LAST week I was invited to attend the Community Iftar in Dublin, hosted by the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council.
This special event was held to mark the end of the Ramadan fast. It was such an honour to join a host of guests in spending time with our Muslim brothers and sisters. I was blown away by their welcome, hospitality, and sense of community. As they prayed, we (as the guests) were invited to stand and observe.
I confess I have never attended a Muslim gathering before, and what struck me was their devotion to worship, led by my good friend, Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri. After their time of worship we were served food. The atmosphere was fantastic with lots of conversations taking place, and I loved how the gathering included the children.
 I also loved the verse shared from the Qur’an for our reflection: “We created you… so that you might know one another.” There is just something about the power of friendship, particularly friendships with people from different backgrounds and cultures.
I have always shared my vision of Ireland becoming a ‘Nation of Neighbours’ – a home for all of us that is fair, equal, diverse and inclusive. There is no doubt that events such as the Community Iftar are an example of what it means to live as neighbours. It was an honour to be invited. This special evening reminded me that we don’t need to:
•Come from the same background/communities
•Think the same way
•Believe the same things
•Have the same ideas
•Or always agree
Friendships are simply built on respecting each other’s stories and accepting people for who they are. I have come to realise that my role as a Minister is not to impose my faith on others; my faith is not superior. I’m reminded of the words of Nelson Mandela: “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” We must always seek to see things from other people’s perspective/vantage point. I truly believe this is how we live out what it means to be a Nation of Neighbours.
Friends, let’s be willing to get up from where we sit and go and sit in the seat of others – let’s hear their stories, let’s listen to each other, let’s learn and unlearn from each other, and let’s continue to extend the hand of friendship. I join with my Muslim friends and invite us to ‘know one another’.