Ibrahim Michael Noonan, the first Irish-born Muslim cleric, believes that Irish schools not celebrating Christmas is “wrong.”
Born into a Catholic family in Co. Waterford, Imam Noonan stated that the decision not to celebrate a religious holiday so as not to offend non-Christians is not the right thing to do and although he does not celebrate Christmas, he “does not get offended by it.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence, he said, “We hear of schools not having nativity plays and putting up Christmas trees for fear of offending non-Christians and I think this is shocking personally.”
“I actually think the schools are wrong in doing this.”
He added that although he is a Muslim cleric, he will be happy to visit his family and friends over the Christmas season and see them celebrating the holiday.
“Ireland, Northern Ireland, southern Ireland and the whole of the island of Ireland is predominantly Christian and they have their right to celebrate what they believe in,” he continued.
“For example my own family, my parents, brothers and sisters, I will probably be visiting them over those few days and I am going to walk into a house full of decorations and I am not going to turn around and say I am offended. That is their faith and that is what they believe.”
Acknowledging that the Irish religious population is still predominantly Catholic, the imam, who now lives in Omagh in Co. Armagh, commended schools for being conscious of other religious groups but does not feel it warrants bypassing the school Christmas tree, or carol service, in the name of political correctness.
“I do appreciate that schools are conscious of this (Muslim faith) but I do think it is wrong and if they want to put a Christmas tree up it is a Christian country.”
Speaking about how Muslims in Ireland would spend the holy day, Noonan added, “We don’t send Christmas cards but we do send out cards wishing people the best for the coming year, but you wouldn’t get on the card happy Christmas. If someone said happy Christmas I wouldn’t be offended but see it as a good intention from a Christian friend – but I know there has been certain mind sets of Muslims who would take offence at that.”
He suggested that it was against Muslim teaching to insist that a school would not take part in Christmas celebrations.
The Waterford man was speaking to BBC following a recent report in Northern Ireland that suggests that schools no longer have daily acts of collective worship, a move that the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life believes would make the school day “appropriate for pupils and staff of all religions and beliefs.”
Born into Catholic family in the Republic of Ireland, Michael Peter Noonan’s family believed that the dedication he showed to Catholicism in his teenage years would result in him becoming a priest.
He went on to study Theology in Wales, after declining a place in seminary in Maynooth, Co. Kildare, and came across Islam during his studies. Noonan states that his concerns about celibacy were one of the reasons why he decided not to attend the seminary.
Aged 23, he converted to Islam and is the first known Irish man to become a Muslim cleric.