The Integration Question with Princess Pamela Toyin
One look at the bearded Mia Manan Hameed will instinctively send the messages of ‘migrant’ or ‘Muslim’ to many people’s minds, for better or worse.
The latter has certainly been the experience of Hameed, born in Ireland to Pakistani parents, who recalls an elderly man accosting him on the street, bleating: “You Muslim Pakis should get out and go back to your country, you’re terrorists!”
That’s all too common, people tarring all Muslims as extremists. Hameed, 39, puts it down to that one old man lacking knowledge; he knows not all native white Irish carry the same hatred. And that’s because he is himself a native, born and bred in this country.
Discrimination against Muslims, often fuelled by stereotypes and damaging opinions, has not in any way discouraged Hameed from integrating in Ireland, whether at school, his rugby club, or his workplace. Indeed, he believes he’s been an influencer on others’ attitudes: he once organised a demonstration against Google and YouTube for allowing the streaming of a hateful video against Islam, attracting around 1,000 protesters.
“I certainly think as a Sufi-practicing Muslim, I see a lot of Irish are much more interested in the true Islam and not in the political Islam,” he says, though doesn’t shirk from adding that “the Irish should be thankful to Muslims, as the label ‘terrorist’ was transferred from the IRA to Islam.”
Racism in Ireland, for Hameed, comes not so much from individuals on the street as it does from the Government, whom he jokes are “the biggest racist bunch” of all.
“I would love to see the Government of Ireland have diverse members in the Dáil, and welcome more migrants, will only be of benefit. I think the Government prevents migrants as they have forgotten their own Irish ancestry of being the minorities in England, the USA and Australia. I say it again that the Government needs to ‘get colourful’ as this will only help.”
Hameed’s father, born in Amritsar, Punjab in 1947, migrated to Pakistan before arriving in Belfast with his own parents in 1957. Hameed’s mother and father married in Navan in 1970 and after several years founded the first Halal restaurant in Dublin city centre. Then they started what is now the family business, which Hameed grew up to be a part of. “We were one of the very first cash-and-carry shops importing African fresh vegetable, fish and rice,” he says with pride.
Madina Desi Curry BBQ is another part of the family’s food chain. Hameed says it is “the best curry house in Ireland”, serving halal curries and other dishes with fresh aromatic spices.
Hameed now manages the Noor Madina Asian Food Co, a part of the family business that deals in ethnic African food, and a cash-and-carry based in the Smithfield fruit and vegetable market. Despite the struggles of the dwindling Irish economy, and local consumers being more conservative with their spending, he says the business has pulled through the harder times.
“People still have to eat and consumers always need value, so it is business owner’s duty to give value deals,” he says. “The margin gets tightened and the bills and cost of products always increase, so we just need to focus on the consumer and keep feeding them with value.”
Hameed sees himself as innovative in what he does. “I have made silly mistakes but when I fall, I get up and crawl and walk and if I fall again I don’t give up. That’s my profession.”
And it’s not the only one he’s pursued, either. Mia’s first job was selling strawberries on the side of the road near a regional hospital; later he spent evenings working as a kitchen porter, then as a petrol station pump attendant. In the 1990s he even trained himself in fashion design and set up a studio.
But as far as living in Ireland goes, Hameed’s view is that Ireland is the greatest country to be in, from the beautiful scenery to the wonderful people. And in the latter number he includes the up-and-coming new Irish who are helping different cultures to come together as one.
“There are children that are half-Irish, half-Nigerian, and this is great for the upcoming generation,” he says, adding that he has his feet in both of his own cultures.
“I do visit Pakistan as my parents live at least nine months a year there. Maybe one day I’ll have a home in Pakistan as well, but Ireland for me is the Emerald Isle and certainly home. My seven daughters were born in blessed Drogheda and I’ve always seen Ireland as my heart.”
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Princess Pamela Toyin is a journalist and author with over 25 years’ experience in various roles, including as an executive PA to company directors, as a public relations executive, reporter, editor and publisher, research consultant and workshop facilitator.