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Minority religions stay connected with online gatherings

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Pitching in: Socially distanced worshippers praying in Croke Park on the first day of Eid. Photo: Damien Eagers

Pitching in: Socially distanced worshippers praying in Croke Park on the first day of Eid. Photo: Damien Eagers

Pitching in: Socially distanced worshippers praying in Croke Park on the first day of Eid. Photo: Damien Eagers

The sight of Muslims marking Eid al-Adha at Croke Park on the last day of July was quite unlike anything witnessed before in the stadium. About 200 worshippers spaced out their prayer mats on the pitch as clips of Muslim festivities from around the world were broadcast on a big screen. The event was the culmination of months of planning by Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council. Even with empty seats all around, the buzz was palpable.

On the other side of Dublin, meanwhile, people were queuing for Eid prayers from early in the morning at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh. The annual celebration looked a bit different this year with social distancing measures in place. Where usually up to 3,000 would gather in the mosque, only 350 were allowed in at a time, divided between a number of rooms. Three prayer sessions were held that Friday, with spots of 20 to 30 minutes having to be booked online.

Like their Christian counterparts, Ireland's minority religions are still adapting to a new way of doing things since the easing of lockdown. Logistical challenges aside, there is much relief about the return to bricks-and-mortar facilities. Summayah Kenna, a spokeswoman for the Islamic Cultural Centre, tells Review that members of the community had missed the emotional as well as religious support provided by the mosque. "It feels like a second home for a lot of us, so it was a huge blow to have it closed," she says.

Covid restrictions also affected Kenna's work as head of the centre's community welfare department.

"A large part of the role is meeting people to talk through social and family issues, and with things moving online we lost the intimacy of those in-person conversations," she says. "Even now, as we open gradually, some people are afraid to come in because of the virus."

Dr Hemant Kumar of the Vedic Hindu Cultural Centre in Dublin is likewise eager to resume services. The centre will open its first permanent temple in Walkinstown to limited gatherings later this month, having previously rented premises in Lucan. In the meantime, it has been offering online 'pooja', or Hindu worship, over Facebook.

"We had to cancel a number of important spiritual and cultural events," says Kumar, "but the livestreams have been very popular with so many people being at home."

Zen Buddhist priest Ian Kilroy - or Reverend Myozan Kodo Kilroy, as he is known - has similarly found positives in going online. Kilroy is the founder and guiding teacher of Zen Buddhism Ireland, which until March had been based in a Quaker building in Temple Bar.

Since lockdown, the community has held daily meditations over Zoom, allowing it to open up the practice to new people in Ireland and further afield. However, it plans to resume Zen nights at Common Ground, a co-operative space in Bray, from the end of the month.

The past few months have been a struggle for many, but Kilroy points out that living through a crisis can also provide important lessons. "We've had to rethink a lot of things, from the way we work and commute to how we spend our leisure time. This pandemic has been a kind of enforced retreat, and in retreating from the world we often rediscover the deep simplicity and consolation of silence, but we also face up to the hard reality of life."

Whether this change of pace leads more to religion remains to be seen, but for the already religious, Covid has served as a reminder of the importance of congregation. "You can see the enthusiasm people have coming back," says Al-Qadri, head imam at the Islamic Centre in Blanchardstown. "The services have been really needed."

Indo Review