Close to 5,000 people attended Eid-Al-Fitr celebrations at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Dublin's Clonskeagh on Sunday marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. Just as many people were at the Eid prayer at the mosque there in the morning, said the Centre's spokesman Ali Selim.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar attended and was greeted by the Imam Sheikh Hussein Halawa.
“He has only recently been appointed and I think it is a wonderful gesture that he is visiting the Muslim community today,” said Ali Selim.
It was Mr Varadkar’s first visit to the mosque “but the previous Taoiseach has been here, as has the President”, said Mr Selim.
The fact that Mr Varadkar is gay gave the visit added symbolism. But Mr Selim stressed it was not a point of controversy."The [Muslim] community in Ireland are living in Ireland where this is allowed by law."
While homosexuality was “not blessed by Islam, people here are not ruled by Islam. They are ruled by the law of Ireland.” He agreed Muslims in Ireland opposed same-sex marriage because “our interpretation of the family is made of a male and a female”, he said.
‘Calls on forgiveness’
“Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in Islam hence it is not practised in the Muslim community, and if it is practiced it is extremely limited,” he said. Where it is found and proven “usually Islam calls on forgiveness and people have to be given the benefit of the doubt. It can be forgiven”.
Its practice was “a renunciation of Islam. If they believe what they are doing is wrong and they still practice it they are still Muslims but they are committing a sin”, he said.
As to whether the Taoiseach being gay was then an issue for Muslims at Clonskeagh, he replied: “No, not at all because in Ireland it is permissible. It is the law.”
Asked about cases of gay people being thrown off buildings to their deaths by the extremist Islamist group Isis, Mr Selim said “Isis live in a different context. They have their own understanding and interpretation of Sharia. Sharia law is similar to Irish law, it is entirely dependent on the way you interpret it.”
For his part, speaking to the media at Clonskeagh, the Taoiseach warned against anti-Muslim sentiment while acknowledging “we all have to be vigilant about the risk to extremism”.
He continued however that people should “not allow the threat of terrorism to cause us to change the way we live our lives. We should never allow the threat of terrorism to restrict people’s freedoms or to drive a wedge between different communities. That’s something I don’t want to ever allow happen.”