Sunday 26 May 2019

Mums worry about sending kids to school as 'racists say they are coming for us'

Irish Muslims tell Niamh Horan of chilling threats sent to mosques here in aftermath of 'Charlie Hebdo' murders

A woman prays in a mosque
A woman prays in a mosque
Fradus Sultan and Meriam Burki
Ahmed Hasain Ahmed and Dr Ali Selim

In the days since the Charlie Hebdo attack, the daily post at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland is opened with caution.

"They say they are coming [for us]," Fardus Sultan, who has the job of opening most of the mail, told the Sunday Independent. "They have told us to wait for retaliation."

"They say many, many Muslims are not worth one white man," adds Dr Ahmed Hasain Ahmed, executive secretary at the centre. "Very very racist comments. We reported the threats to the police straight away and they are helping us."

Cartoons from the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris have also been sent to the centre. Several people in our table discussion have personally received the images in the post. It is deeply upsetting for the staff who had already taken the decision not to look at the drawings as they appeared online due to their staunch religious beliefs.

However, Dr Ali Selim, Trinity College lecturer and senior member at the centre, is keen to point out the huge level of support from Irish people. It is a welcome sign for Dr Salim, who also confirmed to the Sunday Independent that he intends to run as a candidate in the next general election.

"I think it is important because we have almost 70,000 Muslims living in Ireland now," he added.

"It is not only Muslims that need a voice but it is good for the State to have a Muslim voice. And a qualified voice who understands Islam in the Irish context. I will join a party, but I will not announce which yet. John Gormley [Former leader of the Green Party] - we are close friends and he has politically advised me a lot and I owe him a lot."

Speaking about the support the Muslim community in Ireland has received since the Paris attacks, Dr Selim, recalls: "One Irish lady from outside Dublin took the effort to call me and she said she is very much sorry for what we are facing now. She said the Irish already faced a similar situation when the British used to issue the Punch magazine. She told me: 'we have been mocked in a similar way to Muslims. And you have our full support."

Inside the mosque there is a high level of emotion among worshippers. On seeing a reporter and photographer, one woman on her way into prayers asks that her message is heard.

"The people who committed these attacks do not represent us. Please tell people to understand that this is not Islam. Islam does not condone murder. We are as angry and upset as everyone else. It is a worrying time for all of us."

Dr Selim describes a concern he dealt with prior to our meeting. "One woman text me this morning about her Muslim daughter who travels from Drogheda to Dublin to school.

"She wanted to know if it was safe for her daughter to travel to school. So, yes, there is a high level of worry for Muslims. If you can think of a 16-year-old girl or a lady walking in the street they might find themselves very vulnerable right now."

In terms of discrimination in Ireland, the centre has received complaints from parents who say their Muslim children are being turned away from Catholic schools. They say they have also noticed that few Muslims are getting jobs as public-sector workers.

Ibrahim Al-Kaddo is originally from Iraq but spent his earlier years in Britain. He says it is important that the Government and Irish media outlets do not create a similar atmosphere of fear as has happened in the UK.

"Do not follow the way the British and French portray Muslims. There is clear discrimination and bias," he says, citing examples where Muslim attackers are labelled as "terrorists", while violent acts carried out by non-muslims are described as "lone-wolf attacks".

He added: "In the UK I don't feel as safe and as happy as I am here. Racism and Islamophobia is very very strong but here in Ireland you are able to express your opinion. When I attended an Irish secondary school I was literally the only Muslim in the whole school and it was seen as 'oh wow, this is the Muslim guy' [sharing his opinion on global issues], and until this day some of my best Irish friends are from school".

Dr Selim says the solution is very simple. "The way to combat fear is education. If you switch off the light here we would all be very apprehensive but if you switch on the light everyone will feels comfortable again."

The solution, he says, lies in understanding.

Sunday Independent

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