Faith groups hail Belfast council opposition to hate crimes
Belfast Islamic Centre has welcomed a council motion opposing hate crimes against minority groups in the city.
Alliance councillor David Armitage introduced the motion, saying recent anti-religious attacks must not be tolerated, and calling for all faiths in the city to be celebrated.
Members of the Islamic and Jewish community attended Thursday night's meeting to address the council.
The move follows a series of incidents in December, including the throwing of pig meat at the doors of the Islamic Centre in south Belfast and deputy leader of far-right Britain First calling the centre "a den of iniquity".
On Thursday presentations were made by Dr Sandra Ballie on behalf of the Jewish community, and Methodist College Belfast pupil Zoraiz Kashif on behalf of the Muslim community.
Zoraiz told councillors: "It is difficult to hear the words of those striving to make certain members of society feel unwelcome because of their faith or background: desperate to cause division, suspicion and fear.
"However discouraging, they will not prevail. The voices of support and acceptance have been much louder."
Given the recent focus on Muslims in Northern Ireland, he said many were not aware of local links with Islam dating back to the 1800s.
Of a local population of around 6,000, he noted that 500 were in university here and approximately 400 Muslim doctors currently worked in the province.
He added: "Careers and achievements are secondary to the fact that Muslims are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, friends, work colleagues and neighbours.
"Muslims are not merely contributors to Northern Irish society, we are an integral part of it."
Mr Armitage said afterwards: "Belfast is a diverse city, home to many different groups from various faith backgrounds.
"This isn't something we should hide from, but rather celebrate, and as a council we have a responsibility to lead the way."
"It makes me extremely sad to have witnessed the recent number of anti-religious actions - especially against those of Jewish and Islamic faith backgrounds."