22 October 2018

A peaceful image of
Shia Muslims on
the streets of Limerick

Shia Muslims marching peacefully through the streets of Limerick at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Walking through the city centre of Limerick at the weekend, there was large group of people flying red flags as they processed along O’Connell Street, waving red flags and with a garda car moving slowly in front of the march leaders.

Was this a protest march in sympathy with the massive anti-Brexit protest by 600,000 people in London at the same time?

Or could some people have started a little early in celebrating the centenary of the Limerick Soviet?

Was it a protest against the housing problems or hospital queues?

There were no rally cries, no chants and muted sounds. No chants of ‘No, No, No,’ ‘Out, Out, Out’ or even ‘When do we want it? Now!’

As I arrived at the head of the march, I realised how wrong my presumptions were. This was large group of Shia Muslims from the whoishussain organisation, marking Ashura or the martyrdom of Hussain at Kerbala a month later.

Meanwhile, further along O’Connell Street, the Mormons were canvassing on one corner, while the Jehovah’s Witnesses had their pitch diagonally opposite them – both groups probably as far removed from Christianity as the Shia Muslims on the street, but attracting far less attention.

They Shia marchers were dignified, they were modest, they were demure, and they were certainly lacking in any shows of aggression. They prayed quietly and beat their chests slowly and rhythmically as they moved along O’Connell Street.

Unlike the opposing Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses on the next street corner, they prayed as the moved slowly, and they made no efforts to proselytise, apart from handing out a few leaflets and bottles of water.

The banner heading their march quoted Hussein as saying: ‘If you do not believe in religion and do not fear the hereafter, then at least be free from tyranny and arrogance.’

They said they were taking a stand around the world against violence and injustice, and wanted to ‘transform the world into an oasis of peace.’

It was a sharp contrast with many prejudicial images of Muslims in the world today. And it was a welcome contrast to the projections forced onto Shia Muslims in Iran and Yemen by Trump and his allies in Saudi Arabia.

A few weeks ago, early one morning in the quiet still before the city came to life, I had noticed four Buddhist monks making their way along O’Connell Street in dignified silence, and commented that there are surprises waiting for us when we keep our heads up and our eyes open.

Limerick is a city of diversity, pluralism and tolerance. If only this city was a microcosm or cross-section of the world.

Shia Muslims marching peacefully through O’Connell Street in Limerick at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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