The "Islamic Cultural Center" in Dublin has taken on a very ambitious project in order to bring a segment of the Irish population a little closer to Islam: the translation of the Koran into Gaelic. Arian Fariborz reports on the project
and on Ireland's Muslim community
Leslie Carter appears almost helpless before the fusillade of so many penetrating questions from a few unrelenting journalists: "Why don't you save yourselves the trouble and just translate the Koran straight from English into Gaelic?" or "Why the immense translation effort when all the Irish can read the Koran in English?"
The 33-year-old member of the staff at the "Islamic Cultural Center" in Dublin is among the initiators of the project to translate the Koran into the Irish language. Of course, it would be easier and less time-consuming to translate from the English version of the Koran, she explains: "But when we go from one translation to another, the truth suffers.
Linguistic inaccuracies occur which could distort the real meaning. To avoid this, a direct translation from the Arabic into Irish is absolutely essential."
The Gaelic language today is only fluently spoken by approximately 100,000 Irish, even though study of the language is still compulsory at Irish schools. But why should this Gaelic-speaking minority not be given the opportunity to read the holy book of Islam in their own language, asks Carter.
Building cultural bridges
The demand for a Gaelic version of the Koran is already enormous, even though the project is still in the beginning phase. A qualified translator has not yet been found who is fluent enough in high Arabic and in Gaelic to take on this difficult task.
Thus, they are now considering sending an experienced Irish translator to the Arabic world to learn high Arabic.
The initiators of the project, which includes, along with the Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin, the "Foras na Gaeilige"—an organization for the advancement of the Gaelic language culture in Ireland—want to accomplish one thing above all with the Gaelic translation: to build bridges between the cultures and convey the foundation of a religion that is still insufficiently known in predominantly Catholic Ireland.
The Islamic community in the high North
Society in the Republic of Ireland has long been undergoing major changes. Since the small green island has been developing from a classic emigration country to an immigration country, the percentage of Muslims in the entire population has dramatically increased.
Ten years ago, there were around 8,000 immigrants from the Near East, the Maghreb states, South Africa and Malaysia; today more than 20,000 Muslims live in Ireland.
"Most of them are laborers, but there are also academicians and students," comments Leslie Carter. "Among them are also many nurses and doctors coming from different regions in the Islamic world. Only Irish converts to Islam with about 300 persons are still a minority. Of course, I hope that this number will double in the next few years."
She herself gave up her Catholic beliefs years ago when she met a Muslim man whom she later married.
With the increase in Muslim immigrants in the 1990s, Islamic institutions have also proliferated: whether in Dublin, Belfast, Cork or Limerick—Islamic communities with mosques, cultural centers, counseling centers, and schools can be found in nearly every Irish metropole.
An Islamic cultural center as the hub of cooperation
The Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin unquestionably plays a significant role. The Center, officially opened in 1996 by the Irish President Mary Robinson and sponsored by the Minister of Finance and Industry from the United Arabic Emirate, Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, comprises not only a mosque but also schools, social counseling facilities, conference rooms, as well as sport and fitness centers, a restaurant, and even a supermarket.
In the building complex designed by Irish architects, religious gatherings and seminars, language courses, further education courses, and intercultural events are held.
Characteristic of the good cooperation with the government in Dublin are the Center's three primary schools. They follow the Irish curriculum, are attended by children of Muslim as well as Irish parents, and are financed by the state. Around 260 children currently attend the school.
"We are trying out both," says Carter, "that is, to integrate the Irish and the Muslim community. We work together, although naturally certain cultural differences exist. The Muslims also learn here how to adapt to the Irish way of life without having to restrict their freedom to practice their religion. For example, we offer English language courses here in the Center. We work together with the Irish community in diverse areas, whether with local relief organizations, politicians, or the police. For example, young trainees at the police academy regularly visit the Center for several weeks in order to learn about Muslim life."
The shadow of September 11
To date, the attacks of September 11 have not strained the good relations between the government and the cultural center management. The Center director, Dr. Nooh al-Kaddo, remembers very well when even Ireland's Muslims felt themselves subjected to growing social pressure:
"It was a critical time for us," reported Kaddo, "and exactly at this critical moment, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern called and asked if he could visit. And when he entered the center, a few media representatives standing at the entrance asked him why he was visiting the center at this particular moment. He responded: "I am not visiting for the first time! I have an excellent relationship with the leaders of this center. And with my visit I wish to make it clear that this center is a flower in the Irish garden which nobody may hurt!" Of course, this gave us quite a boost. We really felt that this government supported us," says Kaddo.
In contrast to its neighbor, England, hostilities and violent acts against Muslims after September 11 have been the exception so far. One reason for this may certainly be the fruit of years of intensive cooperation and open dialog instead of increasing isolation and confrontation.
© Qantara.de 2004