Muslim leaders offer to meet Paisley over Islamophobic tweet furore
Leaders of Belfast's Islamic community have invited Ian Paisley to meet them after he retweeted an anti-Muslim post by controversial TV pundit Katie Hopkins.
The DUP MP later issued a grovelling apology for sharing the message in which right-wing commentator Hopkins referred to the fact London had a higher murder rate than New York last month. She closed the tweet by adding: "And Ramadan's not yet begun."
Paisley's party quickly distanced itself from the tweet, and yesterday Belfast Islamic Centre urged the MP to "confirm his commitment to equality for all citizens".
Ramadan is observed by Muslims as they fast from dawn to sunset for a month in commemoration of the first revelation of the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad.
Mr Paisley faced a barrage of criticism on social media after retweeting Hopkins' Islamophobic message.
The DUP said: "Ian Paisley retweeted a comment originally posted on Twitter by Katie Hopkins from his personal Twitter account. He has subsequently removed it.
"The original tweet was totally inappropriate and the DUP deplores its sentiments. The party officers will consider this matter at their next meeting."
Mr Paisley then issued his apology, writing: "Mea culpa earlier today I glanced at a tweet & rt about (number) of murders in London.
"Didn't take cognisance of Ramadan ref. Once brought to my attention immediately deleted. Apologise profusely for offence caused."
Belfast Islamic Centre said the timing of Mr Paisley's retweet was "unfortunate" given anxiety within the community over an unrelated race hate campaign in England urging people to target Muslims.
"We have contacted Ian Paisley MP directly to clarify his position on the controversial tweet and to ask him to confirm his commitment to equality for all citizens, regardless of faith, and his abhorrence of bigotry," the centre added in a statement.
"We welcome his Twitter apology and the DUP statement condemning it. We extend an invitation to him to come and visit us and meet some of the local Muslim community."
Despite the invitation, secretary of the Northern Ireland Muslim Family Association Brenda Skillen expressed scepticism over Mr Paisley's apology. "I do think there can be contention around apologies when they can seem convenient," she said.
"However, we generally like to try and keep a low-key profile on things like this and keep the best relationships possible across communities.
"I would say there is a flurry around some situations, whether to do with Islam or other issues, but I'm not undermining the severity of this because he is in a position of power.
"I support Belfast Islamic Centre's intent on meeting with Mr Paisley."
She added: "Perhaps his intentions were not to incite, but he's in a position where he has to think."
It is not the first time that the DUP has come under fire for comments regarding the Muslim community.
In 2014 then First Minister Peter Robinson defended the comments of Pastor James McConnell during an evening service at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle.
In a sermon broadcast globally from his church in north Belfast, Pastor McConnell denounced Islam as "Satanic" and "a doctrine spawned in hell".
Asked about the pastor's comments, Mr Robinson added that he wouldn't trust Muslims for "spiritual guidance", but would trust them "to go to the shop" for him.
Mr Robinson later visited the Belfast Islamic Centre and offered an apology to a delegation of Muslim leaders, which they accepted.