Dublin native Lorraine O’Connor founded the Muslim Sisters of Éire after she converted to Islam and began to wear the hijab.
“Unfortunately I was the victim of racial attacks and Islamophobia and I wasn’t sure how to cope with that. It made me think of the women who had immigrated here who wear the headscarf. How are they feeling when it happens to them?
“A part of it was wanting to integrate into my new religion, but also wanted to reintegrate into Irish society. I had people say to me ‘Go back to where you came from’. Where do they want me to go back to? North Dublin? It was a very traumatic time in my life,” she explained.
Lorraine decided to take some time out and spent five years volunteering with women’s organisations. She also returned to education, completing a course in Women’s Studies.
In 2010 the Muslim Sisters of Éire was born.
“Myself and a few other women got together, we put whatever money we had into a cup and said ‘There’s the kitty, now what can we do?’”
According to Lorraine, the group has gone from strength to strength since and “achieved milestones that we never thought we’d achieve”.
She added: “The growth we’ve seen in the women has been amazing. Some who had been afraid to have a voice are now leading this organisation in many different ways. We also have non-Muslim women working with us, who didn’t understand much about Muslims before and are now seeing us in a different light. We’re opening up dialogue about diversity, and integration and understanding.”
Members of the Muslim Sisters of Éire
The Muslim Sisters of Éire are probably best known for their charity soup run, and are a familiar sight on the streets of Dublin providing hot meals to people experiencing homelessness.
Lorraine continued: “Charity work is one of the five pillars of Islam. This is now the seventh year of the soup run. The Irish public have been just amazing. It didn’t happen overnight, but our biggest supporters are the Irish people. Irish people have always been very generous, they are the backbone of the Muslim Sisters of Éire.
“When people were at their lowest point, during the pandemic, we were getting lots of phone calls from non-Muslims looking for help. Our organisation is called the Muslim Sisters, but when we get a phone call asking for help, our response is not based on religion, it’s based on empathy. We ran a Christmas trolley appeal with Tesco to help make sure families had enough food, even though we don’t celebrate Christmas.
“On Christmas Eve we go out with 150 backpacks for homeless people. In those backpacks there is a hygiene kit, a scarf, hat and gloves, a first aid kit, a pop-up tent and a sleeping bag. We call it a bag for life because it can be the difference between life and death,” said Lorraine.
The members of the Muslim Sisters of Éire come from diverse backgrounds from all corners of the world – Mauritius, Somalia, Palestine, Bosnia and Pakistan, to name a few.
“We ran a multicultural day during the summer, and we had cakes from 26 different parts of the world. Muslim Sisters of Éire is for Muslim sisters from all over the world who now see Ireland as their home. The diversity within Islam is beautiful. You don’t see someone’s race or where they’re from, you just see another sister.”
Their charity work doesn’t end with the soup run, as the Sisters also help to provide Muslim families in need with food and gifts for children for Eid al-Fitr, otherwise known as the Festival of Sweets, at the end of Ramadan.
Leading up to Eid, they distribute gifts to children living in Direct Provision and assist Muslim men in hostel accommodation who have no access to a kitchen at night to break their fast.
The organisation also plays a role in encouraging discussions between Muslims and non-Muslims.
“For World Hijab Day on February 1st, we brought together women who wear the hijab and women who don’t wear the hijab for a conference of understanding. The hijab can be seen as oppressive, but actually when you make the decision for yourself to wear it, it can be very liberating,” said Lorraine.
The group also organises an interfaith Iftar during Ramadan, where Muslims break their fast with non-Muslims after the sun sets.
The Muslim Sisters of Éire’s other activities focus on youth development, with summer camps open to Muslim and non-Muslim girls. They advocate for women’s health issues, such as period poverty, domestic abuse and breast cancer, and work to promote a better understanding of Islam with school visits and cultural awareness training.