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Viewing cable 09DUBLIN304, MUSLIMS IN IRELAND - A CHANGING COMMUNITY

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09DUBLIN304 2009-08-14 10:37 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Dublin
VZCZCXRO2482
RR RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHDL #0304/01 2261037
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 141037Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY DUBLIN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0114
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBL/AMCONSUL BELFAST 1041
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 DUBLIN 000304 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/12/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PTER KISL EI
SUBJECT: MUSLIMS IN IRELAND - A CHANGING COMMUNITY 
 
DUBLIN 00000304  001.2 OF 005 
 
 
Classified By: Political/Economic Section Chief Dwight Nystrom for reas 
ons 1.4 b and d 
 
1. (U) Summary: The Irish Muslim community is one of the 
fastest growing minority communities in Ireland and is one of 
the major contributors to Ireland,s shift from an 
overwhelmingly homogeneous society to a multi-cultural one. 
The Irish Government has made some attempts at reaching out 
to the Muslim community but as Ireland,s economic situation 
has worsened the Government has put its integration and 
outreach efforts aside- a move that could cause future 
generations of Irish Muslims to feel alienated from 
mainstream society. End Summary. 
 
Background and Overview of the Muslim Community 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
2. (U) The first trickle of Muslims arrived in Ireland in the 
early 1950s to pursue educational opportunities. Many came to 
study medicine, particularly at the Royal College of Surgeons 
in Dublin. The community saw its greatest growth rates during 
the economic boom in Ireland in the 1990s. Many of the 
migrants that came to Ireland at that time were professionals 
or university students and there was no particular 
predominance in terms of nationality or region.  Today, the 
community includes Iraqi and Afghan refugees and a smaller 
numbers of Irish converts. The 2006 census results listed the 
number of Muslims in Ireland at 32,539. Current estimates 
indicate that there are approximately 40,000 Muslims 
currently living in Ireland. The diverse backgrounds and 
fragmentation of the population has made it difficult for 
Irish Muslims to establish any kind of official 
representation. 
 
3. (U) The majority of the Muslims living in Ireland are 
situated in and around Dublin, Cork, and Galway.  Small 
Muslim communities exist in Limerick, Cavan, Ennis, Tralee, 
and Waterford. 
 
Major Mosques in Dublin 
-------------------------- 
 
4. (U) In 1983 The Dublin Islamic Society acquired property 
at 163 South Circular Road for what is the oldest mosque in 
Dublin. Sheikh Yahya M. al-Hussein, a native of Sudan, serves 
as one of the trustees of the mosque and continues to serve 
as the Imam. The mosque is the headquarters of the Islamic 
Foundation of Ireland (IFI). 
 
5.(U) In 1992, to cope with the growing Muslim population in 
Ireland, Sheikh Hamdan Ben Rashid al-Maktoum, Deputy Governor 
of Dubai and Minister for Finance and Industry in the United 
Arab Emirates, agreed to personally finance the purchase of 
land for the construction of a Muslim National School and a 
purpose-built mosque and Islamic Center in the Clonskeagh 
area of Dublin. In 1996, the Islamic Cultural Center of 
Ireland (ICCI) formally opened its doors. The new premises of 
the mosque and Islamic center initially fell under the 
authority of the IFI, but, seven months after the mosque,s 
opening, the Al-Maktoum Foundation requested that the IFI 
abandon its right to the property and instead reassign it to 
the foundation. Thus, as the result of a highly contentious 
court case, the Al-Maktoum foundation has run the ICCI since 
the late 1990s.  The mosque,s Imam, Sheikh Hussein Halawa, 
is originally from Egypt. 
 
6. (U)  One of the fastest growing mosques is located in the 
Blackpits area of Dublin. The Blackpits mosque generally 
serves as the religious center for the South Asian community; 
the numbers of Pakistani Muslims in Dublin has steadily 
increased in recent years and the community is becoming one 
of the largest Muslim groups in Ireland. The Blackpits mosque 
is supported financially by the Bari family, an influential 
and politically involved Pakistani-Irish family. The 
mosque,s Imam, Ismail Kotwal, is a Pakistani Muslim who came 
to Ireland from Leeds in the UK. Kotwal has attracted media 
attention for his favorable remarks about Osama Bin Laden. 
 
7. (U) The Shia Muslim community is considerably smaller than 
the Sunni community, and there is only one Shia Muslim 
Islamic center in Ireland. The Ahlul Bayt Islamic Center, 
located in the Milltown area in Dublin and popularly referred 
to as the Milltown mosque or the Milltown center, officially 
opened in September 1996. The mosque,s Imam, Ali Al Saleh, 
is a medical doctor who came from a religious family 
background. 
 
8. (C)Siraj Zaidi, an interpreter at the office of the 
Minister for integration and a member of Ireland,s Three 
Faiths Forum, told Poloffs that that Sheikh Hussein at the 
IFI is a reasonable man who is working hard for the Muslim 
community, but that he is not good at controlling the growth 
 
DUBLIN 00000304  002.2 OF 005 
 
 
of conservative or extreme movements. Zaidi also noted that 
the ICCI is good at building bridges but is very contrived 
and controlled because of its relationship with the UAE. The 
ICCI leadership, in Zaidi,s opinion, is detached from its 
own community and is often taken by surprise when problems 
arise. When there are problems, such as when ICCI members 
were known to be celebrating after Margaret Hassan was 
kidnapped in Iraq,ICCI leadership attempted to disassociate 
itself from the issue. Zaidi told Poloffs that Blackpits Imam 
Kotwal as an individual is not a harmful character, but is 
only preaching what he understands as correct. He added that 
the Blackpits mosque is a sign that the Pakistani community 
in Ireland is beginning to separate itself out. 
 
Interaction between the Mosques 
------------------------------- 
 
9.  (C) Generally, the ICCI tends to have a middle-class 
base, while the IFI is considered to be more working class. 
Norma Murphy, Principal of the North Dublin Muslim School, 
told Poloffs that the struggle over control of the ICCI 
created a &world war8-type relationship between the IFI and 
ICCI. While the tensions have calmed in recent years, Murphy 
characterized the current relationship between the two 
mosques as a &cold war8-type atmosphere.  Murphy added that 
the IFI, which lacks the funding of the ICCI, has asked her 
to act as an intermediary with the Embassy of Saudi Arabia to 
attempt to secure Saudi funds to cover the IFI,s financial 
responsibilities for the Muslim school. Declan Hayden, 
manager of the Intercultural Relations Unit at Dublin City 
Council, told Poloff that the Muslim community is continuing 
to struggle with the split between the ICCI and the IFI. 
 
 
10. (C) The ICCI is widely viewed as the face of the Muslim 
Community in Ireland to the Irish government, media, and 
mainstream Irish society because it is the largest Islamic 
institution in the country and the best funded.  Father 
Kieran Flynn of the Irish School of Ecumenics at Trinity 
College Dublin told Poloffs that at the grassroots level 
there is a feeling that the ICCI has assumed a role of 
leadership that it does not necessarily deserve and that it 
is not representative of the entire community.  The ICCI does 
not seek out the opinions of other Islamic institutions while 
serving in this representative role and often takes a 
decidedly Arab perspective on issues.  Several members of the 
Irish Muslim community have confirmed this sentiment to 
Poloffs, pointing out that because the ICCI has financial 
ties to the UAE it is not free to look out solely for the 
best interests of Irish Muslims. 
 
11. (C) The Muslim community has made several attempts at 
setting up a representative body for the community.  The 
Irish Council of Imams, established in 2006, is the most 
recent effort.  However, the council only meets sporadically 
and is not authoritative.  Milltown mosque member Mohammad 
Ali told Poloffs that the ICCI often calls meetings on short 
notice and does not provide an agenda in advance, making it 
difficult for council members to prepare.  Moreover, Ali 
noted that because the Shia community in Ireland is so small, 
the Milltown center is often outnumbered during majority 
votes. 
 
12. (C) The Milltown center is critical of some of the 
ICCI,s decisions and is not comfortable with the ICCI,s 
status as the representative organization for Muslims in 
Ireland.  At the same time, the Milltown center does not have 
the resources to establish a strong communications mechanism 
comparable to the ICCI,s.  Ali feels that the ICCI does not 
take a sufficiently strong stance against global extremist 
violence and would like the ICCI to make its positions more 
clear.  Ali added that the Milltown center has worked closely 
with the ICCI on issues of mutual concern closer to home. 
For example, when Ali heard that a small number of children 
at the ICCI Muslim school were absent from school and visibly 
sad when al-Zarqawi * a senior al-Qaeda member * was killed 
in Iraq, the Imams at the various mosques worked together to 
speak with the families and address the issue.  Ali added 
that the notion to mourn the death of al-Zarqawi is not 
coming from the school, but instead from the children,s 
families. 
 
A Superficial Relationship with Leinster House... 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
 
13. (C) The Irish Government looks to the ICCI as the voice 
of the Muslim community.  This renders the Islamic 
communities outside of the ICCI and especially outside of 
Dublin dependent upon the ICCI as its representation to the 
political authorities.  Government officials generally visit 
the ICCI annually on Eid, and several members of the Irish 
Muslim community have commented to Poloffs that it seems as 
 
DUBLIN 00000304  003.2 OF 005 
 
 
if the Government is taking an easy and comfortable route by 
engaging only with ICCI and that the wider Muslim community 
would like to see that the Government recognizes that there 
is an Islamic community beyond Clonskeagh. 
 
14. (C) Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern expressed interest in 
interfaith and diversity issues.  The Office of the Minister 
for Integration was established during Ahern,s tenure in 
2007 and Ahern was also responsible for the formation of 
Ireland,s three faiths forum.  Several members of the Irish 
Muslim community told Poloffs that since becoming Taoiseach, 
Cowen, distracted by the economic crisis in Ireland, has not 
been heavily involved with or taken an active interest in 
Muslim integration. 
 
15. (C) Former Integration Minister Conor Lenihan was 
generally seen as ineffective and insincere.  Both members of 
the Irish NGO community and the Irish Muslim community told 
Poloffs that Lenihan (the brother of Finance Minister Brian 
Lenihan) likely secured the position because he comes from a 
political family and seemed to be using the role as a 
platform for moving up in the Government ranks.  They added 
that he did not seem capable of comprehending the complex 
issues associated with integration.  John Curran took on the 
integration brief in April 2009.  Curran also is responsible 
for Ireland,s national drugs strategy and community affairs 
but Irish NGOs and the Irish Muslim community are cautiously 
optimistic that he will be more capable and engaged. 
Currently, the Minister for Integration does not have the 
authority to affect change on the issues that matter most to 
the Muslim community * health, education, and employment. It 
is unclear how the Minister,s role will develop in the 
future. 
 
16. (C) Most government engagement is happening at the local 
level, and officials from Curran,s office told Poloffs that 
Dublin City Council (DCC) serves as a model for integration 
programming.  Currently, the Integration Office pushes funds 
down to the local level and has given local councils the 
freedom to distribute grants on their own discretion.  In 
2008, DCC used a Euro 25,000 grant to fund approximately 30 
different integration organizations.  The Integration Office 
is likely to change this scheme in the coming years as it 
evaluates each local council and determines which programs 
have been the most effective. 
 
...A Tighter Integration Budget... 
---------------------------------- 
 
17.  (C) Ireland,s faltering economy has paved the way for 
cuts in Government spending on integration programs.  The 
National Consultative Committee on Racism and 
Interculturalism(NCCRI), which had proactively pushed 
integration programs and produced literature for the benefit 
of the Muslim community and other minority groups, closed its 
doors in December 2008.  A number of NGOs receiving 
Government grants fear further cuts will follow.  Largely 
because the Muslim community does not have any official 
representation in the government, its members rely on NGO 
groups as a link to the Government.  The Integration office 
is currently reviewing its programs in light of the economic 
situation and has revised some of its schemes to be more cost 
effective.  For example, the office is planning an 
anti-racism poster program for public transport rather than 
launching a costly media campaign. 
 
18. (C) Representatives from the Irish Refugee Council, the 
Immigrant Council of Ireland, and the New Communities 
partnership believe that the Government takes a very 
short-sighted approach to handling immigration and diversity 
and that both the Government and mainstream Irish society 
have an undercurrent of suspicion towards the new communities 
in Ireland.  Itayi Viriri of the Immigrant Council of Ireland 
commented that he was not sure that mainstream Irish society 
would react favorably to public spending on integration 
programs during economic recessionary times.  All three 
representatives noted that they believe the Government is 
expecting immigrant communities to return to their home 
countries.  This is in spite of the fact that in some cases, 
particularly in the case of the Irish Muslim community, the 
country is now home to second generation immigrant 
populations. 
 
... And an Apathetic Attitude towards Political Engagement 
--------------------------------------------- ------------- 
 
19. (C) By all accounts, the Muslim community has not been 
politically engaged for a number of reasons.  The older 
generations of Muslim immigrants are still tied to their home 
countries and are uninterested in issues affecting Ireland. 
In other cases, some immigrants are afraid to become 
politically active because of their experiences in their home 
 
DUBLIN 00000304  004.2 OF 005 
 
 
countries.  Parents in the community often discourage their 
children from studying politics and instead encourage more 
traditional professions such as medicine or engineering. 
According to several members of the Muslim community in 
Ireland, Muslims are generally content with their situation 
and are seeking to avoid drawing attention to themselves. 
Liam Egan, an Irish convert, expressed his frustration to 
Poloffs because the mosques in Ireland are proactive in 
arranging protests on international issues such as Gaza and 
the war in Iraq, but are very reluctant to take a stand on 
issues closer to home because they fear possible backlash. 
 
20. (C) Shaheen Ahmed, a Pakistani immigrant and Fianna Fail 
Party Member who failed to secure a local council seat in the 
2009 elections, told Poloffs that Muslim electoral candidates 
are at a disadvantage because of Ireland,s strong pub 
culture and history of political nepotism and republicanism. 
Zaidi stated in a meeting with Poloffs that the Muslim 
candidates failed in the 2009 local elections because many of 
them did not fully understand or appreciate the party they 
were running for or the Irish political system.  Moreover, 
the candidates did not address the issues that their 
electorate cared most about. 
 
21. (C) Irish political parties have started reaching out to 
migrant and minority voters but have not specifically looked 
at the Muslim community.  Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael 
hired staff to reach out to the Polish community for the 2009 
local elections but did not attempt to reach out further to 
other communities.  This is likely due to the comparatively 
small size of the Irish Muslim community and, according to a 
Fine Gael policy adviser, that, therefore,  Muslims are 
unlikely to impact an election.  A Labor Party official told 
Poloffs that the party has difficulty running immigrant and 
minority candidates because Labor already has longstanding 
party members selected for Labor strongholds.  It is 
difficult to give new candidates a meaningful chance in an 
election because they often have no choice but to run in 
areas in which they will surely lose. 
 
22. (C) Some Muslim candidates have seen success in 
Ireland,s political arena: Moosajee Bhamjee became 
Ireland,s first ever Muslim Member of Parliament in 1992. 
Bhamjee,s stance opposing the closure of Ennis hospital and 
his involvement with the community through his psychiatry 
practice were major factors in his election.  Bhamjee told 
Poloffs that it is up to the Muslim candidates to establish 
roots in their constituencies and build support based on 
local issues.  Bhamjee chose to stand down from the Dail in 
1997 to return to his profession.  Dr. Mazhar Bari, a 
prominent academic and Irish citizen of Pakistani origin, ran 
for Dun Laoghaire county council with the backing of the now 
defunct Progressive Democratic Party in 2004 and lost by a 
margin of just 110 votes.  Bari, whose family funds the 
Blackpits mosque and who currently represents Ireland at the 
European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, told 
Poloffs that running for local council was a positive 
experience and that he hopes to run again in 5 to 10 years. 
 
The Generation Gap and Resistance to Integration 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
23.  (C) Many of the second and third generation Irish 
Muslims are struggling with balancing their religious beliefs 
and their parents, expectations with popular Irish culture. 
Parents are overwhelmingly afraid of their children 
integrating too fully into society because of the strong pub 
culture and Catholicism that exists in Ireland. Murphy told 
Poloffs that some of the parents at the North Dublin Muslim 
School have been particularly resistant to programs in the 
school designed to facilitate integration and &Irishness.8 
Murphy added that some of the parents in the school have held 
on tightly to their traditions despite living in a western 
society.  For example, Murphy has heard from the children 
that some of the parents are taking on second wives even 
though it is illegal in Ireland.  At least in part because of 
this sentiment, a generation gap is emerging between Irish 
born Muslims and their immigrant parents.  Doaa Baker, a 
young Iraqi-Irish Muslim, told Poloffs that she finds the 
mosque leadership in general to be judgmental and out of 
touch.  Mohammad Ali of the Milltown center told Poloffs that 
it has been a challenge teaching the Irish Muslim youth that 
they can engage in Irish society while also upholding their 
culture and religious beliefs.  He admitted that the center 
had lost some of its teenagers to alcohol and drugs. 
 
24. (C) The religious nature of the Irish school system is a 
major issue for Irish Muslims.  Muslim students can opt out 
of prayers in school and Catholicism courses but often the 
schools do not have the resources to move the children into a 
separate classroom.  As a result, Muslim children often sit 
through religion classes without participating.  Dr. Faheem 
 
DUBLIN 00000304  005.2 OF 005 
 
 
Bukhatwa, head of the board of the North Dublin Muslim 
School, told Poloffs that this gives Muslim children a sense 
that they are the "other" and is not helpful from an 
integration standpoint.  Bukhatwa added that employment 
opportunities are not always equal in Ireland and expressed 
his concern for the Muslim youth if the school and employment 
situations are not corrected. 
 
25. (C) Norma Murphy told Poloffs that she believes a number 
of Muslim immigrants find Ireland attractive because of the 
generous social welfare benefits and that Government should 
do a better job of educating the Muslim community on what is 
expected of them in a Western society.  She opined that the 
immigrant community would not recognize that it should 
organize or participate in society unless the Government 
pushed it to through educational programs provided by the 
mosques. 
 
Some Positive Signs 
------------------- 
 
26. (C) The Garda (the Irish police force) has taken positive 
steps by assigning approximately 400 liaison officers to work 
in the force,s intercultural office.  The officers meet with 
representatives from the various immigrant minority 
communities on a regular basis.  The Garda has established a 
positive relationship with the ICCI and Buckhatwa told 
Poloffs that the force is one of the better organizations in 
Ireland in terms of planning for the future. 
 
27.  (C) Second- and third-generation Irish Muslims, for the 
most part, consider themselves Irish and identify with Irish 
society more than their parents, nation of origin.  Several 
Muslim immigrants told Poloffs that they would not return to 
their home countries simply because their children would 
refuse to return with them.  Mohammad Ali of the Milltown 
center noted that when he spends time with the Irish Muslim 
youth the subjects of conversations and jokes are decidedly 
Irish.  He also noted that the teenage generation was 
particularly responsive to his personal campaign to encourage 
Muslim participation in the 2009 local elections.  Moreover, 
several members of the Irish Muslim community have opined to 
Poloffs that integration needs to be a priority both for the 
Muslim community and for Irish mainstream society, and 
recognize that the Muslim community could do more to reach 
out to the Irish Government and to become more involved with 
society. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
28. (C) Overall the Muslim community in Ireland is content 
and moderate, but local government officials, NGO workers, 
and some members of the Muslim community itself have 
expressed concern that the situation in Ireland could 
eventually mirror the situation for Muslims in other European 
countries if the Government does not take a serious look at 
its integration and outreach efforts and policies.  Ireland 
has the distinct advantage of being able to look at the 
integration strategies that other countries have taken and 
evaluate which strategies will fit its situation best. 
Because the number of Muslims in Ireland is so small, the 
community has effectively self-regulated and acted quickly on 
any sign of problematic elements.  It is all too aware that 
any negative action from the margins of the community would 
reflect badly on the entire population.  The Irish-Pakistani 
population is continuing to grow and is likely to build 
stronger ties with the Pakistani population in the UK.  As 
the Muslim community in Ireland writ large continues to grow, 
self-regulation is likely to become more difficult and will 
require greater engagement with other elements of Irish 
society. 
 
ROONEY