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May 26, 2006

Muslims in Galway: Jane Kelly meets Imam Ibrahim and hears how a good Catholic boy came to be a Muslim missionary seeking to convert Ireland to Islam

Posted by Jane Kelly

Michael Peter Noonan was born as one of seven children into a lower middle class Irish catholic family. He wanted to become a priest as a teenager. After losing his Catholic faith he became a night-club bouncer and body guard in London. Now he is Imam Ibrahim and wants to convert Ireland to Islam. Jane Kelly hears his story.

When Imam Ibrahim stands in the centre of Galway in his voluminous robes preaching the message of Islam, his main problem comes from other Muslims. There are over a thousand of them, immigrants from Iraq, Libya, Saudi and Algeria in what was until recently a quiet Irish town. He says:

I get abuse. They call me a Kaffir or infidel and say I should die.
He represents a reformist sect which orthodox Muslims dislike, but they are also a bit suspicious as he is in fact Irish. Ibrahim began life as plain Michael Peter Noonan, in Waterford. He is the only home-grown Irish Imam on the planet so far, and his conversion is surely a sign of the strange times in which we live.

When I first visited Galway, in 1989, there were only three Muslims there. Dr Tasleem Amhed and Arshad Rashid had just arrived from Pakistan to start an Irish Jihad, a word then largely unknown in the west. They bought a five bedroomed house on a wind-blasted estate, and lived there with Rashid's wife Zahide, who was hidden from Tasleem's eyes behind a purdah curtain.

When Tasleem told me that it would be easy for him to convert the Irish to Islam I laughed like a banshee, picturing future renditions of "When Islamic Eyes are Smiling", "Does Your Mother Come From Mecca?" and "Seven Sober Nights".

But we've all drunk a lot of mineral water since then. Muslims have arrived en masse in Ireland, their leaders have grasped the proselytising power of TV, and astonishingly Islam is now seen by many as a viable replacement for 1500 years of Christian civilisation.

Ibrahim, 40, chatted to me recently in the same house over tea and delicious cakes made by his wife Qanita, 35, who lives behind the same curtain, now getting thin with age. In the background, MDM, a 24 hour Islamic TV channel shows an ancient white robed cleric preaching, and the room is full of box files, religious books, computer, photocopier and printer; all the paraphernalia of a modern missionary.

Ibrahim began life in simpler times as one of seven children in a lower middle-class family. His father Dennis was a builder, his mother Irene a hairdresser. Aged 12 he joined the Legion of Mary, practicing prayer and good works in the community. He did well academically and represented his school in athletics. At 18 he won a scholarship to Maynooth, Ireland's most prestigious seminary, but in his late teens he changed his mind about becoming a priest. He says:

I worried about celibacy and questioned the divinity of Jesus.
He found the Church neither sacred nor practical enough.

Having upset his family, he headed for London and to support himself, like the notorious Abu Hamsa, he worked as a night-club bouncer and body guard. During the day he protected the likes of the Sultan of Brunei and the Arsenal football team. At night he was a bouncer at Equinox, a flesh-pot on Leicester Square. He says:

I used to escort the models like Caprice and Elle McPherson into the VIP room. It was my job to stay with them.

I saw people snorting cocaine and having sex. There were "Page Three" models who would do certain things – I won't say what. There were wet t-shirt contests, and a lot of frolicking. I saw prostitutes, people trying to spike girls' drinks and giving out ecstasy tablets. The bands I looked after were often high on heroin, they took it in front of me, they were so stupid and arrogant.

It was a dangerous and degrading job, dealing with people on drugs, out of control, not concerned about morals or God.

But it was his encounter with Barry Manilow which, perhaps understandably, finally pushed him into the arms of Allah. Ibrahim says:
I'd been a fan of his, but when I met him, perhaps he was having a bad day, but I found him bossy, arrogant and rude. I didn't like the way he spoke to his co-stars in his show. I was very unhappy after that, he seemed to sum up the disappointment I felt about life and I decided to make a decision.
Islam with its authoritarian structure and dearth of fashionable crooners, was on offer and in 1995 he converted. For this sense of redemption and belonging, he was prepared to change everything. He had a house in Lewisham, a working wife and two small sons. Ibrahim says:
My interest in Islam destroyed the marriage. She liked night-clubs and the western way of life. I felt that I had normalised my life by becoming a Muslim, to me the Koran seemed rational, but she couldn't see it. She refused to wear a veil or change her habits.
Three years ago, after learning Arabic, he returned to Ireland and agreed to marry a Pakistani he'd never met. She was chosen by the old man sermonising on the TV behind us. He says dispassionately, his mind fully focussed on his mission:
I trusted him and I trusted God. She's a good wife and given me children.
Of his mission he says:
It will happen. Mohammed was told by God that Islam would rise in the West. I just need a small nucleus of Irish converts and they will bring other people in.
But did Mohammed mean as far west as Galway? While he talks two American Mormon missionaries who've come to the door also looking for converts, are invited in. Dressed in identical black anoraks they sit on the sofa smiling blankly. Beverages become an issue as they not only eschew alcohol like him, but can't drink coffee or tea either. Sipping water, they nod at everything he says.

The Mormons have 90 missionaries on the streets and made 125 converts in Galway last year, Ibrahim made two: Anna, 31, a Finn researching "holistic science", and Christopher, now Yusuf Pender, 24, who studies film.

Yusuf discovered Islam through MDM, but is also bitterly disillusioned with Catholicism. He says in disgust:

It was dead even before the sex scandals, it's about politics and power not spirituality.
His younger brother, Thomas, 22, is also thinking about converting.

According to Galway Diocesan statistics, 95% of the population still have their babies baptised, but sitting among the Mormons and the Muslims I feel I have entered a new age of globalised Puritanism.

For these people the liberal agenda of their parents has failed, and Catholicism as it slackens its rigidities is not enough - they prefer the community of faith that howls at Ibrahim in the street.

Jane Kelly worked as a full time staff feature writer for the Daily Mail for 15 years, but she now lives as a freelance journalist and painter in west London. She is chiefly interested in writing about unusual, usually unpopular people.


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Did you ever go across the sea to Ireland?
When the muzzein calls the faithful folk to pray,
As each unrolls his carpet, pointed southwards,
You hear the call to prayer on Gaaaalwaaaay Baaaaaaay.

Yes, it is almost irresistible.

Posted by: s masty at May 30, 2006 05:40 PM
•••

I feel a bit like Snoopy, shaking his fist at the Red Baron, since S.J.Masty came with his parody on a lovely old Irish song. I remember my father singing this (yes, I too am from that side of the water). The verse I particularly remember is:

For the strangers came and tried to teach us their ways
They scorned us just for being what we are
But they might as well go chasing after moonbeams
Or light a penny candle from a star

So it seems that certain strangers have now come to Erin, on a quest not so futile. But I can well see how Michael Peter Noonan came to follow that path. I came across the water when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, and had a C-of-E education, but Mr. Noonan’s misgivings about his Catholic education strike a strong chord with me about mine. Some years later, I made a lot of Arab friends, and found their culture so much more attractive than ours. Even in those days, among the student body, girls would be despised if they did and despised if they didn’t. I still think there is much to be said for the values of Muslim societies, even if these values are betrayed by hypocritical rogue males who do unspeakable things to women in the name of Islam. As it is written (Psalm 50, 16 and 21):

But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?

These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.

But then I found certain things that worried me deeply, for example, the statement that Jesus was NOT crucified. While the good teachings of Islam remain attractive, and Islamic philosophers such as Ibn Sina are head and shoulders above most of those of the West, there are discrepancies which make me wonder, what is its actual agenda? Is it to stop people becoming Christians?

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at May 31, 2006 07:11 PM
•••

I have read this article and was astonished at my findings. I would like to clarify a few points that have been above by Michael Noonan.

In regards to his statement about how our marriage ended due to the fact of my western way of life is fabrication. I am a born muslim and his reasons for conversion was so we could marry. I do not deny he then took on the religion above my marriage, I continued to wear a head scarf as my religon requests while we were married and there was no nightclubbing involved.

I am not want to respond to these type of accusations made like so many in the past, a lot of this information is inaccurate, but it was my older son who was searching for his father on the internet due to no contact in 10 years. They are very disapointed that their own father portrays no interest in his children's lives yet he preaches Islam and I know Islam's way is not to leave your children. My son has presented this and questioned me.

There is numerous things I have read in this post that are incorrect, like his middle name for a start, his career and his dates whether this has been made up by the interviewer or came from Michael it is misleading information to my children.

I know Michael (Ibrahim) is a devoted Muslim and is very passionate to Islam.

Posted by: Marina Ayaz at August 1, 2006 03:43 AM
•••

Salam '

This so called Journalist is a hack and an Islamophobe. This is a total misrepresentation of our conversation and most of it is made up. Iman Ibrahim is a very pios, intelegent Muslim (I know my spelling is crap) and gave that interview in good faith.

As for the comments his ex-wife made...well a day dosent pass when he dosent talk about his children but his wife wont let him see them becouse she is....well she is not telling the truth.

The Daily Mail is a racist brit paper with an anti Catholic & Anti-Islamic agenda. And his wife is not old... she is only 35....ageism..

So Byeeeeeee..........

Posted by: Yusuf Pender at September 3, 2007 03:03 PM
•••

For all those concernd, 90% of what is written in this article is not true, and blown out of porportion. I had Muslims friends long before I met my former wife, and had interest in Islam but I found True Islam in Ahmadiyyat and God works in his own ways to bring people to Him, and it may have happened through me meeting my former wife, but I accepted Islam for sake of God not because of marrage. I am not here to put blame on any one but she has said something which is not true, I have done every thing to see my childern and have asked her many times to allow me to see them them, my parent are proof of this, my former wife still has contact with them and my sons have been to my parents home, I love my sons more then I can explain with every heart beat I remember them. I have always shown respect towards my former wife because she the Mother of my Sons this is the teaching of Islam. I have spoken with Jane Kelly about what has been written and asked for it to removed. May the peace of almighty Allah be with you.

Ibrahim Noonan

Posted by: Ibrahim Michael Noonan at September 20, 2007 12:16 PM
•••

Hi there My name is John Noonan Mick's younger brother and i would like to say for one my father was a roofer not a builder,what his ex wife has said is absolutly true, he actualy had to go on the run in london 4 months with my big sis marina, until he finally converted to Islam so he could marry i should i was at the wedding, he was never part of the Legion of Mary, because of my brothers obsessiveness with his religion i did not get to see my nephews for 6yrs until i finally contacted Marina and convinced her to come here to ireland to see her family, and know she has gone further because of him. Mick if ur reading this sorry but i will not let anyone say one thing about Marina and the lads especially a convert who calls himself Yusuf Pender who knows nothing of our family.

Posted by: John Noonan at November 17, 2007 06:20 PM
•••

My name is Marina and I am responding to my ex-husband's post and my brother in-law John's post:

Thank you for clarifying the above and verifying that most of the original post is incorrect as Michael made me look like a bad person.

I stopped Michael Noonan seeing the kids several years ago as he would never show up, I took him to court to make him see his kids and he was ordered to see them which he never stuck to and because of this I refused him access to visiting rights, which was my legal right.
However, since then I have allowed him on several occasions to make contact but he never has.
He has both of my son's email addresses, my eldest son's mobile number, our home address and our home telephone number but yet he has made no contact.
We lived 20 minutes apart for years but never once did he try to see his children. If someone took my kids off me I would camp outside their house just to get a glimpse and would fight till death.

He has not paid any money towards both of my son's upkeep in 11 years. I am a single mother, with three jobs and work days and nights but yet not once has he given me any money in 11 years. No presents or even cards/letters. My eldest is going to Uni in a year to hopefully do a medical degree and I have to pay for this all by myself.
He is on low income because the Islamic community pay for his keep but he has not even applied for extra funds to support his two first born children which I know he can and then that payment should go to my children.
I am in constant contact with his family as I love them as my own, they have never done me or my children any wrong and I wish I had the money to visit them in Ireland. They are just like my parent's and his brother's and sister's are my brother's and sister's!

Can I also add, my eldest son was once again searching for updates on his father on the Web and found this post again! - Contact your children Michael before it's too late, not saying it's not too late already. How sad that he has to search the Web to learn about you and look for recent pictures.

You obviously don't want to financially support your sons, so at least pray for them!

Goodbye

Marina Ayaz

Posted by: Marina Ayaz at December 16, 2007 05:18 AM
•••

To Mr Yusef Pender,

You don't know me and never will so please do not accuse me of lying - you have no right. Sadly you are mislead, lied to, lying or just a stupid fool.

PS: Humanely impossible for a day to pass without him mentioning his kids, even if you see him everyday.

PPS: Michael, please be honest and tell all if I have stopped you seeing the kids in the last 7 years at least? Then repent for lying. I have the proof.

Goodbye.

Posted by: Marina Ayaz at December 16, 2007 05:33 AM
•••

to all conerned, I could spend the whole day defending my self trying to proof that it was not I who stopped seeing my Son's I have tried every thing, as far as my young brother John is concerned he is fully aware of every thing. through out this whole time I have not blamed any one and I am not going to start. If I could finance my sons I would, I was giving money every month but Marina wanted more and complaned to a goverment office, who assed my income and it was they who, informed me that according to my low income I was not at fault. I dont have my sons home address, or phone number, and once I sent a e-mail to my sons and an e-mail came back saying your sons dont have any desire to see you or contact you. I showed this to my parents who were shocked. the one time my eldest son contacted me his mother would come on the phone and try to create a problem between me and my Wife. If my sons want to come and visit me or speak to me they can do so. Salman and Osman I love both and there is not a day which I dont think about you your photos are with me all the time where I go. Salman if I could support you for your medical degree I would, but I am Proud of you and I always pray for your success in Life and also for Osman. "Truth is Truth and I am not Afraid of Truth because I walk in Truth and only He who is Truth knows the Truth" May the peace and blessing of God Almighty be with you and protect you my Sons Always.

your Dad.

ps Salman & Osman contact the Jamaat in Australia and they will help us make contact. Salman and Osman when ever you want to come and visit me on your own as Salman you are old enough to travel on your own and Osman can come with I will pay for it. or I plan to visit Australia and I promise when I come I will do every thing to see you.
Ps Yusuf Pender is a very nice and good natured young man.

Posted by: Ibrahim Noonan at January 9, 2008 10:40 AM
•••

this is salman, im am the son of michael noonan or ibrahim noonan.

im just responding to what was said in past commentts made about my muother. i have a high level of respect for my father and the fact that he is so loyal to his religion but i dont appreciate people sayin my mum was the ones causing problems when it was all my fathers wife. i would very much like to get in contact with you dad as i would liek to know what type of person you are.

salman.

Posted by: Marina Ayaz at June 7, 2008 03:13 PM
•••

This is my uncle haha, he's my dad's brother. I mightn't follow a religion, but I'm open minded and spiritual, and I respect Michael for what he's doing, and what he believes. Too many stereotypes have been given to people of Islamic faith, I know a few Muslims and they're really nice people, haha. Just felt like I should voice that :}

Posted by: Conor Noonan at September 24, 2010 04:34 PM
•••

What a nice family you are. If only you would all swap phone numbers, get together from time to time, bite the bullet and move on. Surely that is better than working it out on public internet forums.

P.S. Islam is the true religion (but not that codswallop Ahmadiyyah nonsense that Mick/Ibrahim is on). The Prophet Muhammad said "The best of you is the one who's best to his family" and "The strong person is not the one who overpowers his opponent in a fight, but the strong one is the one who controls his anger" and "Whoever humbles himself for the sake of God, God will exalt him"

Assalaam alaykum,
Peace be upon you,
Adam

Posted by: Adam Noonan at January 31, 2013 11:11 AM
•••

I'm Fawad Noonan ,Ibrahim Noonans son , I'd like to point out all that I have jus read is bull and to the guy above ,adam, if you were a true muslim ud follow sunnah and if u knew sunnah ud know that the Prophet Muhammed (SAW) did not degrade or insult any relgion ... So ti insuly the Ahmadiyaa the True version of Islam which is a sect in Islam due to ur ignorance or lack knowladge maybe you didn't know that .. Adam a wise man once said if u habe nothing good to say keep qutie ... Salam

Posted by: Fawad at July 23, 2013 03:55 AM
•••
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