By the end of this year, Galway will have its first fully recognisable mosque, complete with iconic dome and minaret. It is a building which will break new architectural and cultural ground in the city, and one the Ahmadiyya community also hope will create bonds of friendship between Muslims and people of all faiths Galway.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Association of Ireland was recently granted planning permission to build a mosque and cultural centre at The Cottages, Monivea Road, Ballybrit.
The development will consist of a single storey mosque with part raised roof level of a two storey height and associated dome and minaret to accommodate a prayer hall, circulation areas, toilets, two office rooms; ancillary storage area; and provision of access road and car parking.
The mosque will be located at the rear of an existing house. The house will be renovated as part of the planning permission and there will be a rear extension and additional first floor bedroom. The house will be for use by the community’s Imam and his family.
The Ahmadiyya community in Galway has welcomed the planning permission.
“We are absolutely overjoyed and thrilled,” Imam Ibrahim Noonan told the Galway Advertiser. “We now have somewhere we will be able to call home. It will be a building that will be identifiable as a mosque and the planning permission is a triumph for everything Galway stands for - the city of the Tribes, of different peoples, and various communities. This mosque will stand for that.”
The mosque will serve mainly a a place of worship for the Ahmadiyya community and be a venue for weddings and funerals, social gatherings, and women’s meetings and clubs. It will have a library and also hold classes in religious education for children.
“The classes will not just be about Islam,” says Imam Noonan. “They will be classes to teach children about all religions in an amicable and non-biased way as we believe it is important to understand all the world faiths.”
Imam Noonan wants the mosque be seen as a friendly and welcoming place for all people, regardless of religion, and he is keen it should also be made open to community groups, organisations, and associations, for meetings, gatherings, and events.
“I intend that the mosque will hold interfaith meetings and that if a residents association or club wanted to hold a meeting that they could do it there,” he says. “It’s about being part of the locality and the wider community.”
Galway currently has two mosques, but these are converted dwelling houses and from the outside, appear no different from any other house.
The building the Galway City Council has given permission to is different and will become something of a landmark building in the city. This will be a mosque with a traditional dome and minaret (tower), and will be clearly identifiable as place of Islamic worship.
However there are many people who shudder at the word Islam and view all Muslims as suspect and perhaps even dangerous. Imam Noonan is aware of this and he is keen that the mosque be a building that will lay all such fears to rest, both in terms of what it stands for and the community who use it.
“In our present political climate we see negative impressions given off by the symbolic aspect of a mosque,” he says. “Because of the actions of radical Muslims, people see minarets and mosques as negative places, but people should see them as symbols of peace. The function of the minaret is to call people to prayer, just like the bell tolling in a Christian church, and to worship God, nothing more than that.
“When we were submitting the application we were aware of the negative impressions and we were apprehensive but the Galway City Council were very open, accommodating, and understanding.
“We want to reassure the people of Galway that we are a peaceful and law abiding community. Our motto is ‘Love for all, hatred for none’ and we do not entertain any thoughts of hate for the feelings and well-being of any other members of society.”
Between the purchase of the land and the building of the mosque, the entire project will cost c€1 million and funding for the project has come entirely from within the Ahmadiyya community in Galway and Ireland. Construction will begin in September/October.
Imam Noonan is originally from Co Waterford and converted to Islam in the 1980s. He is fiercely proud of being Irish and was concerned that the mosque should have an Irish character to it. As such Irish engineers have been employed in the design, with the team being led by John Kelly of Tobin Engineers.
“I want this to be a model mosque,” says Imam Noonan. “As well as the Islamic features of the dome and minaret, there will also be an Irish identity and an Irishness to it. The stone used in construction will be sourced from Ireland, we are looking at Connemara stone. The mosque will be officially named Masjid Maryum, in honour of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and this will be written in Irish, English, and Arabic on the mosque.”
Recently, the letters pages of the Galway Advertiser has featured letters from some Muslims in Dublin who are critical of the Ahmadiyyas, accusing them of not being true Muslims owing to their theology, and arguing that Ahmadiyyas should not be regarded as part of Islam.
Imam Noonan has responded to these allegations in this week’s letters page and further sought to respond to them in this interview.
“The accusations have been made by two gentlemen from Dublin, not from Galway and none of what they say its true,” he said. “Galway people should not be worried that we are a radical organisation as Ahmadiyyas are known throughout the world as a peaceful and peace loving people.
“We have controversial theological beliefs, but all religions make claims that others faiths do not agree with, but we do not try to ram them down other people’s throats and nor is it something that should lead to the shedding of one drop of blood.
“This is why I was involved in the establishment of the Galway inter-faith alliance. Our differences should also be approached logically and discussed and debated in a courteous and friendly, intellectual manner.”