Belfast Islamic centre opens its doors to ‘dispel myths'
THE Belfast Islamic Centre threw open its doors to the public on Sunday as part of an initiative to explain its faith "beyond the hostile headlines".
The Islamic Centre, the main centre of worship for Muslims in Belfast, offered talks, refreshments and tours.
The Visit My Mosque Day initiative across Britain came amid a series of Europe-wide demonstrations against the growth of Islam in Europe.
There were scuffles at the launch of the anti-Islamisation group Pegida in Dublin on Saturday while other Pegida supporters also held a march in Birmingham.
Dr Ashraf Ahmed, an executive committee member at the BIC, said it was important to dispel myths about the Muslim faith.
“There is a lot of talk about Islam in the media. People need to know what it is actually all about, so this day is about telling people what Islam is.
“It’s important to say that Islam comes from the same source from where Christianity and Judaism came from. There is a lot in common there. We want to tell people that Islam is a simple religion and has much in common with other religions.”
Dr Ahmed said the most recent census statistics from 2011 showed that there are 4,000 Muslims living in Northern Ireland, yet with the expanding Muslim population and the amount of Muslim students based across the north, the total figure could be closer to 8,000.
Last month, in a high-profile court case, controversial Belfast pastor James McConnell was found not guilty of grossly offensive remarks about Islam after denouncing it from the pulpit as "Satanic".
At the time of the remarks in 2014 he was backed by the then first Minister Peter Robinson who later visited the centre after saying remarks he made about 'trusting Muslims to go to the shop for him' were misinterpreted and he did not "want to insult or cause distress to local Muslims" .
“Everywhere you’ll find some voices like that of the pastor. It happens everywhere. If he showed up here today, I’m sure he would change his ideas,” said Egyptian-born Dr Ahmed.
“I’ve been living here for seven years and overall I’d say it’s a very welcoming society with so many friendly people.”
In Britain, where there are more than 2.5 million Muslims, almost 100 mosques participated in Visit My Mosque Day yesterday. The Muslim Council of Britain hoped the day would show unity in "a tense time for faith communities".
Many of the “hostile headlines” relating to Islam at present surround the so-called Islamic State terrorist group.
Dr Ahmed was quick to say that ISIS has “nothing to do with Islam”.
“Who made this ISIS? They just say whatever they like. They’re criminals and killers. They do not represent Islam. I wouldn’t regard them as Muslims.”
He said he was happy with the turnout at yesterday’s open day and hopes that it will become an annual event.
The Belfast Islamic Centre on Wellington Park in south Belfast was established in 1978. The organisation is planning to move into a larger premises on University Road later this year.