Why you should care
The fastest-growing religion in Ireland is Islam, as the Emerald Isle welcomes Muslims and builds more mosques.
The landscape in Ireland is characterized by 40 shades of green, stone walls and Catholic churches — but in the coming years we’ll see more mosques peppering the country as well.
The Muslim population in the Republic of Ireland is still pretty small, comprising 1.1 percent of the 4.5 million people in the country, but Islam has become the fastest-growing religion in Ireland — in 1991 Muslims made up only 0.1 percent of Irish residents. In 2011, the Republic of Ireland’s Central Statistics Office reported there were about 49,000 Muslims, and a recent Pew Research Center analysis projects that by 2030 there will be 125,000.
If true, that would be an approximate increase in population of
155 percent in 19 years.
Which would be the largest percentage increase in Europe for Muslims. If the faith continues to grow at this rapid rate, Islam will eventually replace Protestantism as the second-most-popular religion in 2043, after Catholicism.
In 2011, Protestantism made up 5 percent of the population in the Republic of Ireland, compared to the 1.1 percent of Muslims. (All denominations of Protestantism — e.g., Church of Ireland and Presbytarian — are included in this figure.)
Why the increase in Muslims? The reason is a combination of immigration, population growth and conversion, although the last is only a small component of the growing faith.
The first wave of Muslims in Ireland came in the 1950s when students moved to the Emerald Isle to study medicine. Ireland’s economic boom in the 1990s and early 2000s also drew immigrants seeking work. The Atlantic reports that the majority of the Irish have been welcoming to Muslims, partly because early immigrants were students and professionals. Now that the number of refugees and asylum seekers is growing, a socioeconomic shift that could eventually lead to a rise in friction is occurring within the community.
That’s not to say discrimination does not exist, but there is a marked difference from that experienced in other countries in the EU.
For now, though, religious prejudice against Muslims is not the norm. A 2012 survey on discrimination in the European Union found that 79 percent of Irish people polled said religious discrimination was “rare” or “nonexistent” in their country. That’s not to say discrimination does not exist, but there is a marked difference from that experienced in other countries in the EU, such as France, Belgium and Sweden, where more than half of respondents said religious discrimination was widespread.
Next up for Muslims in Ireland: a giant mosque.
The Dublin City Council approved a new $50 million, three-story Islamic center in north Dublin in March 2013. The mosque, school and event space at the Clongriffin Center will be able to hold at least 3,000 people, making it the country’s largest mosque. While it initially met with approval, concerns over the development’s size led to an appeal; it is expected to measure about 60,000 square feet. However, project coordinator Abdel Hassib expects construction to begin late this year or in early 2015.
The overall emerging face of modern Ireland is changing: The 2011 census said 12 percent of residents were non-Irish nationals, up 143 percent from 2002. As immigration increases, it will be interesting to see the increasingly diversified country welcome religions like Islam. After all, four-leaf clovers are just as likely to grow outside of a mosque as a Catholic Church.