Northern Ireland should be defined by its rainbow of cultures, not divisions between orange and green, Michelle O’Neill has said.
The Sinn Fein vice president was commenting as she joined members of the Islamic community to celebrate the festival of Eid in Belfast.
More than 1,000 people gathered on the pitches at Davitts GAA club in the west of the city for the largest open air Eid event ever organised in Northern Ireland.
Ms O’Neill, who is line to become Stormont first minister when or if the current powersharing impasse is resolved, wore a hijab as she joined in prayers on Saturday morning.
Later, as she addressed the large crowd, the MLA hailed the Islamic community for the “generous and compassionate” contribution they have made to life in Northern Ireland for decades.
“I’m a champion of inclusion and I am here to help make this place which we all belong together a home richer in its diversity,” she said.
Ms O’Neill condemned hate crimes that have targeted Muslims in recent years.
“My colleagues have been very vocal in calling out those responsible for the attacks on the Belfast Muslim community and those outrageous acts of criminality,” she said.
“So let me say very clearly here to you all today, we will always stand beside you.
“In our shared humanity, we live in each other’s shadow, and I want you all to know that you are valued.
“I’m working to build a society, not of orange and green, but of a whole rainbow of cultures, multiculturalism, which reflects who we are and where we stand today.”
Ms O’Neill added: “It’s our responsibility as political leaders to ensure that we learn from the past, that we continue to make all of our efforts to learn from each other, to build peace, and ensure that we inspire a new generation to value this precious gift that we have, not least here on our own front door.”
Muhammad Atif from the Belfast Multicultural Association praised the GAA and local community in west Belfast for helping to facilitate Saturday’s event.
“They have allowed us to be here in thousands and everybody has been very, very cooperative,” he said.
“It is one of the biggest events ever we’ve managed to do outside in the open.”
He added: “Let’s not forget this is for the community and everything we do is for the community.”