For Irish Muslims, Eid al-Fitr is a 'combination of joy and sorrow,' with all eyes on Gaza.

DUBLIN (RNS) — Ireland's Islamic Cultural Center was decorated with festive lights inside and out as Ali Selim prepared for morning prayers Wednesday (April 10) to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holy day. At the corners of the center, there were stations with sweets and tea and coffee. Outside, smoke billowed from white tents where vendors had gathered to sell food. Muslims gathered from all over Dublin after a night of Eid celebrations marking the end of Ramadan's month of fasting, prayer and charity.

This year, however, Eid celebrations have soured them – as in Muslim communities around the world, the month of Ramadan has been shaped by the ongoing war in Gaza. It's a common topic at the mosque, said Selim, an Irish theologian and spokesman for the Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin.

„Eid is usually a day marked with happiness and joy,” Selim said. „But the mind can never be clear of the tragedy of what is happening in Gaza.”

Irish Muslims with family in Gaza are living in daily fear as the war between Israel and Hamas rages on in Gaza, with the number exceeding 32,000.

„Every night we have to mourn the loss of a family member in Gaza,” Selim said. “Tomorrow (the morning after Eid), they will be with us. It is very unique in the sense that it is sad and happy at the same time.

Selim was optimistic as many around the world called for a ceasefire during Ramadan. „Everyone believed the crisis was over,” he said of the war that began after Hamas attacks on Israel. On October 7, 1,200 Israelis and foreigners were killed and 250 were held hostage in Gaza.

A mural in solidarity with Palestinians painted by Irish artist Emmeline Blake in Rathmines, Dublin, Ireland on March 11, 2024. (Image: Magnath Bose)

On March 25, the UN Security Council passed a resolution requested Cease fire during Ramadan. On the same day, the UN he asked For the massive aid distribution, with officials estimating that more than half a million people in Gaza are „one step away from starvation.” The ceasefire was not enforced during the month of Ramadan.

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During Ramadan, the Islamic Center raised funds for people in Gaza and organized talks every night to raise awareness about what was happening there, Selim said. Several members of the congregation traveled to Gaza to provide medical aid during Ramadan and returned with testimonies of the situation on the ground.

Selim said the purpose of the Ramadan fast is to „share the feeling with those who are lost or marginalized.” This year, the people in Gaza are „killed or displaced” on everyone's mind. Leaders of Muslim countries around the world made references to Gaza in their Ramadan proclamations.

„Not a day goes by that Gaza is not part of our prayers,” Selim said.

Selim is not the only one focusing his prayers in Gaza this Ramadan in Dublin half More of Ireland 80,000 Muslims live.

„I think this Ramadan is more special than any Ramadan because of what's happening in Gaza,” Lorraine O'Connor said. „We relate to our brothers and sisters what is happening there.”

Lorraine O'Connor.  (Video Screen Capture)

Lorraine O'Connor. (Video Screen Capture)

O'Connor is the founder and director of the Muslim Sisters of Ireland, a non-profit organization based in Dublin. With her organization, she hosts a weekly soup kitchen for Dublin's homeless, provides educational training on Islam and aims for greater interfaith dialogue. O'Connor was raised a Catholic, but converted to Islam in 2005.

Islam is the third fastest growing religion in Ireland, along with the number of Muslims in Ireland 32% growth between 2016 and 2022.

O'Connor said Ramadan has been different since earlier this year.

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Generally, he said, Ramadan prayers are for personal forgiveness or for your family and friends. O'Connor said she was suffering from a chest problem and prayed that it would go away on the first evening of Ramadan. But in doing so, he said, he wanted to immediately shift the focus of his prayers to the people of Gaza. „I felt a little selfish,” O'Connor said. „You want to turn your attention to the ongoing genocide.”

She said the Muslim Sisters of Eyre have organized several evenings this month to raise awareness and funds for people in Gaza.

At Trinity College Dublin, Ruman Riaz, a member of the Muslim Students' Union, has been trying to raise awareness. Riaz, 23, is from Kashmir, India, a region where Muslims have long had tensions with the Indian government. Riaz said despite efforts by his organization and others, it was disappointing that there were few changes.

„There's a feeling of helplessness, you know, we can't really do anything,” Rias said. At the same time, Muslims' solidarity with Gaza makes the community grow stronger, he said. We all pray for them together and raise funds for them, which brings us even closer.

Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr outside the Islamic Cultural Center of Ireland in Dublin, Wednesday, April 10, 2024.  (Photo by Ali Selim)

Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr outside the Islamic Cultural Center of Ireland in Dublin on April 10, 2024. (Photo by Ali Selim)

The last 10 nights of Ramadan are believed to be more rewarding than before, especially Laylat al-Qadr, the „Night of Power,” which falls on April 6 this year. Muslims spend the whole night of Laylat Al praying and asking for forgiveness. – Qatar. Some do it privately at home, while others attend congregations in mosques, Riaz explained.

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„In mosques we usually end our prayers with a long prayer of collective apology to God,” Riaz said. „I'm sure every mosque will pray for Gaza.”

Worshipers arrived at the Islamic Cultural Center early Wednesday morning to chant the seven takbeers, or glories of God, until Eid prayer time. The prayer was followed by a word from the imam, who began his Eid sermon by congratulating the community on breaking their fast. He then turned to the ongoing suffering in Gaza. Selim called his news „a mixture of joy and sadness.”

„It's a combination of the thinking of those who have been killed and those who are still under the threat of death,” Selim said. „It's a crazy situation.”

Ali Selim, right, speaks to Columbia Journalism School students at the Islamic Cultural Center of Ireland in Dublin on March 11, 2024, the first day of Ramadan.  (Photo: Ari Goldman)

Ali Selim, right, speaks to Columbia Journalism School students at the Islamic Cultural Center of Ireland in Dublin on March 11, 2024, the first day of Ramadan. (Photo: Ari Goldman)

The Islamic Center organized two prayer meetings on Eid morning. According to Selim, each attracted about 3,000 people. Despite everything, Selim said, there was still a festive mood.

“I saw someone from Gaza this morning. I know he lost extended family members,” Selim said. The man told Selim that some were able to get to where their homes once were, and even though they now lived in tents, they were able to hook up water.

„Their message was, 'You cannot finish us, we will rebuild what they destroyed,'” Selim said.

Indy Scholtens, a student at Columbia Journalism School, wrote this story as part of a research trip to Ireland sponsored by the Scripps Howard Foundation.

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