For most of its 136-year history the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) has embodied an Irish identity that was Catholic, nationalist and conservative.

Croke Park, the organisation’s main Dublin stadium and its headquarters, was named after an archbishop, Thomas Croke, who promoted Gaelic football, hurling and other indigenous games to counter English sports.

The stadium became a pantheon of sorts after British soldiers stormed in during the war of independence in 1920 and killed 14 civilians. The GAA banned police and members of the British army until 2001. Protestants north and south of the border largely shunned an organisation they associated with tricolours and republican songs.

But on Friday this nationalist crucible will showcase a very different Irish identity when it hosts the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Adha. Covid-19 restrictions limit indoor gatherings so Muslim leaders asked to use Croke Park and received an emphatic yes.

“They didn’t hesitate,” said Shaykh Umar al-Qadri, the chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, which is organising the event. “This Eid festival is symbolic. It gives us an opportunity to express our dual identity.”

The decision by an Ikea store in Germany to lend its car park to a local mosque for socially distanced prayers prompted the idea, said Qadri. “I thought Ireland can do even better so I approached Croke Park, the most iconic, Irish, symbolic venue you could think of.”

A hurling match at Croke Park in January
Players in a hurling match at Croke Park in January. Photograph: Tom O’Hanlon/INPHO/Rex/Shutterstock

Instead of hurling sticks whacking a sliotar, or boots kicking a ball, the pitch will be filled with the sound of prayers for the Eid al-Adha holiday, also known as the festival of sacrifice, one of Islam’s holiest days.

Government ministers are to attend along with Catholic, Protestant and Jewish religious leaders. The national broadcaster, RTÉ, is to carry live coverage.

“Twenty years ago this probably would not have been possible. Ireland has travelled a long way,” said Qadri, who has a son who plays hurling. “Not so long ago GAA players were not allowed to play soccer or rugby. It just shows that people have moved to accept diversity.”

There is one disappointment: organisers hoped to have 500 people at the stadium, one of Europe’s biggest, with a capacity of 82,300, but authorities capped the number at 200.

Croke Park has hosted no matches since Covid-19 restrictions started in March but the GAA welcomed the chance to lend the pitch to Muslims, said Alan Milton, a GAA spokesman.

“In the past 20 years we’ve probably moved more than we have in all the years of our previous existence. We live in a very different Ireland. I’d like to think that people are now more moderate and open to different cultures and religions.”

Ireland is hardly immune to Islamophobia. About half of Irish people do not want more Muslims in Ireland and feel confident publicly stating this, according to a survey published this week by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Economic and Social Research Institute.

“Many people in Ireland who hold negative attitudes towards Muslims believe that their opinions are socially acceptable, unlike people who hold negative attitudes towards black immigration,” it said.

The GAA says it now stands for pluralism and tolerance. Last year it launched a diversity-themed ad campaign with the motto “where we all belong”. Critics called it treacly but Milton said it expressed a new spirit. “We’ve never excluded anybody in recent times.”

Some Northern Ireland unionists challenge that: this week the former DUP health minister Jim Wells called the organisation “sectarian”. However the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, signalled improving relations by attending a GAA game in 2018. And this month a GAA club was formed in east Belfast, a loyalist bastion, for the first time in half a century.

With the Muslim population in the Republic of Ireland increasing to about 100,000 – in the early 1990s the population was in the low thousands – the GAA has an incentive to make them feel welcome, said Milton. “We want Muslim kids to play our games.”

Ireland now has about 80 mosques and Islamic places of worship, says Ali Selim, a spokesman for the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland. “Muslims in Ireland are at home. They share the Irish layer of their identity with a religious layer and cultural layer.”

He credited state and religious leaders of all faiths with setting a tone of inclusion that has kept far-right voices on the political fringe. It also helped, said Selim, that Ireland had not colonised or invaded Muslim-majority countries. “In fact Ireland has been occupied by Britain. So many Muslims here share the same history.”



Source link

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here