Hope & Faith: Women In Ireland On What Religion Means To Them

From the misconceptions to how it applies to them in their everyday life.

The most recent Census indicates the more people than ever consider themselves to have ‘no religion’, but that’s still only 10% of the country. Megan Roantree chats to four women of strong faith about religion in Ireland in 2019

Vicki, 27, is an Evangelical Christian who is travelling to Bethel this summer. She works as a personal trainer.

“I was always aware that God existed, and I used to pray. I was raised in a Church of Ireland home; I never didn’t believe, but from when I was 15 to 26, I lived for worldly things, I didn’t live for God – my life was full of anxiety and I was on edge and felt empty but now I just feel like a completely different person.

I went to Bali on a one-way flight last year, because Instagram and the world told me that I would find freedom there. So I went there believing the world and I got very sick – the Bali belly! I couldn’t move, I was in a really bad way and I started praying, I asked God to bring me back to him, and he reminded me of TeenStreet, a really big Christian-based camp. I only knew there was one in Germany, but with the little energy I got my MacBook and typed in TeenStreet AUS, and so Australia’s TeenStreet came up and it was on in five days! I always wanted to go back as a leader so I changed my flights. When I arrived TeenStreet told me they were praying for someone on the front desk, they said the applications closed ages ago and they didn’t even know how I applied. I just knew this was where God wanted me to be.

I spent a lot of time with God after that, it was just amazing to see how God works in your life when I was at a really low point in my life, he saved me. So now for me, there is no going back. I’d really fallen for what the world said freedom is. Since then I’ve just been putting Him first and things have just been working out. What I mean when I say I give my life to God, is that he’s the centre of my life, if I feel he’s not in something then I don’t want it. Once you give your life to God it’s full of peace and happiness. The anxiety and worry just go.

I have lots of friends from when I was younger whom I love so much, but when I’m with my Christian friends it’s totally different, you just feel a lot more, it’s a much stronger connection. But most of my friends wouldn’t be Christian, which I find challenging at times. I make sure I spend time with people that build up my faith so I have to actively book in Christian dates with friends just to make sure I’m not drowning in the gossip and negativity.

When it comes to love, it wouldn’t have been important for me to be with a Christian, all my boyfriends would have known that I have a belief but now since I went on a big journey, and God found me and I gave my life to God, and given him everything, now I wouldn’t date someone who isn’t a Christian.

If God wasn’t in the relationship it wouldn’t work, so whoever I end up marrying would have to be Christian.

I used to find it hard to keep up with the demands of social media – my life was about Instagram and I felt a lot of pressure to look and act a certain way but I don’t do that anymore. Someone was praying for me and said they really felt that God wanted to use my Instagram to reach young women to show that you don’t need to look a certain way and that you are loved and accepted. So I’ve started introducing God into my Instagram and now it just feels right. I never thought I’d be putting things like this up, it would have been just gym stuff, ‘look at my glutes, look at my core’. I never thought I’d be this vulnerable but I now have this new confidence in me, and it just feels really right and I’ve had a really good response, and I actually haven’t had any negativity.

I’m going to Bethel in August. It’s a big church in Redding, California which is described as heaven on Earth. I went for a week, there’s lots of healing and cool things happening there. I really wanted to go to the Bethel School Of Supernatural Ministry to study religion and theology and you learn how to do missions. It’s quite hard to explain it in Ireland but it’s a big church, they produce really good worship music. I really feel that God placed Bethel in my heart. It’s for a least a year and then we’ll see. I wanted to go because I am a personal trainer, so they do physical activities, but we also sit down and talk about mental health and our faith so I feel like I will be able to impact a lot of people through this. Maybe I’ll become a pastor at the end of it all we’ll see what happens.”

Mulky, 20, is a biotechnology student who hopes that people become more understanding of Muslims in Ireland

“Being Muslim is basically a way of life for me. It’s guidance. We’re in a world that is constantly changing, people’s morals are changing and there is a lot of death and badness; I feel like religion is there to ground you. If you’re lost it’s like a navigation system – a guiding light for me.

I was born and raised Muslim but when I was 16 my parents explained that it was up to me to chose. They said ‘there’s Judaism, there’s Islam, Christianity and there’s also no religion so do your research, there are all these religions, so if it doesn’t make sense you’re free to do what you want’. But for me being Muslim was right.
I was one of four Muslims in my Catholic school, I was the only one who wore a headscarf which was difficult just because I didn’t have someone to relate to. But I loved when kids asked me questions because I hate when people assume I’m forced to wear my headscarf or things like that. I think parents should be educated on other religions so they explain these things, so we can find our own similarities.

There are lots of traditions – you generally wear a headscarf from when you become a woman, so puberty, but I started wearing mine quite young. The hijab doesn’t just mean the headscarf, it means a covering – so a covering from your bad thoughts, and from anything negative in the world.

Ramadan starts in May for 30 days and the whole point is to spiritually cleanse yourself and be more aware of how poor people are feeling. If you can withhold from food, you can withhold from being angry, and things like that. There are people who don’t have food so you become so aware of your blessings. Then when you break your fast it’s like woah! You’re more thankful. It might sound hard but it’s the whole house doing it, so there’s a whole vibe. We all hang out, you miss it when it is over. The first couple of days can be tough, because I love my caffeine, but you get used to it. We know we’re going to fast and it’ll be a massive feast afterwards. After Ramadan, we get the first Eid, which is kind of our Christmas. You get a few days to celebrate. It’s amazing.

We pray five times a day but unlike the men we don’t have to pray in congregation or in a mosque because we have other things to do. I usually have my matt with me to pray. The first one was this morning at 3.30am. My phone lights up and I just do five minutes. I think God knew that we were going to be sleepy at that time so he made this one the shortest prayer! My friends staying over are like why are you waking up?! But they are used to it now. Five sounds like a lot but they are really spaced out. For women, if you’re on your period, there is no obligation to pray or anything like that. If you’re travelling and prayer time is due, you just do it when you can. It’s better to do it on time, but if you can’t you won’t go to hell!

Drinking is completely forbidden, toxicants of any form are, anything that harms your body, but growing up I didn’t feel pressure. My friends would be like ‘you should try it’, but I’ve always been grand without it, people ask is it because I’m scared of my parents but I just don’t have any interest. Once you don’t know what it’s like you don’t miss it.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what the religion forces women to do in some countries but that is their culture, and there is a fine line between religion and culture and it’s one people get confused about.

When you’re Muslim, people look at you weird. I don’t know if that’s a race thing or both. People say things like ‘It’s the 21st century, why don’t you wear jeans? You look like you have a great figure why don’t you just show it off,’ I just try and explain that it’s my choice. When they come to me with anger I take it and educate people. They assume my husband forces me to wear a headscarf, and, like, first of all, I’m not married!I’ve gotten a lot of abuse and things like ‘we don’t do that in Ireland, if you want to wear that scarf go back to your country,’ Sometimes I just put on my headphones and ignore it. You wouldn’t think these things are still happening but they are. I use public transport all the time, and sometimes someone sticks up for me which is really good. A man told me to go back to my own country for wearing the scarf, and a lady was like ‘she looks beautiful in whatever she wants to wear and you have no say,’ The fact that people project your negativity on you is crazy. So many negative comments I’ve gotten are because of how media reports on Muslims. Sometimes older people can be scared, which makes me sad.

My friends are a mixed group. Most I met through the Interfaith centre in DCU. Sometimes you connect with people who are also wearing a scarf but growing up in Kildare I was one of the only Muslim families so most of my friends aren’t Muslim. For me personally, I would prefer to end up with someone of the same faith, so that I can bring my kids up in the same faith. It would just be easier because God is an important part of my life.

Growing up there wasn’t a lot of people to look up to. But now there are loads of bloggers and influencers who are Muslim. There are even tutorials on how to style your hijab on Youtube which I didn’t have growing up. It’s a great tool. The internet is a negative place but it can be great too.

If I had to say anything to those who have preconceived ideas I’d say don’t generalise Muslim’s, we’re all human.

We’d prefer if you asked about something you don’t know, instead of assuming something bad. Don’t be afraid of us. We’re not all terrorists, this is a fact. It’s sad I have to say that, but it’s the reality. The scarf on my head doesn’t make me any different to you, we are all the same.”

Megan, 26, is a General Nurse from Monaghan who found embraced her strong Catholic faith in her twenties.

“I was raised Catholic and from a young age, we always did the Rosary and went to Sunday mass. My Catholicism is intrinsic to who I am now and who I want to be moving forward in my life, I turn to my faith and prayer in all the big decisions I make. I have often tried to ignore that side of me and felt lost because I wasn’t being true to myself.

I think there are endless misconceptions about the Catholic church, the biggest one I see time and time again is that it’s a dying religion or that it’s outdated. Catholicism is thriving all over the world just maybe not in modern day Ireland, which pains my heart because if my friends had faith I truly believe their hearts would rejoice.

I frequently get negative comments but mostly, people just try to play it off. “Megan is ‘our holy friend’” or “she’s really religious”. They mean it as in don’t pass any heed on her, or her opinion is only coming from the church’s point of view and she’s not able to actually make an informed and educated opinion. I find I have to justify my opinions or back them up far more than any of my friends. Usually, because they have socially accepted ideas or opinions and mine can be against the social norm but none the less valid. I find that really infuriating because most people who know me well value my advice in a day to day running of things but if it’s about bigger political matters they just fob it off as religious views and won’t even listen. It feels really dismissive but I know I have been blessed to know real truth so I don’t blame them for that.

I hold my Catholic friends very dearly. It’s helped me so much because there are things in the spiritual world that those without faith could never understand and we all need people who understand us. But most of my friend’s aren’t Catholic and they are amazing and love me dearly. I am so grateful for them and I pray for them regularly.

My husband David and I have been together for 10 years. Neither of us really had faith when we were younger and both turned to our faith in our early twenties. We both hold God very much at the centre of our universe and live our lives as best we can in accordance with Church teachings. Our relationship has changed dramatically. We just got married in April and experiencing marriage in the sacramental way was mind-blowing. I don’t honestly see how I could have been with someone who doesn’t believe, I try to let God guide me and if he asked much of me and my family I just don’t see how someone without faith could truly understand that and be so generous as to give their wife, or time or their children or money or whatever God was asking for without thinking negatively about their spouse. It was a massive factor for me when deciding to marry David.

All that said, yes, I’ve had so many doubts about my faith, gosh, It’s a never-ending thing.

I guess it’s natural for us as humans to question and doubt. When I was in secondary school I considered myself spiritual and maybe even Christian because I had always said prayers at night. But I was insistent I was definitely not Catholic. I lost three people I was very close to in my leaving cert year within 6 months and I became very angry with God. That’s probably when I doubted the most. I treated him like an old friend and just outright wouldn’t speak to him, but slowly through many different people, my heart opened again. Maybe sometimes I doubt because my life walking in faith can be hard, but like I said I could never deny him again. A life with Christ is always simple but never easy.

I lived a life that was not in line with the Catholic Church for many years, and enjoyed it don’t get me wrong! I partied hard, engaged in premarital sex and spent time satisfying my own desires but I found no love there and to be honest I felt like I had really lost who I wanted to be. When I started finding my faith in Catholicism I slowly and reluctantly started to change. I never wanted to change and I remember sitting on my bed one night thinking “this is it, there is no going back, God, I have met you in the depths of heart and I could never deny you”. I was scared but honestly when I started to live the commandments – still purging my long term habits might I add (I ain’t no saint yet but that is always the goal as a Catholic ha!) I found there to be a new found freedom.

I no longer needed my boyfriend’s desire of me sexually to make me feel loved, beautiful or wanted, I no longer needed to spend every waking hour chasing friends and parties because I actually would rather just meet them during the day and really chat and have the craic – I just felt overall more like me. I went to a Youth2000 retreat in 2016 and I remember this incredible sense of feeling like I was finally home. That feeling has never left me and now I feel totally at ease with who I am.”

Gana, 23, is a Hindu from India who moved to Dublin to Study Engineering.

“I was raised Hindu as I grew up in India until I moved here for college. From birth, I’ve experienced the Hindu culture and all the rituals related to it, so it’s had a strong impact on my life. In India, there are different communities who believe in different gods like Krishna, Shiva, Lord Ganesha – the list goes on and on.

The communities within Hinduism include Jain, Sikh, Maratha, Punjabi and more. So within each of those they celebrate a different set of festivals, one of the biggest is Holi, where colours and water are thrown on each other, there is music and drums, and it signifies a victory of good. Sometimes it’s known as the festival of love because people unite and forget resentment and bad feelings towards each other. But there are loads of other festivals and events like Diwali – the festival of light, Guru Nanak Jayanti, Mahavir Jayanti and Ugadi. Whichever you celebrate, it’s celebrated along with the entire family. I like that our faith in God and the rituals bring families together and keep us connected.

In Hindu culture, we worship God every morning by lighting a lamp and we do puja (or prayers), meditations and recitations. On special occasions, families visit pilgrimages together and most festivals are a celebration of family. Some people even detach themselves from their social life material possessions and engage themselves in lifelong sannyasa, which means spending your life in a peaceful, love-inspired, simple spiritual life. They meditate in order to achieve Moksha, which is the end of the death and rebirth cycle in our religion.

Thankfully, I haven’t received any negative comments about being Hindu, in Ireland or otherwise, but there are lots of misconceptions about the religion. Like, many people have misconceptions that cow is worshipped in Hinduism but actually, the cow is respected and not worshipped. There are misconceptions that Hinduism is only practised in India but people in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Singapore and other countries have faith in Hinduism, and now to a smaller degree in many other countries.

Most of my friends are Hindu but I also have friends who aren’t, for example, I have a lot of Christian and Islamic friends too. I think it’s important for me that my romantic relationships are also Hindu, the majority of the Hindu families prefer that their children marry a person from the same religion as they think it will be easy for both the families to practice the same rituals. Plus, they can get along easily and it also avoids misunderstandings between families.

I have never doubted my faith because, for me, I believe that religion and the beliefs or faith we have in God gives hope to achieve anything in life. But faith is definitely not enough on its own for us to achieve our goal. We need hard work too, so I think faith and hard work go hand in hand.”