Derry’s Muslim community have provided a warm welcome as they hosted hundreds from across the north west at their community centre .
The ‘Tea and Tour ‘event saw local Muslim families provide an insight into their culture and traditions for the droves of people who arrived the North West Islamic Community Centre in Pennyburn on Sunday.
Those gathered were invited to take in tours of the centre, witness prayers and learn about Islam and festivals such as the period of fasting, Ramadan. A vast array of traditional foods and desserts were prepared by the local families, while there were also children’s activities and the chance to sample ornate henna designs.
Zahid Bahli, who has been living locally for 14 years, said the Muslim community has expanded over the past few years with more families settling in Derry. Mr Bahli, chairman of the North West Islamic Association, which organised the event, said “When I cam here there were only three/ four families. Some of our families were here for 20 years and when they came there was just two families.
“You can see over the last few years it has increased significantly . We have some professional people, some doctors in the hospital, some software engineers, research and development officers in technology sites, some businessmen and entrepreneurs and sports coaches, in football and cricket mainly.”
Mr Bahli said the Muslim community wanted “good community cohesion and integration”, while also ensuring their own traditions and culture are preserved for future generations, some of whom have been born and raised in Derry.
Mr Bahli said that the Muslim population have had a very good experience in terms of reception from the local community.
“We had a few incidents here and there but overall we have had a good reception and people here are very friendly.
“When the Syrian families came in last year the city was tremendous,” he said.
The Islamic Community Centre is attended by people from over 20 different countries.
The North West Islamic Association are hoping to have another event to mark Eid (breaking of the fast following Ramadan) this summer.
Speaking at the event on Sunday, Deputy Mayor, SDLP Councillor Jim McKeever, said: “For so long in Northern Ireland we have been linked to two religions and traditions.
“The more we get to know about each other’s religion and culture, and the more openness, the better.
“There is a great atmosphere here and I think it is fantastic to see everyone come together like this.”
Foyle Sinn Fein MLA Elisha McCallion, who was also among those attending the event, said: “It is extremely encouraging to see the large number of people who have come along to this event.
“It is important we understand each other’s cultures and traditions, and for some this is the first they have ever experienced something like this. Things like this need to happen more often.”