Abdisatar Sheikh is a 19 year old Muslim student studying linguistics in Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). He is the Chairperson of the DIT Islamic society. I interviewed him in a quiet radio studio in Aungier Street away from distractions. When you meet Abdisatar his welcoming personality and broad smile immediately becomes apparent.
I wanted to get an insight of what it is like for him being a Muslim in this city. He began the interview on a positive note. Abdisatar said that being a, “Muslim in Ireland is not very hard. It is a nice life being a Muslim here.”
“In terms of prayers, Muslims pray five times a day. Continuing your faith and at the same time continuing your college work is a challenge of being a Muslim here,” he added.
But have they been affected by stereotyping?
“I think the media always uses repetition of negative Muslim coverage and this creates an atmosphere and mistrust; it creates doubts in people’s minds towards the Muslim community“
“My sister for example wears the hijab and people sometimes say bad comments like ‘what are you wearing’ and ‘what is this towel on your head’. She tries to explain to them what it is and in general people in Ireland tend to accept it,” he explained.
Abdisatar described how Irish media’s portrayal of Islam through their coverage of terror groups and conflicts in the Middle East affects Irish Muslims. “Maybe Irish media don’t have the knowledge of Islam whereas some of them like to take the stereotypical view. In Ireland I would say this does affect us, because the Irish people are aware of the media and some of them who do not know anything about the religion think the media’s version of the story is the correct one,” he said.
“I think the media always uses repetition of negative Muslim coverage and this creates an atmosphere and mistrust; it creates doubts in people’s minds towards the Muslim community,” he added.
He then explained the affect coverage of Islamic State (IS or ISIS) has on Irish Muslims. “When ISIS are in the media you feel an unease that they are associated with you, but at the same time they shouldn’t really be associated with us as we are not a part of that. The media do not differentiate between what’s happening in the Middle East compared to what Muslims are doing in Ireland and they mix us together when they should be separated.”
Dr Ali Selim lectures on Middle Eastern studies in Trinity College and is a spokesman for the Muslim community and spoke to me at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland to give another perspective.
He was in agreement with Abdisatar about the affect coverage of groups like Islamic State has on Muslims in Ireland. However he strongly disagrees with certain language the media uses when reporting these stories.
“Unfortunately the terms we use could be unhealthy. When you talk about militant groups killing and slaughtering and then you call them the Islamic state it definitely gives bad connotations and it doesn’t help peaceful co- existence. It stigmatises people who have nothing to do with a group based that far away from us,” he said.
“I think the terms that media is using is very much offensive for Muslims and they should be very careful because it doesn’t help anybody,” he added.
Dr Selim also said that the media, “can simply call them the so called Islamic group, fair enough, but if you call them the Islamic state what does it mean? It leaves a profound negative impact on peoples understanding when it comes to Islam and Muslims.”
When questioned about comments he made in the past, about a revolution of inclusivity that he says is absent from Irish public schools towards Muslims, Dr Selim spoke of how things could be fairer. “If you look at the admission policy, it gives preference to certain children on religious grounds. Education has to be seen as a primary need.
“Nobody should be denied this right. We would need more activities of inclusion, mutual activities that would help children mix together and have some commonality that they can share together and not feel they are isolated or left behind,” he said.
“It encourages a peaceful co-existence and it irradiates Islam-phobia, or currently we here about Christian-phobia at the moment so all of that would be good, that would help cooperation,” he added.
Dr Ali Selim also highlighted Gaza to emphasise the oppression of Muslims worldwide. “To see something like this in Gaza, barbaric attacks within the hearing and the sight of our international community is shocking. People turn a blind eye to it and this definitely leaves no room for credibility.
“We are talking about democracy, we are talking about human rights, we have the United Nations and we have all these bodies. In light of what is happening, they basically mean nothing,” he explained.
Photo: Haifeez/ Flickr