Croke Park: Muslims celebrate Eid in the home of Irish sport

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image source, PA Media
image captionSocially-distanced worshippers celebrated Eid in Dublin's Croke Park stadium

The holding of a major Muslim prayer service at an "iconic" Irish sporting venue has sent a message "to the whole world" that Ireland is a welcoming country, an Islamic leader has said.

About 200 Muslims gathered at Dublin's Croke Park stadium on Friday to celebrate the Islamic festival of Eid.

Croke Park is the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).

It was made available so Eid could be marked in a safe and socially-distanced way during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The event was addressed by Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri, the chair of Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council.

image source, Reuters/SPORTSFILE
image captionShaykh Umar Al-Qadri said the event showed Ireland was "proud of its diversity"

He thanked the GAA, Croke Park's management and the whole country for the use of the "historic" venue for the prayer service and he spoke a few words in the Irish language.

"Thank you to Ireland because today this Eid prayer is sending a very strong message out to the whole world that Ireland is indeed a country of céad míle fáilte [Irish phrase for a hundred thousand welcomes]," Dr Al-Qadri said.

"No matter your diversity, no matter how different you are, once you come and you live here and you become part of the society, this island of Ireland has this great, unique ability to adopt you," the Islamic theologian added.

Dr Al-Qadri, who submitted the request to the GAA to use the stadium for the Eid event, described the stadium as the "most iconic and symbolic" place in Ireland.

"This is a country that is proud of its diversity and embraces those who become part of the society," he said.

image source, PA Media
image captionA six-year-old boy holds an Irish flag during the Eid celebration in Croke Park

Croke Park was built to showcase the traditional Irish sports of Gaelic football; hurling and camogie but it has also been used to host rock and pop concerts as well as conferences and corporate events.

It is the biggest sporting arena in Ireland, with the capacity to hold more than 82,000 spectators.

The size of the venue allowed Friday's worshippers to sit on prayer mats, spaced apart on the pitch.

The service was also attended by Catholic, Protestant and Jewish leaders from Dublin, as well as a representative from the Irish government.

Irish President Michael D Higgins sent a message of goodwill to mark the occasion, in which he hailed the symbolism of the Croke Park event.

"The celebration, in such an iconic Irish venue, of this significant holiday in the Islamic calendar is an important moment in Ireland's narrative," the president wrote.

"It reminds of the richly diverse community we have become and the enormous contribution that you, our new communities, have made and continue to make to Ireland."

image source, Reuters/Sportsfile
image captionMuslim men perform Eid al-Adha prayers on Dublin's Croke Park pitch

Dr Umar Al-Qadri used his speech to acknowledge the work of healthcare staff who have put their lives at risk to treat patients during the coronavirus outbreak.

He paid tribute to the late Dublin doctor Syed Waqqar Ali, who this month was the eighth healthcare worker to die in the Republic of Ireland after being diagnosed with Covid-19.

However, Dr Al-Qadri added that the pandemic had also "brought with it some blessings".

"If not for this pandemic we probably would not have been here," he told the Croke Park gathering.

"If it was not for this pandemic our communities would not have been united.

"We understand as humans we are in this together and we are having the same challenges."

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