Christians and Muslims: forging an honest peace

Christians and Muslims: forging an honest peace
The View


The Pope’s recent visit to the United Arab Emirates highlighted the issue of relations with Islam. It has been a recurring theme of this pontificate. It was also a major concern of Pope Benedict, although he was unfairly caricatured as anti-Islamic after his much mis-quoted Regensberg Address in 2006.

Far from attacking Muslims, Pope Benedict was making a subtle argument for the place of reason in religion because religion untethered from reason is prone to all kind of violence and fanaticism.

There were violent riots in Islamic countries after the Regensburg address. Sr Leonella Sgorbati, whose murder in the wake of the controversy was widely condemned by Muslims and Christians alike, was beatified last May.

However, a consortium of 138 Islamic scholars wrote a reasoned letter in response to Pope Benedict, which opened up fresh channels of communication between Catholicism and Islam.

Although Islam is Ireland’s third largest religion, it remains tiny at fewer than 63,500 members although with 40 nationalities in the mix. There have been waves of Muslim immigration, from the wealthy who came here to study medicine to much poorer asylum-seekers.


Islamophobia is a term that the British Runnymede Trust was credited with coining over 20 years ago. Today, the Trust defines Islamophobia two ways: in one phrase, as anti-Muslim racism, and in a much longer form as “any distinction, exclusion, or restriction towards, or preference against, Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life”.

Although Islamophobia is not considered a major problem in Ireland, the 2016 Immigrant Council of Ireland study ‘Islamophobia in Dublin: Experiences and How to Respond’ described examples of specifically anti-Muslim verbal abuse, physical assault, graffiti and damage to property.

Women are twice as likely as men to experience anti-Islamic abuse, presumably because the hijab and other traditional Islamic dress makes them more identifiable. Sadly, these events happen in schools, on public transport and in shops.

There is no doubt that Islam is associated to some extent with terrorism in the public mind. This will not have been helped by the arrest of Alexandr Ruzmatovich Bekmirzaev in Syria on suspicion of being a member of an Isis-linked group. He is originally from Belarus but is a naturalised Irish citizen.

There have been claims that he was radicalised while in Ireland by a Jordanian recruiter, although others have disputed this, saying it is much more likely that the seeds of radicalisation were sown long before his arrival here in 2000.

Estimates vary as to how many radicalised Muslims are in Ireland. Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri, an imam based in Blanchardstown and the chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, believes that there might be as many as 100 radicals. (Shaykh Al-Qadri has no time for radicalisation and supports the revocation of Irish citizenship from those who are convicted of terrorism abroad.)

The gardaí have put the number closer to 30. Dr Ali Selim, of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI) in Clonskeagh, home of Ireland’s largest mosque, does not think there is much of a problem at all.

But while the public perception of Muslims may sometimes be negative, people who value the right to life of all human beings are very grateful to the Muslim doctors who are exercising their right to freedom of belief and refusing to carry out abortions. Given that many rural maternity units depend on Islamic doctors, this is highly significant. (See Greg Daly’s coverage, ‘Muslim Doctors May Upset Government’s Abortion Plans’ in IC 24/01/19.)

More than one person has noted the irony that Catholic doctors (with some brave exceptions) are far less likely to put their heads above the parapet than the Muslims.

A devout Muslim may have more in common with a devout Catholic on this issue than either will have with a secular person. However, this does not mean that differences can be glossed over.

For example, Christians are denied freedom of religion and practice in many Muslim countries and suffer active persecution in others. One only has to think of Asia Bibi, still in hiding in Pakistan after spending years on death row on a trumped-up charge of blasphemy.

This makes Pope Francis’ outreach all the more important. One important outcome of the Holy Father’s trip to the United Arab Emirates was the joint signing of a ‘Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together’, which condemns any form of religious violence or persecution.

It is a small but important step towards learning to live together as beloved children of God, without pretending that there are no major doctrinal differences between us.