed the dramatic news of Osama bin Laden's death and nations that suffered most at the hands of his terror network remembered their dead, the imam said he was not convinced Bin Laden had anything to do with 9/11 and other atrocities.

"I have never expressed any sympathy for him or his cause," he says.

"You will not hear me celebrating his death because I don't know if he was guilty. I'm not willing to judge him."

It's a reaction that has enraged some other leaders of the Muslim church in Ireland.

Dr Ali al-Saleh, who heads a congregation of about 300 Iraqi Shi'a Muslims in Dublin's Milltown and is considered one of the most moderate voices in Irish Islam, believes the death of Bin Laden should cause jubilation among Muslims.

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