Muslim Sisters of Éire (MSOÉ) is helping to change Irish society's perception of Islam thanks, in part, to an inspirational weekly soup run in Dublin.
Founded by Dubliner Lorraine O'Connor in 2010, Muslim Sisters of Éire (MSOÉ) has been running a weekly soup run at Dublin's GPO for the last seven years and now feeds as many as 600 people every Friday night.
O'Connor, who converted to Islam in 2005, said she started the charity to help change Irish people's perception of the religion and to help migrant women integrate into Irish society.
"I was seeing what was missing from the Irish side and the Islamic side," O'Connor told IrishCentral.
"I could see there was a misconception within Irish society about Muslim women. There was a misconception that they were oppressed, that they didn't have a voice, that they had to walk behind their husbands, that they didn't have any rights, and that they were victims of domestic assault.
"I could also see that Islamic women weren't coming out beyond the barriers of the mosque."
O'Connor added that she wanted to "empower" Muslim women to come outside the mosque because they had "so much to give" to Irish society.
Tonight ran smoothly. Every week now even though the queues are getting bigger the crowds at the start can get very boisterous. There is a lot of queue skipping and people can become agitated. People are very respectful when we try to get queues under control and ask them to stay… pic.twitter.com/21u24yRXex— Muslim Sisters of Eire (@Msoe_Dublin) September 29, 2023
MSOÉ hosted a number of conferences in its early days, including a "behind the veil" conference in Trinity College, which featured Muslim and non-Muslim speakers and encouraged Irish people to look beyond a Muslim woman's veil.
The charity has grown significantly over the past 13 years, with more than 100 volunteers now helping out compared to the small number that helped found it.
Their weekly soup runs have also grown substantially, increasing from roughly 250 meals pre-Covid to around 500 or 600 meals every week.
O'Connor said the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with the rise in inflation following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, have left more people unable to put food on the table.
"It's not just rough sleepers. It's not just people who are in hotel accommodation or on a housing list. It's people who have homes but can't put food on the tables. Food poverty is huge at the moment and I don't think our government sees that," O'Connor said.
"Everything came like a tidal wave. We have people ringing us asking for hampers or food vouchers."
O'Connor said roughly 90% of the people that MSOÉ feed during the soup runs are non-Muslims.
"We're a charity. It's not about religion, it's about a need."
MSOÉ additionally runs annual Christmas campaigns, providing struggling families with hampers to help ease the burden at an expensive time of the year.
The charity is also set to launch its "bag for life campaign" again this year which aims to provide homeless people with a number of vital supplies during the harsh winter months.
O'Connor said the campaign, which is in its seventh year, provides homeless people with a rucksack containing a tent, a survival sheet, a sleeping bag, hats, scarves, and gloves in addition to a protein pack and a hygiene pack.
Each bag costs roughly €100, with MSOÉ aiming to distribute 150 bags on Christmas Eve this year.
"We go out on Christmas Eve when everything is getting ready to shut down for Christmas because we don't celebrate Christmas.
"That is the day when we try and get to those rough sleepers because it is the difference between life and death - that's why it's called the bag for life."
150 bags for life with winter essentials packed and ready for distribution on Christmas Eve. Each bag contains a sleeping bag, hat, gloves, socks, thermal pants, survival sheet, disposable poncho, hygiene packs, protein bars, candies and a bottle of water. pic.twitter.com/GYX231RrWq— Muslim Sisters of Eire (@Msoe_Dublin) December 11, 2021
Additionally, MSOÉ runs a helpline three days a week for women who are in trouble as well as providing legal support for migrant women.
The charity also holds numerous events every year to educate migrant women on a wide range of issues from breast cancer awareness to women's rights.
MSOÉ representatives also visit roughly four or five schools every month to teach students about embracing different cultures.
O'Connor, who grew up in north Dublin during the 1980s, said she has seen a noticeable shift in the make-up of Irish schools over the past 40 years.
"You see students from all over the world. It's the new Ireland. I will talk about culture, empathy, understanding each other, embracing each other, and embracing multiculturalism. The new Ireland is full of different cultures."
MSOÉ also holds an annual multicultural day in the Phoenix Park, celebrating the many different cultures that exist in modern-day Ireland.
The charity's efforts have been recognized by President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins, who has invited members of MSOÉ to Áras an Uachtaráin on several occasions.
O'Connor said the charity has also been invited to the Dáil later in October, while an RTÉ documentary about O'Connor's story is set to air later in the month.
O'Connor, who experienced Islamaphobia after converting to Islam in 2005, said MSOÉ has helped to change Irish people's perception of the religion.
"Muslim Sisters of Eire has been out there for seven years feeding the homeless on a Friday night. We've been consistent and transparent. It took time to change people's perspective," O'Connor said, adding that being in the school curriculum has also helped to change people's perspectives.
She said the Irish public's donations have helped to keep the charity going over the past 13 years, while messages of support on social media or in person have helped to keep the morale up.
"It helps you to keep going and keep pushing."
O'Connor said the charity only receives small funding from the Irish Government to host events, adding that it receives no public funding to run its weekly soup run.
She said public donations would be crucial for the charity's upcoming bag for life campaign and urged people to consider donating in the coming months.
You can find out more about Muslim Sisters of Éire, including how to support their efforts, here