DUBLIN (RNS) — The Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland was decorated with festive lights on the inside and outside as Ali Selim was getting ready for the morning prayers on Wednesday (April 10), to celebrate the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Fitr. In the corners of the center, stations with sweets and tea and coffee were set up. Outside, smoke wafted out of white tents where vendors had gathered to sell food. Muslims from all over Dublin gathered after a night of celebrating Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan’s month of fasting, prayer and charity. 

This year, however, the normally festive celebrations of Eid held a bitterness to them — as in Muslim communities around the world, the month of Ramadan had been shaped by the ongoing war in Gaza. It’s been an omnipresent topic in the mosque, said Selim, an Irish theologian and spokesperson for the Islamic Cultural Centre in Dublin.

“Eid is usually a day that is marked with happiness and joy,” Selim said. “But the mind can never be clear from the sadness over what is happening in Gaza.”

For six months, as the war between Israel and Hamas has raged in Gaza, Irish Muslims, some with family in Gaza, have lived in daily fear as the death toll in Gaza has mounted, surpassing 32,000, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health.

“Every night we had to offer condolences to someone who lost a family member in Gaza,” Selim said. “Tomorrow (the morning after Eid), they will be with us. It will be very unique in the sense that it is sadness and rejoice at the same time.”

Selim had been hopeful as many around the world called for a cease-fire during Ramadan. “Everybody hoped that the crisis would be over,” he said of the war that began in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks on Israel Oct. 7, which left an estimated 1,200 Israelis and foreigners dead and 250 taken hostage in Gaza.

A mural in solidarity with Palestinians painted by Irish artist Emmalene Blake in Rathmines, Dublin, Ireland, March 11, 2024. (Photo by Meghnad Bose)

On March 25, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that demanded a cease-fire during Ramadan. On the same day, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked for a massive aid supply, with officials estimating that more than half a million people in Gaza are “one step away from famine.” No cease-fire was ever implemented during Ramadan.

Selim said that over the course of Ramadan, the Islamic Centre raised funds for people in Gaza and organized talks every night to heighten awareness of what is happening there. Several members of the congregation traveled to Gaza during Ramadan to deliver medical aid and returned with testimonies of the situation on the ground.

The purpose of Ramadan fasting, Selim said, is to “share the feeling with those who are deprived or marginalized.” This year, the “deprived or marginalized” on everyone’s mind are those in Gaza. Leaders of Muslim countries around the world made references to Gaza in their Ramadan announcements.

“There wasn’t a single day that Gaza was not part of our prayers,” Selim said.

It was not just Selim who focused his prayers on Gaza this Ramadan in Dublin, where just under half of Ireland’s more than 80,000 Muslims live.

“This Ramadan I think is more special than any Ramadan because of what’s happening in Gaza,” Lorraine O’Connor said. “We relate to what is happening to our brothers and sisters there.”

Lorraine O’Connor. (Video screen grab)

O’Connor is the founder and director of Muslim Sisters of Eire, a nonprofit organization in Dublin. With her organization, she provides a soup kitchen for the homeless of Dublin every week, provides educational training about Islam and aims for more dialogue between different religions. O’Connor was raised as a Catholic but converted to Islam in 2005.

Islam is the third-fastest-growing religion in Ireland, with the number of Muslims in Ireland growing 32% between 2016 and 2022

Ramadan has been different from the start this year, said O’Connor.

Normally, she said, Ramadan prayers are for personal forgiveness, or for your family and friends. O’Connor said that she had been suffering from a chest problem and prayed for it to be over during the first evening of Ramadan. But doing so, she said that she immediately wanted to shift the focus of her prayer to the people in Gaza. “I felt a little bit selfish,” O’Connor said. “You want to turn your focus on the genocide that’s happening.”

The Muslim Sisters of Eire has organized several evenings this month to raise awareness and funds for people in Gaza, she said.

At Trinity College Dublin, Ruman Riaz of the Muslim Students Association has tried to raise awareness as well. Riaz is 23 and originally from Kashmir, India, a place where Muslims have had long-standing tensions with the Indian government. Riaz said he finds it frustrating that despite the efforts his organization and others are making, there are few changes.

“There is a sense of helplessness, you know, we can’t really do anything,” Riaz said. At the same time, the solidarity of Muslims for Gaza makes the community grow stronger, he said. We all pray together for them, fundraise for them, and that just makes us even closer.”

The last 10 nights of Ramadan are believed to carry more reward than any day before, especially Laylat al-Qadr, the “Night of Power,” which this year fell on April 6. Muslims pray and ask for forgiveness the whole night of Laylat al-Qadr. Some do it privately at home and some attend congregations in mosques, Riaz explained.

“In mosques we usually end our prayers with a long supplication of asking God for forgiveness collectively,” Riaz said. “I’m pretty sure that every mosque will pray for Gaza.”

The faithful came to the Islamic Cultural Centre early Wednesday to sing the seven takbirs, or glorifications of God, until the time of the Eid prayer. The prayer was followed by a word from the imam, who began his Eid sermon by congratulating the community on finishing their fast. Then he turned to the continuing suffering in Gaza. Selim called his message “a mixture of happiness and sadness.”

“And it’s a mixture of thinking of those killed and those who are still threatened with death,” Selim said. “It’s a crazy situation.”

Ali Selim, right, speaks to Columbia Journalism School students on the first day of Ramadan, March 11, 2024, at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland in Dublin. (Photo by Ari Goldman)

The Islamic Centre organized two prayer gatherings for the morning of Eid. Each attracted approximately 3,000 people, according to Selim. Selim added that, despite everything, there was still a festive mood.

“I saw somebody from Gaza this morning. I know he lost extended family members,” Selim said. The man said to Selim that some had managed to go back to where their houses had once been, and though they live in tents now, they have managed to connect water.

“Their message is ‘You can’t finish us, we will rebuild what they have destroyed,’” Selim said.

First published in Religion News Service.