Muslims living in Ireland are scared they will be tarred with the same brush as extremists who carry out terrorist attacks in the name of Islam.
They say their religion is about “peace” and “unity” and they strongly condemn so-called Islamic terrorists.
Abdul Gafar, 37, attends the mosque at the Al-Mustafa Islamic Cultural Centre in Blanchardstown, Co Dublin. He is married to an Irish woman, who is not a Muslim and the couple have a baby together.
Abdul says he is “completely against” atrocities carried out in the name of his religion by extremists.
“It’s really bad what they are doing,” he says. “When a Muslim does something bad, it comes out to the whole world. What they are doing, we Muslims go against it completely.”
Abdul said that, while he is a Muslim, his wife is not and they live in a peaceful household.
“I personally am a Muslim,” he says. “My wife, she doesn’t believe in God. My sister is a Christian. We live in a peaceful home. Islam is all about peace and unity.”
Abdul said he is hesitant about “coming out” as a Muslim to strangers, in case he is considered an extremist just because of his religion.
“When you say you are a Muslim, people look at you and they believe that all Muslims are extremists,” he says. “It’s not all Muslims that are extremists. We go against it completely.”
He says the actions of extremists are selfish and are in no way connected to Islam: “It has nothing to do with Islam, just one group of people, that 1%, because of their own selfish interests — that is why they are doing all this nonsense.”
Abdul says he tries to explain to people that Islam is non-violent and that if it was violent he would not be able to live with himself, nor would his wife tolerate it.
“I try to explain to them what Islam is all about,” he says. “I think if I was a bad person or being someone who is violent, I don’t think I would be able to live with my wife. I try to explain to people what the real Islam is all about. Islam is all about peace, tolerance and to be accommodating to people, be friendly with people, not being violent.”
He explains his religion’s view of murder: “Islam says if you kill a soul, you have killed a whole nation. If you save a soul, you save a whole nation. I don’t see any reason why you should kill.”
Meanwhile, Maisa Al Hariri, 19, also attends the mosque in Blanchardstown.
She is a Syrian refugee currently living in the direct provision centre in Mosney, Co Meath.
Maisa, who is fluent in English and Arabic, worked as a translator in the refugee camps in Greece, is eager to now integrate into Irish society but she fears that her religion may get in the way.
“I feel really bad,” she says about the attacks, “and at the same time, scared also because while walking in the streets, I’m covered, I feel afraid that they think about me the same [as they would an extremist], they would take me up the wrong way.
“I don’t want any harm to come to anyone. I feel afraid about people’s thoughts about Islam and how my way of dressing, or the path I’m taking, I get afraid that they take it in the wrong sense.
“From the point of studying, working, getting into the community, being a normal person, it makes me feel afraid — are they going to accept me between them because of the hijab.”
Maisa says wearing her hijab is her choice and that it makes her feel relaxed and happy. However, she is conscious of how her image may impact upon her integration into her new community.
“I try my best to follow my religion and at the same time, I’m trying my best to engage with the community and try my best to be as simple and easy with everyone,” she says.
Speaking about terrorists carrying out random attacks in the name of Islam, Maisa is unable to understand their motives.
“I get really confused,” she says. “When they say they are Muslims and they are doing that in the name of Islam, I get confused. Islam never taught us to do that.
“I’ve known it since my childhood. My parents have raised me in the name of Islam, that it’s a peaceful religion and doing such things and harming people is not the right thing. I keep getting confused. Those that are harming people and killing innocent souls, who are they? Is it really Islam? What are they gaining? For what reason are they doing it? There are many questions in my mind that make me feel lost.”
Maisa also says that her religion is to be found in a book, not in what people try to say it is. She also said that a woman does not need to wear a hijab in order to be a Muslim.
“A woman has her own choice in wearing the hijab,” says Maisa.
“It’s never strict in Islam, even if a Muslim lady you don’t find her covered, she is Muslim, it’s by heart.
“It’s not strictness from men, like relatives — father, husband, or brother — who would insist on her wearing the hijab. In that way the lady would hate the religion.”
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