Ramadan time for Limerick’s 2000 Muslims

Limerick’s Muslim population of over 2,000 people are currently fasting during the holy festival of Ramadan. A month of abstinence from sunrise to sunset with increased religious devotion, Alan Jacques accepted a warm invitation to celebrate life in this ever-expanding local community.


Abdullah Hassan Jaribu  with members of the Muslim community in Limerick in the Alfurqan Muslin Community Centre in Windmill Street
Abdullah Hassan Jaribu with members of the Muslim community in Limerick in the Alfurqan Muslin Community Centre in Windmill Street

LEGEND has it that astronaut Neil Armstrong heard the Muslim call to prayer (Azaan) when he set foot on the Moon and he converted to Islam on his return to Earth.

It’s a great story but it isn’t true. However, having experienced Friday service at the Alfurqan Muslim Community Centre on Limerick’s Windmill Street, I can understand why this well-travelled myth became to pass, but more about that later!

Like Piscine Molitor Patel, the Indian boy at the centre of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel ‘Life of Pi’, I’ve always had a healthy curiosity about other people’s beliefs. My inquisitiveness would have long ago taken me to visit one of the four Muslim places of worship in Limerick, but I was under the misguided impression that this was not the done thing and I might not be welcome. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

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I had never been inside the doors of a mosque or witnessed how Muslims praise Allah and didn’t know what to expect. I was excited by the prospect.

I recently joined 500 people at the Alfurqan Muslim Community Centre for Friday prayer. Foolishly, I was concerned that I might be not allowed inside the doors as I am not Muslim. But this narrow thinking was all to do with the stereotypical images engrained by skewed news reports and nothing like the heartwarming reality I was about to experience.

Fumbling nervously to get my shoes off before entering this place of worship, my unease proved instantly unfounded as I received a warm, genuine welcome from Palestinian car mechanic Abu Hassan from Father Russell Road who had been asked to take me under his wing. As I sucked in the alluring scent of incense, I took stock of where I was — a place of prayer and worship.

I was instantly struck by the absence of chairs, the lack of elaborate decoration and the calming stillness in the room. Muslim Community Limk_12

Facing East towards Mecca, men deep in their prayer – women pray in a separate room – stood, bowed, prostrated and sat at different times during the half-hour service. Local imām (spiritual leader) Abdullah Hassan Jaribu leads his congregation in prayers spoken in Arabic, leaving me none the wiser, however the profound power of their thanksgiving was not lost on me.

I first met Abdullah when he visited the Limerick Post offices with a heroic young University of Limerick student from Saudi Arabia who had saved a distressed young Limerick woman from entering the river. Abdullah is of the opinion that there isn’t enough positive news stories about the Muslim community, on a local, national or international level, and, understandably, wanted to highlight this selfless act of bravery.

It was evident that the media’s stereotypical depiction of most Muslims as cartoon caricature extremists burning effigies of American Presidents is something that really upsets this spiritual young man.

Having been welcomed into his wonderful peace-loving community, I can understand why. I was greeted with nothing but warm smiles from everyone I met. I couldn’t have been made feel more welcome.

Abdullah was clearly saddened by one recent news story in a national newspaper where Gardaí were reportedly monitoring the movements of 30 Irish Muslims who returned from fighting in civil wars in Syria and Iraq. He admits he found it “insulting” and believes stories of this kind do nothing but incite hatred for the Muslim community for the sake of selling newspapers.

Abdullah feels the media constantly paints a false image of Islam without any consideration for the true picture or the impact these stories can have on ordinary Muslims in their everyday lives.

“We like to eat barbecue and laugh together like everyone else,” he explained.

“Overall, the experience of life in Limerick is a very positive one but you do still hear occasional stories of people being attacked and abused. In fact, an individual cursed and shouted at a woman shopping in the Crescent in Dooradoyle last week for wearing a veil. He used terrible language. You do get odd people like this and it is very disrespectful,” he explained.

Originally from Sudan, Abdullah is a charismatic and instantly likeable individual. All big grins and effusive hand gestures, he radiates an inner glow that draws you to him. He came to Ireland in 2007 where he was working as an interior decorator until the recession took hold. He then decided to dedicate himself to the Islamic teachings and his local community.

The 33-year-old was chosen by his community to lead as imām, a position of trust, which as well as providing religious guidance, sees Abdullah counsel people with personal problems such as marital and financial difficulties.

Muslim Community Limk_24“It’s a huge honour, a blessing. My mother is very proud,” he says.

After a visit to Limerick while he was living in Cork, Abdullah instantly fell in love with the city and knew he wanted to live here.

“People would say ‘no, you can’t go to Limerick that’s stab city’, but I knew I had to move here. The streets are mapped out the same way as they are back home and there are not too many hills. I love being by the river too”.

When he’s not giving spiritual guidance and leading his congregation in prayer, Abdullah loves to read, travel and is also involved in martial arts. He even takes me on a tour of a well-equipped gym next to the Muslim community centre where people come to train and hang out and invites me to avail of it at anytime.

The Muslim Community in Limerick has doubled in recent years. With four mosques in the city now serving over 2,000 people, it’s a community that continues to thrive and grow.

In Limerick at the moment hundreds of Muslims are fasting during the holy festival of Ramadan —the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. During the annual month of fasting Muslims observe Ramadan by not eating after morning prayer at sunrise until after the last prayer at sunset. A time of increased religious devotion and self-examination, Muslims stop and pray to the holy city of Mecca five times a day during the festival.

According to Abdullah, the Islamic month of fasting helps build awareness and teaches self-control, patience and gratitude. Daylight hours are spent in complete fast including abstinence from food, water, alcohol, smoking and sex.

Abdullah merely laughs good-naturedly at my bemused insistence that it must be mind-bogglingly difficult to get through the fast without as much as a drop of water?

“I come from Sudan where it’s so hot and dry that you couldn’t even spit during fast, so the conditions here are much easier. It’s colder and not very humid, so it’s much better,” he assures me.

With the fast starting as early as 3am and finishing around 10pm each night, I’m not convinced it’s as easy as Abdullah makes out, but I’m impressed at his community’s obvious resilience and stamina.

“Ramadan instills awareness, it gives you a chance to take your fuel and to remind yourself to be more grateful for all you have. It humbles you. If you meet someone and they tell you ‘I am hungry’ or ‘I am thirsty’, you can empathise with them because you too have experienced this,” Abdullah explains.

“It also gives a person the chance to become closer to their creator. Islam is a religion of submission. Submitting to your creator brings you peace”.

When the fasting is done each day, the local community comes together to share a meal at their city-based centre. Abdullah considers the coming together of his community each night as a “beautiful thing”.Muslim Community Limk_20

Back to our moonwalking pal Neil Armstrong then!

Midway through the service as the congregation responded in unison to their spiritual leader’s words the room filled with an intensely powerful droning hum which caught me off guard. It felt like a rippling vibration that in an instant connected the entire flock, buzzing through the core of each and every one, before skyrocketing off to the far reaches of the galaxy to the heavens.

The stuff of mythical Moon conversions perhaps?

Finally, back down on Earth, a wise man once said that to obtain a great relationship we must appreciate our similarities and then respect our differences.

Wise words indeed!