The scholarly interest in recent immigration to Ireland has focused to a large extent on the national, ethnic, and racial backgrounds of migrants.1 Only recently have the emergence and experiences of religious minorities in Ireland as a result of immigration been considered in academic scholarship.2 With the massive growth of the Muslim population in Ireland from around 4,000 in 1991 to current estimates of nearly 50,000,3 the increasing need to study Muslim immigration and the [End Page 221] emergence of Muslim communities in Ireland becomes obvious.4 This article provides the first systematic overview of Muslim immigration to the Republic of Ireland since World War II: its different stages, patterns, and dynamics.5 The permanent presence of Muslims since the early 1950s illustrates that Ireland has been an immigration country prior to the Celtic Tiger years and that only the type and scope of immigration has changed since then.6 The different types of Muslim immigration provide a good example of this change, as one can observe a major transformation of the Muslim community from middle- and upper-class educated professionals—most of whom immigrated for educational reasons—to migrants of diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, including labor migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
The term “Muslim community” is obviously problematic. The actual diversity of Muslims in Ireland in terms of their ethnic, national, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds, their sectarian and ideological orientations, their different degrees of religious commitment, their educational levels, and their socioeconomic status would suggest the existence of various “Muslim communities.”7 However, this is not sufficient. More consideration needs to be given to the reasons for investigating patterns of immigration to Ireland under a religious lens and for discussing the arrival and settlement of immigrants of a Muslim background. [End Page 222]
“Religion” has increasingly become a central marker of minority identities in contemporary Europe in the context of the politics of multiculturalism.8 In this sense, Muslims become members of a “community” sharing particular religious needs and cultural values and lobby for their recognition by the state and majority society in order to assert minority rights.9 In addition, the current debates around the place of multiculturalism in the liberal democracies of Europe have focused in particular on Islam and have given attention to the Muslim background of migrants.10 While twenty or thirty years ago, immigrants to Europe were categorized as Turks, Algerians, or Pakistanis, their “Muslimness” has been increasingly emphasized since the 1989 Rushdie Affair in Britain, l’affaire du foulard in France of the same year, and even more so after 9/11.11
When investigating the Muslim population in a particular regional context, it is important to recognize “the diversity of Muslims as a complex empirical reality”12 and to use this religious identity label critically. The label “Muslim” is used as an externally defined “category”13 to gain empirical data on Muslim minorities, for example in statistics and censuses. It also designates a self-chosen identification with a “group”14 and differentiates Muslims from other social groups qua their “Muslimness” while acknowledging their heterogeneity, their different levels of self-identification with, and various degrees of belonging to this group.15 In this respect, it is important to recognize that “Muslims are not simply and only ‘Muslims’”16 but [End Page 223] are also positioned in a complex, contested, and relational nexus of various other identity markers such as nationality, culture, language, social status, and gender.
Examining the growing Muslim population in Ireland both in the sense of a statistical category and of a social group is important in the documentation of the increasing cultural and religious diversification of Irish society and in understanding the social realities of Muslim lives in Ireland. Systematically investigating trajectories and dynamics of Muslim immigration to the Republic of Ireland thereby provides data on the growth of this “new” religious minority, its ethnic composition and socioeconomic background. This data can be used to undertake comparisons with other European countries, their growing Muslim populations, and historical and contemporary migration trajectories. In line with emic...