Terror attack in Canada leads to worry in Irish Muslim community

While Ireland may remain generally safe for Muslims, the rhetoric of Donald Trump and a right wing attack on a Mosque in Quebec have increased apprehension among Ireland’s Muslim community, writes Cormac O’Keeffe

Faheem Bukhatwa, Fazel Ryklief and Imam Yahya Al Hussein. Pictures: Moya Nolan

FAZEL RYKLIEF was uneasy as he prayed at his mosque last week.

The recent terrorist attack at the Canadian mosque intruded on his mind.

“I felt apprehensive during prayer, uneasy, as a result of what happened in Quebec — that it could happen here. I had a feeling of ‘what if someone walks in and starts shooting?’”

The location of Fazel’s place of worship, the Islamic Foundation of Ireland, commonly known as the Dublin Mosque, is central to his fears, shared by others.

“It is easy to walk in off the street. We are very accessible, a few metres from the gate,” he said.

“In a few seconds you are in the door without anyone seeing you.”

Standing at the entrance to the landmark building, the door to the mosque is around four metres from the main entrance and could be covered in a couple of strides.

The mosque is located on South Circular Road, one of the the busiest arteries in the city, in what is a built-up inner-city residential area.

Fazel, a senior member of the mosque, doesn’t come across as someone rash or prone to paranoia.

Fazel Ryklief outside the Mosque on the South Circular Road in Dublin. Mr Ryklief says Ireland is one of the safer countries for Muslims, however the attack by a lone right-wing extremist on a mosque in Canada has increased concerns over safety. Picture: Moya Nolan

He’s been in Ireland since the 1970s. He married an Irish woman and has five grown up children, two of them married into Irish families.

“I do see changes, some of them excellent,” said Fazel. “But, things can happen so quickly.”

He cited the speed and scale of US President Donald Trump’s actions in relation to banning people from seven, mainly Muslim, countries in the context of preventing “radical Islamic terrorists” getting into the US.

Days later, a young university student walked into Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre, during evening prayer, and shot six people.

The attack by Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old student of social sciences, was described by the Canadian government as a terrorist attack, amid reports of Bissonnette’s support of far-right parties, including France’s Front National.

The Quebec Muslim community was shocked by the killings. Although members did refer to a rise in recent racist incidents, local leaders said the community had generally good relations with the wider Quebec and Canadian society.

Faheem Bukhatwa, another worshiper at the Dublin mosque, said Ireland is also a bit of a role model in this regard.

“I personally believe Ireland is one of the best countries for Muslims, for all foreigners in general, to settle in, in terms of safety, security, interaction. But, unfortunately, all it takes is one individual.”

He believes that the words and actions of the US president are, at least, partly to blame.

“I honestly believe that what happened in Canada is a direct consequence of what the policy in the US is,” he said.

“Trump is the president of the greatest nation on Earth and the most powerful.

“What Trump is doing is encouraging the entire situation and inflaming the situation. With the power he has, the country he leads, his rhetoric could push people to extreme action.”

He also expressed deep concern at the speed of developments.

“Things can change so quickly, especially when a president of a country starts influencing it. It is encouraging people in other countries as well to be more right wing.”

He cites the growth of the far right, and upcoming elections, in France, the Netherlands and Germany.

“There is a big fear over the next few years things will get a lot worse in Europe and the US.”

But he said a country does not need a large right-wing party for there to be a threat — and that lone radicalised individuals can do the damage.

“This Quebec incident just brought it all into focus that this can happen, that anything can happen. All it takes is just one person to do something.”

He said a lot of people attending the mosque were worried.

“I personally think that extra security procedures need to be taken. I certainly recommended it to management. The mosque here is so close to the main road, it’s right on the road. And usually the place in open.”

The imam, Yahya Al Hussein, is a quietly spoken man and is careful in what he says. He said some members of the “jamah” (congregation) have spoken about their fears and are “upset”.

Imam Yahya Al Hussein in the Islamic Foundation mosque on South Circular Road says he is worried about security. Picture: Moya Nolan

In relation to the Quebec attack, he said: “It is saddening and worrying, that things are taking such turns, that things could escalate in this direction and what happened in Canada could happen in other places.”

He traced a link between the Quebec attack and what Trump has done.

“His overall message is very negative, not good at all,” he said. “It shouldn’t be coming from a superpower at all. It’s a very negative message. Negative words could influence people like this person [Bissonnette].”

He added: “There are a few [members] who mentioned this [security] and that we should be careful here as well, that something might happen.”

The imam said the issue of mosque security had been mentioned by a member of the management council prior to the Quebec attack.

“Even before this incident, one of the members was mentioning this. He said about security during the times of prayer.”

Imam Al Hussein said prayer time was one of the most vulnerable of times.

“It could happen in the prayer: everyone is in the mosque, everyone is allowed to join the prayer. There are some people thinking about that and how close we are to the road. They are sort of worried something serious could happen.” He said Friday (the main prayer day) was not necessarily the riskiest as there would be more people around, as many as 800-1,000 over the day.

“Other days are more dangerous that Fridays,” he said, “there are less people.” The imam added: “We have great faith in the people of this country, but one person could do damage.”

He said it was an issue that they would be discussing at council level and that it was likely they would develop some sort of strategy in relation to it. If necessary, they would raise the matter with gardaí and local politicians.

Faheem said that there was a responsibility on the State and the gardaí.

Faheem Bukhatwa in the Dublin Mosque, which, he says is vulnerable to attack. Picture: Moya Nolan

“We trust and depend on the security of the Department of Justice in general and the guards and the Special Branch. Hopefully, they should be able to help.”

He said he hoped they monitored both extremist Muslims and extreme right wing individuals but accepted that lone individuals can be difficult to identify.

“The thing is if someone comes in [here] and wants to do a criminal act, it is very difficult to stop,” he said.”

What, if anything, Taoiseach Enda Kenny should say to President Trump in his St Patrick’s Day visit to Washington is taken up by Faheem and the imam.

Both believe the Taoiseach should raise the concerns of Irish people, including Irish Muslims, but accept he should do so in a diplomatic manner.

“We have to be realistic,” said Faheem.

“First, there’s not much he can say to influence the US and, second, Ireland needs America a lot more than America needs Ireland.”

He said the Taoiseach “should not ignore public opinion here” and should make the US president aware of those views.

“He has to use diplomacy to say that Irish people are very much against what Trump is saying and doing. That’s the least he can do.”

Imam Al Hussein is reluctant to tell the Taoiseach what to do, but said: “Yeah, I think so, as a matter of principle. In his own way and words voice his opinion that this is not the right attitude.” Faheem pointed out that the treatment of migrants was also an issue for Ireland.

A senior member of the Libyan community in Ireland, he said Libyans were not being granted visas, such as student visas, over the last two years.

As a senior lecturer in Griffith College, he said he had first-hand experience of this and had raised it repeatedly with the Department of Justice directly and through a local politician.

“I have many students who have applied [for visas] and who are refused.”

He said there were also greater difficulties in terms of family reunions for Libyans legally here, including those with citizenship.

“I don’t know why [this is happening],” Faheem said. “I probably suspect the department thinks this [Libya] is a place where terrorism is happening.”

Meanwhile, Fazel said he was extremely concerned at how the international mood towards Muslims is changing so quickly and the impact that will have.

“Trump’s actions are creating a lot more hatred of Muslims, that’s how I feel,” he said. “You look in Europe, in France and the Netherlands and the rise of the far right, and even in Germany.

“The scary part is things can change so quickly. I am worried about my children and grandchildren.”


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