The Muslim community in Ireland is young. Its oldest organisation, the Islamic Foundation of Ireland, was formed in 1959 by young Muslims who were, in the main, students at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, in Dublin.
The first mosque and Islamic centre in Ireland opened in 1976, on Harrington Street in Dublin. Among those who contributed to it was the late King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, of Saudi Arabia.
In 1981 Kuwait’s ministry of religious endowments and Islamic affairs sponsored the first full-time imam for the mosque, Sheikh Yahya al-Hussein, who is now Ireland’s longest-serving imam.
The first purpose-built mosque in Ireland was erected at Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, in 1986; the town also has a large halal meat plant.
The 1991 census recorded just 3,875 Muslims in the State, many of them refugees from Bosnia, Somalia and Kosovo, as well as asylum seekers and professionals and workers from other Islamic countries.
By the 2011 census Ireland officially had 49,204 Muslims, most of whom were professionals who had arrived during the Celtic Tiger boom. That figure was believed to be conservative.
At a ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, in Clonskeagh in Dublin, last November, Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration David Stanton said that now “the real figure is likely to be in the region of 55,000 to 70,000”.
More than half of Ireland’s Muslims are Asian or African. Many are students from Malaysia, the Gulf states and Pakistan. The figure also includes an estimated 2,000 doctors. The rest are businessmen, professionals, other workers and asylum seekers. Some are also Irish and other Europeans who have converted to Islam.
Overall Ireland’s Muslims are believed to include people from 40 countries. They live in towns and cities all over the island where they pray at an estimated 60 mosques (mostly in private houses). As with Islam internationally, the vast majority are Sunni.
The Ahlul Bayt Islamic Centre, at Milltown in Dublin, is the main minority Shia Islamic centre in Ireland. It caters to Shia Muslims from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and some Gulf states. It is estimated that about 15 per cent of Muslims worldwide are Shia.
The largest mosque in Ireland – and one of the largest in Europe – is at the 5,000sq m Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, in Clonskeagh. It was built and is funded by the Al Maktoum Foundation of the United Arab Emirates. The imam is Sheikh Hussein Halawa, who is Egyptian. More than 850 children attend its Koranic school; 250 attend the Muslim National School, which is based at the centre.
There are now also Islamic student societies at almost every third-level institution in Ireland. Most operate under the umbrella Federation of Student Islamic Societies Ireland.