Muslims observe Ramadan as Holy Month begins

Updated / Wednesday, 22 Mar 2023

The Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh will be busy with approximately 700 people attending every evening
The Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh will be busy with approximately 700 people attending every evening

By Ailbhe Conneely

Social Affairs & Religion Correspondent

The official commencement of the month of Ramadan will take place tonight and the first day of fasting will be observed from sunrise tomorrow.

The holy month will see Muslims all over the world fasting during the day, doing charitable deeds and praying each night in mosques, including in Ireland.

According to the 2016 Census, there are 63,000 Muslims in Ireland, however, it is believed that the figure has risen to over 90,000.

At the Islamic Centre of Ireland in Clonskeagh, Dr Ali Selim said Ramadan works almost in the same way as Lent does for Christians.

He said: “During Lent, you sacrifice something that you like, and it is not a theory of deprivation, but rather a theory of a better character or a development in your character. Same thing for us Muslims. This is one of the religious commonalities between Muslims and Christians.

“We can’t deny the differences because that would be very naive. But focusing on the commonalities in the right way to build the bridges and to live together as friends.”

The Muslim year is 11 days shorter than the Christian year. The commencement of the Muslim chronology commenced with the journey of migration or as called in Muslim history, the journey of Hijra.

Dr Selim said this marked a “dramatic change”, through the establishment of the first Islamic state, where Muslims, Christians, Jews, worshippers and others “lived together in one society for the first time in history and enjoyed the most peaceful coexistence”.

Dr Ali Selim

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims refrain from all foods and drinks from dawn until sunset, and this, according to Dr Selim, is about self-control.

Those who are pregnant, have an illness, older people and children can abstain, but may give back in other ways through charitable means for example.

Dr Seilim’s youngest son is in fifth class and shares in the experience just as his older siblings did at his age.

He has breakfast in the morning, lunch at around 1pm, then he fasts until sunset.

People frequent mosques more during this period due to the spiritual occasion, and the Islamic Cultural Centre will be busy with approximately 700 attending every evening.

There are also special nights during the month, where attendances rise to around 1,300 people who pray at night for almost an hour.

In Islam, there are two main denominations, Sunni and Shia. However, there are others, including the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which worships at the Maryam Mosque in Galway.

Over the coming month during Ramadan, attendances will also rise there.

Imam Ibrahim Noonan, who was raised a Roman Catholic, is a convert to Islam and the first Irish man to qualify as an Imam, which he said enables him to understand boundaries on both sides.

Many people may be surprised to hear that all Islamic communities look forward to Ramadan, he suggests.

“We see it as an opportunity to fast from sunrise to sunset. No food, no water. But really it’s about our ability to connect with God Almighty again, and hopefully at the end of that month, we would have had all our prayers accepted and we would come out of the month purified, as such,” he said.

This year, Easter and Ramadan coincide. Imam Noonan cannot recall this happening in his 30 years in the Ahmadiyya Muslim faith.

“It’s quite unique. I’ve had conversations with some friends of mine who are priests, who were trying to find out similarities. We will give up completely everything, they may give up something, but I think the intention and even length is the same. It is really to please God, so it’s quite nice that we’re all together in this time,” he said.

Yusef Pender and his family attend the Maryam Mosque in Galway. Originally from Co Clare, he converted to Islam a number of years ago. His wife is from Pakistan, and he has two children who also attend the mosque.

Due to a propensity or an interest in spirituality he decided to explore other religions.

“I wasn’t really interested in in looking at Islam because this is like around 2003, 2004 and I didn’t associate Islam with spirituality because I [had] never met a Muslim and my own exposure to Islam was the nightly news.

“I came across Islam through the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and I was just really captivated by the deep level of spirituality and reverence for God but also how it was such a rational faith”.

Miriam with her father Yusef

Yusuf felt he was not rejecting his Christian heritage but adding to it.

“Obviously Muslims believe in in Jesus as a prophet, they believe in in all the prophets of the Bible. I believe Jesus was the Messiah, was a prophet, but I also believe that another prophet came after him. It’s part of the Abrahamic tradition, it’s not something separate.

“Just like how Christians would look at Judaism as part of their heritage. They believe in the Old Testament, believe in all the prophets, but they also believe in this other prophet. So, it’s the same thing.”

So how do Irish people react to Yusuf fasting during Ramadan? He said there is genuine concern when they learn he has not eaten since breakfast.

“But it’s fine. I mean, you just explain to people, I’m fasting, it’s religious exercise and thank you very much. And they might give you something to take away!” he said.

Yusef’s daughter Miriam is nine years old and eager to talk about Ramadan.

“Usually, the kids don’t fast. Usually, the parents only fast because they have the strength to”.

Asked if there is anyone else in her class that observes Ramadan, she’s pleased to say a girl has joined her class this year who is the same religion.

Miriam also has done a power presentation to her class about Ramadan.

“I tell them that Ramadan is a month of sacrifice. It’s not just about sacrifice, it’s about doing charity and growing your relationship with God.”

Both Imam Noonan and Dr Selim remark about the growth of Muslim communities both in Galway and Dublin.

Imam Noonan welcomes the fact they are more visible than ever, including in the gym he attends. Muslim women wearing hijab have also been attending.

“You could see everyone in the gym was also noticing this. But now, weeks later, they’re all happy. No one, no one’s looking anymore. Everyone’s accepted it that’s really lovely.”

Back in Clonskeagh, Dr Selim reflects on the difference of being Muslim in Ireland now compared to when he arrived in the late 1990s.

“I think in today’s time it is very much different. Young generations have been educated while a Muslim child is sitting next to them or behind them or in front of them, they are colleagues in universities and now they are colleagues in work environments.

“When we set up the Islamic Culture Centre in 1996, our plan was integration. I think in today’s time it is not more integration but rather partnership.”

There will be a series of short films called Ramadan Diaries, airing weekly on RTÉ1 and the RTÉ Player from Saturday 25 March, followed by a compilation programme of all four episodes on 22 April in time for Eid.


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