Dublin, Ireland – On a clear and crisp morning in Dublin, the faithful sit on mattresses spaced on a sports field, listening to a woman dressed from head to toe in white reciting the Koran.
Above the stadium's imposing concrete walls, Catholic prayers bark at the microphone can be heard in the protest of the "rosary rally" outside.
Ireland's renowned sports fields, Croke Park, opened their doors to Muslims on this Eid al-Adha so that they could meet in large numbers for the first time since the country's coronavirus block imposed strict limits on all internal religious services .
Initially, organizers hoped that 500 faithful would be able to attend Friday's event, but an increase in new COVID-19 cases delayed the expected easing of restrictions.
Instead, only 200 people were allowed in the camp, properly spaced, plus a few children who stayed close to their parents, running around the prayer mats in circles or waving miniature Irish flags.
For many of the faithful, Friday's event was also a treasured opportunity to celebrate their dual identities – they are Muslim and Irish and are proud to be both.
"Kaaba is the heart and heart of the Muslim world," said Karen Kirwan, the MC for the ceremony. "Well, Croke Park is the heartbeat of all the Irish people here in Ireland. That's where we're drawn to."
More than one Stadium, Croke Park dominates a central position in the psyche of Ireland.
"Croke Park has been a physical expression of a nationalist, cultural and sports organization. And it is full of history," said historian Tim Carey.
The bleachers are named for historical figures or insurrections, like Hill 16, said – falsely – that it was built on the rubble of the 1916 Levant, a failed rebellion that rekindled Ireland's struggle for independence (the bleacher was built the day before) . year)
The arena is also the site of the most notorious atrocity in the Irish War of Independence, the Bloody Sunday massacre, in which 14 people were shot dead by police who invaded the camp during a match.
"Having a sports venue so attacked by the state really put Croke Park in a different league in terms of symbolism," says Carey.
After independence, the stadium was seen as a reflection of the new nation, often island and deeply Catholic.
"The bishops played the ball in every major game in Croke Park until the 1970s," says Carey.
But on Friday, when protesters – some with prayer beads or anti-Islamic signs – shouted through a line of police in an anti-racism counter-protest outside the walls of the stadium, Ireland's tallest Catholic , Diarmuid Martin, spoke with Anglican and Jewish representatives of the hundreds of Muslims gathered in the field, expressing support for the celebration of Eid.
In addition to the few dozen protesters outside, an online petition to stop the event, described as an "attack" on Christian culture, has garnered more than 24,000 signatures, according to anti-immigration activists who organized it.
When the event was first announced, an article on a marginal news site falsely reported that animals would be slaughtered in Croke Park during Eid celebrations as part of a "great blood sacrifice". The claim was quickly dismembered.
However, Carey said that his reaction has been extremely positive within the Gaelic Athletic Association cThe community and event organizers say that while Irish Muslims still face Islamophobia, Irish society has been widely accepted.
"Ireland is the country of cead mile failte – a hundred thousand welcome – and Ireland is a country that, in many ways, leads the adoption of diversity," said Umar al-Qadri, president of the Muslim Peace and Integration Council Irish.
"The Irish people have shown that, whatever the past, whatever your prejudices may be, you can be reconciled and have peace.
"Having Eid at Croke Park is very historic. It is very symbolic. For Muslims, it is a feeling of pride and the community at large has expressed their happiness."
Praying during the blockade
The 2016 Irish census says that more than 63,000 Muslims lived in the country that year, compared to less than 4,000 in 1991. However, al-Qadri estimates that the number is now likely to be over 100,000.
Al-Qadri was born in the Netherlands, but moved to Pakistan as a teenager. When he returned, he found that right-wing parties were on the rise in the Netherlands, as well as rhetoric against foreigners, Jews and Muslims.
"As in most immigrant communities, they were very busy building their own lives and taking care of their families at home," said al-Qadri.
"It created a fear that translated into anti-Muslim feelings. And I wanted to avoid that in Ireland."
Al-Qadri created the Irish Peace and Muslim Integration Council to build bridges with society at large, as well as to fight "extremism" in the Muslim community.
During the coronavirus blockade, al-Qadri issued a fatwa, an order from a Muslim leader, allowing adherents to meet online to offer Friday prayers on websites that facilitate the transmission of videos like Facebook. Then, while watching a video showing German Muslims praying in an Ikea parking lot, he was inspired – or rather, thought, "We can do better than that."
Among the speeches at the Croke Park event – spoken in English, Arabic and Irish – there was a lecture by Abood Aljumaili, 21, encouraging participants to try the native Irish sport practiced in the stadium, such as pitch.
Aljumaili, 21, more commonly called Bonnar O & # 39; Loingsigh, fled Iraq as a child with his family in 2008. He started learning how to play pitch a few years later.
"I didn't even know how to handle the pitch correctly," said Aljumaili of the long wooden sticks used by the players.
It was his second time at Croke Park, and when the ceremony was over, he took advantage, hitting a ball a quarter of the way across the field and running after it towards the goal posts.
"It's the best game in the world," he said.
Omayma Madani, 17, was unable to get tickets to the event. Speaking in the southern Dublin accent, where she grew up, she talked about how uncomfortable she felt traveling in some European countries as a Muslim, but rarely in Ireland.
She talked about having to buy a hijab specially made to go in the uniform of the Catholic school she attended and not being able to eat with her community during Ramadan and how her mosque was still strangely quiet when she last visited her.
Madani was born in Ireland to parents immigrated from Algeria, but when asked how she saw her own identity, she did not respond with nationality or religion.
Instead, she said, "I'm an artist. I'm a boxer. I teach Arabic. I like to teach, but I wouldn't like to do that forever. I want to be a lawyer. And one day, I want to be the prime minister of this country."