Our hearts must be “open to embrace”, the Archbishop of Dublin has told the local Muslim community during historic Eid celebrations at the city’s iconic Croke Park stadium.
On Friday 31st July, 200 worshippers wearing face masks and surrounded by empty terraces rolled out their prayer mats on a manicured grass pitch normally used to host major Gaelic football matches in what Archbishop Diarmuid Martin welcomed as a “propitious moment for the Muslim community in Ireland”.
The stadium was made available by the GAA to facilitate social distancing on a special religious day for Muslims. Leaders of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths in the city attended, as well as a senior representative of the Irish Government.
Speaking to the Muslim community gathered in the stadium, which is named after the Co. Cork-born one-time Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Thomas Croke, Archbishop Martin noted that the venue has a “special place in the history of Ireland”.
“It is a place associated with significant, joyful but also very tragic moments of our history. It is a place today where distinguished visitors come. There is an interesting museum here. However, we can also truly say that the entire Croke Park Stadium is a living museum still being created year by year,” said Archbishop Martin, as he recalled the Queen and Pope Francis’ visits there.
He said that last Friday’s celebrations marked a “new chapter in the history of Croke Park”.
“Today our celebration is a gesture of recognising publicly the place of the Muslim community as an integral part of the family of the Irish and to recognise the contribution of your Muslim community to the Ireland of today and to the Ireland of tomorrow,” he said.
Expressing his honour at being invited to the celebrations in his capacity as Archbishop of Dublin, Archbishop Martin said he shares “the joy of Muslim families who enrich Ireland and Irish culture through their hard work and creativity”.
“I think of the manner in which the younger generations of Muslims in Ireland can today proudly profess their faith and shape the place of Islam in Irish culture. I am not sure whether your children wish to be called Irish Muslims or Muslim Irish: the truth is that they are fully both and proudly so. We all need and we all welcome their contribution.”
The archbishop stressed that “places of worship must be places where intolerance is shunned and respect is learned”.
“Our hearts must be hearts that are open to embrace and not reject. Our hands must be hands that support and help and not push aside. Our mentality must be a mentality that is inspired by compassion and not judgementalism.”
Acknowledging the racism, intolerance, violence and poverty in today’s world, Archbishop Martin insisted that mercy and compassion is needed.
“In a world where many have difficulty in finding faith in God, we all have to examine our individual conscience as to how we have failed to show convincingly in our own lives that God is not just an abstract distant figure, but the One who teaches us all what mercy and compassion mean,” he said.
“For Muslims, Ramadan is a moment of spiritual healing and growth, of sharing with the poor, of strengthening bonds with relatives and friends. We join in your celebration and we know that together we can become a powerful force in the Ireland of tomorrow for spiritual growth, for sharing with the poor and building friendship.
“These are the basis of lasting peace in our society and in our world. I go away today encouraged and hopeful for what we can achieve together with the help of the God who is full of mercy and compassion,” Archbishop Martin concluded.
Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri, from the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, delivered part of his speech at Croke Park in Irish and paid tribute to Ireland’s tradition of welcome and inclusivity – “cead mile failte”.
The religious leader said Ireland had demonstrated it is an open and accepting society following his request to use Croke Park.
He added: “This is a country that is proud of its diversity and embraces those who become part of the society.
“Which place is most iconic and symbolic? Of course it is Croke Park.”
He said the ceremony had sent out a strong message that Ireland is a country of cead mile failte – a hundred thousand welcomes.
“No matter your differences, no matter how different you are, once you come and live here and become part of the society, this island of Ireland has this unique ability to adopt you in a way that you become part of society,” he said.
He referred to St Patrick, the British missionary who spread Christianity and has become synonymous with Irishness.
Dr Al-Qadri said Croke Park is part of Ireland’s DNA, something every person has been brought up with.
He added that Friday’s event was the first complete broadcast on state television, RTE, of Eid in a non-Muslim majority country.
After a month of fasting for Ramadan, Eid is normally a time for Muslims to meet, pray and celebrate.
Friday’s Eid Al Adha falls later in the year than Eid Al Fitr.
It commemorates the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God.
Picture: Socially distanced worshippers in Croke Park, Dublin, on the first day of Eid Al Adha, the festival of sacrifice, with the largest event taking place at the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) headquarters in Dublin. (Damien Eagers/PA).