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Praatje De Gromiest, zaterdag 28 mei 2005

by Jan Bakker

Dutch culture is based on Christian values. Christian values are basically the same as Islamic values. For example: 10 commands from the Bible (Nabi Musaa), charity, giving alms, speaking the truth etc. Although there is hypocrisy (as in many Muslim countries), the right for Muslims to practise their religion is secured by the law, and in most situations there are no real problems.

After World War II, a process of secularisation started. Religion, including Christianity, was banned to a large extent from public life. As being a Muslim is practising Islam not only in the private sphere, but also in public, this can cause some difficulties. But nobody has any problem with spending zakat (as collecting money for social purposes is an outstanding Dutch tradition), Friday prayer or hajj, as long as they are not visually confronted with Muslim presence in the public sphere.

Most visible are hijab, “Muslim” clothes and daily shalat. Mosques are tolerated if not too recognisable, but minarets and calling adzan still causes problems, although many recently built mosques do have minarets and few are allowed to call adzan at least before Friday Prayer. Not long ago the fundamentalist Christian party SGP started a campaign against adzan in Zeist. They called a public glorification of a non-Christian god in a foreign language blasphemy. But they were set back by the Court. Also problematic are prayer rooms in offices and universities, but when you ask if you can use a meeting room or another suitable space for your prayers, normally no objections will be made.

Why Christians are afraid of Islam? I see two clusters of possible reasons:

1. Ideologically it is rooted in history (Crusades), Islam is an unknown religion and a lot of stereotypes (often based on false stories dating back to the Crusades) are repeated again and again. Finally there are orientalists and journalists who spread literal interpretations of the Qur’aan neglecting the context (the husband has the right to beat his wife into obedience, Muslims have to kill the unbelievers wherever they meet them, etc.).

2. Practically: a lot of people have had bad experiences with Muslim immigrants (neighbours, colleagues). The majority of Muslim immigrants come from the Moroccan Rif region and Turkish Anatolia. Rifi’s (Berber) are low educated and outcasts of the Moroccan Arab society and Anatolians are illiterate farmers with a very nationalistic and conservative attitude.

For the Dutch, it is not easy to distinguish between Muslims by choice and traidtional Muslims. Muslims by choice may be converts, but also born Muslims who practice Islam and study Islamic ethics. When you ask them “why…”, they will quote the Qur’aan, ahadieth or opinions of scholars and explain it in their own words according to their own experience. Traditional Muslims may practise Islam, but too often they just practise traditions which even may be un-Islamic. They lack a theoretical basis. When you ask them “why…”, they will answer that they do what their parents did and their imams tell them to do. For many of them their only connection with Islam is the notion that they are considered to be Muslims by the legal system of their country of origin.

I am a Muslim, keep in touch with my neighbours and work in a lawyer’s office dominated by white employees. I can perform shalat and get off for Friday prayer, unless there are urgent matters to be handled. Many colleagues are interested to learn about my opinions and experiences, as I am virtually the only Muslim they have ever met (and probably the only one they will meet during their whole life). I was interviewed for the staff magazine about my hajj.

My colleagues accept me as a Muslim, partly because I know how to explain my faith to them, partly because they are highly educated people who know how to deal with different opinions and don’t in the first place judge by gossip and stereotypes. Faith is no issue when it comes to be a loyal employee.

I can live in a non-Muslim environment because I practise the verse: “there is no compulsion in Islam”. Islam is my choice, others make their own choice. As long as they leave me in peace, I don’t feel the need to criticise them. If a non-Muslim wants to practice homosexuality – let him do it. It is not my business; Dutch law allows him to do. I can criticise a Muslim gay, but not a non-Muslim gay. As a Muslim I have to contribute to my society. Let my input be positive.

Critics often ask “are you Dutch or are you a Muslim? Where lays your loyalty?” Many immigrant Muslims consider themselves still no Dutch citizens. They even claim converts are no longer Dutch citizens. But when I choose for Islam, I didn’t choose for another culture (not even the Arab culture) or for another nationality. I choose a religion. I am Dutch by nationality and Muslim by religion. Religion and citizenship are totally different notions. There are Muslims with Moroccan, Arab, and Syrian citizenship and among Dutch citizens are Christians, Jews, Hindus, humanists, atheists and Muslims. Being a Muslim does not make me less Dutch and being Dutch does not make me a poor Muslim. Muslims must consider themselves as Dutch citizens and as a consequence take responsibility for the improvement of the Dutch society as a whole.

Dutch people at the other hand have to accept Islam as a new contribution to their culture, like there were foreign contributions before, for instance French enlightenment (Trias Politica), Jewish immigrants, Christian faith (Christian ethics) and Roman occupation (Roman legislation and Greek philosophy). Even pagan religion/culture originated from Indo-German tribes who once came from Eastern Europe or even Central Asia. Now Islam is entering the arena and will unmistakably leave its marks on Dutch society. Anti-Islamic critics are just afraid for change and loss of known values.

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