Annual Reverts Day
The Dutch da`wah organization “Ontdek Islam” (Discover Islam) had organized the Annual Reverts Day 2009 in Rotterdam. What distinguished this year’s Reverts Day is that you can see Muslims who belong to many European, African, and also South-American origins. There were plenty of national and international speakers — among of the latter was Sheikh Khalid Yasin — as well as huge media coverage for this event. The main sponsor for this day was the Darul Hijra Mosque, which has hosted approximately three film crews, uncounted numbers of reporters, over a 1000 reverts, locals, and other Muslim attendants from all over the Netherlands.
Based on a paper published later on by the Central Bureau for Statistics in the Netherlands, the average level of Muslim children education there had remained the same. At a closer look, the figures were very strange: It turned out that education levels were actually strongly divergent. In other words, more Muslim youngsters reached higher educational levels than in previous years, but there were also more cases dropping out of school.
Victory Meets Muslims
We all knew about the case filed against the well-known figure Tariq Ramadan, which came out of nothing, but that was not the only gloomy incident that targeted a Muslim. Just when there was an opportunity to have the first imam working as an Islamic councilor for the Netherlands’ Defense Ministry, some of the opposing powers frantically tried to stop this integrative step. At Amsterdam University, Imam Ali Eddaoudi’s major was Islam.
The Defense Ministry then elected him to be its first imam just as the pundits, rabbis, priests, and humanists affiliated to it. After signing his contract, some members of the parliament (with some little help from the media) found out that Eddaoudi had been writing rather feisty columns regarding religion and politics. Particularly, harsh were his comments on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and on the poor quality of the Dutch prime minister J.P. Balkenende. Nevertheless, all of this had already been considered by the committee that still elected Eddaoudi.
While some MPs supported Eddaoudi for being free to express his ideas, others claimed he had no such right, and that an imam cannot be a religious counselor because unlike a priest’s Christianity, Islam has neither proper profound grounds in the Dutch society, nor even the basics of a real religion!
Despite all these controversies, at the end, as wise as Eddaoudi was holding firm, he won the battle, even if he had to retract some of his columnist views. He spoke to no media outlet and, sensibly, just waited for the storm to die out and then went to work as the first Dutch army imam, and that is a fact.
National Islamic Conference
The first National Islamic Conference took place in May in the Apollo Hall of Amsterdam. Organized by Dar al-‘Ilm, the institute for Islamic studies, it hosted an amazing amount of national and international speakers, among whom were Bilal Philips and Haitham al-Hadad. What was special about this day is that the event took place on a larger scale than anything else before in the Netherlands. Its three halls witnessed some deep lectures on social participation, Salafi movement, and women’s rights, but also workshops on da’wah. Speakers from inside and outside the Islamic community spoke their minds, and approximately 1,500 people attended the conference.
First Islamic Party
A step toward the way of integration was the first Muslim party in Europe, namely the Local Islamic Democrats of the Hague. However, another Muslim party seemed to be emerge in June 2009, the NMP (Dutch Muslim Party) came out of nowhere, nominated figures that very few people seemed to know (which seems amazing in such a small nation in such a small country!), and was eager to prove itself. Since then and for another nine months, there were no elections. So we will have to wait until March 2010 to see which party will be victorious. In the meanwhile, the Islamic Democrats hold on to their seat on the Hague city council and achieve small bits of success, such as separate swimming hours for women, more space for mosques, more political awareness among Muslims (who still do rarely vote).
It was the Ramadan time, and we as Muslims of the Netherlands wanted to celebrate the Holy Month. Therefore, we planned for a Ramadan Festival, which is mainly a national initiative for Muslims and non-Muslims to get to know each other better. The idea was to have a bus touring around the country to introduce Islam to the society. Our bus was decorated with classic images of Delft Blue pottery, and instead of inviting non-Muslims into your home (or celebrating with the usual friendly lefties, easy-going hippies), the “Ramadan Karavaan” bus visited small towns and villages, known for its Islamophobic tendencies in an attempt to give another positive image of Islam.
In fact, October and November had gone crazy. After the last hiccups of the post-Ramadan blues had disappeared, this little scrawny Muslim kid Nassim Guammaz was being followed by many cameras, as he became the European street skate champion of 2009. With a potty mouth and a sense of style, he first conquered the streets of Spijkeniss, then the rest of the nation and Europe.
Another young talent showed up: Elsa van de Loo, a revert, who was elected as UN people’s representative. She is a hijab-wearing law student with a combined South-American and native Dutch heritage. It was for the plea that Elsa filed under the “right to water” to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that she won nearly 1,100 votes. Now, we are all waiting for her performance in the coming year.
More Politics, More law
It was remarkable what this year has brought us in terms of political participation. Rotterdam now has a Muslim mayor. Amsterdam saw a city council battle that we will probably not see for a long time. And what was even more remarkable and very honorable was that the two main candidates were Muslims of Moroccan descent.
Surprisingly enough, this is the first Muslim-related incident that not only the media, but also the public latch onto. Ahmed Marcouch and Achmed Baadoud are both members of the Social Democrat Party (PVD) but have radically different stands on the role of religion in public life. Baadoud is in favor of a rather more strict separation of not only church and state, but also of religion and state (rather like the French laicité). Marcouch is not afraid to call in the imams, priests, or rabbis only if he believes they can assist in resisting the prevailing extremist behavior. At the end, Marcouch was not chosen, and Baadoud will take over with the beginning of the new year.
Mohammed Faizal Enait, a young Muslim attorney, refused to take off his knitted cap in a Rotterdam court or to stand up as the judge came in. He was slapped with contempt but appealed to a higher court by evoking the right to religious freedom. To everyone’s surprise, he won his appeal and reserved the right to wear religiously motivated headwear or to remain seated. This could have big consequences, as this means that women attorneys wearing hijab can now also argue cases without having to leave their hijab at home.
Unfortunately, in the days following, Enait got into a serious argument with a talk show host and managed to attract all sorts of the wrong attention. As I write this, members of the cabinet are attempting to change the law, obligating attorneys to stand up for the judges. Enait’s victory may last for no long.
With all these accomplishments for Muslims like Elsa, Nassim, Ali, the foundation of the two Muslim parties, the Reverts Day, and the National Islamic Conference, it might look as if the Dutch are maturing, of course, with some causalities. Nonetheless, during the Christmas days and the old ongoing questions on whether Muslims shall or shall not participate in the Christians’ celebrations of the new year.
Prof. Dr. Jamal Badawi recently visited the Netherlands and gave a talk at the Islamic University in Rotterdam. Although his speech addressed mainly the converts, the same could apply for “Muslims by birth,” who often have non-Muslim friends or relatives. “Be courteous,” he said, “and the rest will follow.” “Wish people ‘happy holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’; wait until the wine has left the table, or leave before the wine enters the table. Visit your family and relatives, and be sure that you do that for ‘you,’ your faith, and for ours as well. But family is still blood, friends, and colleagues, deserving of your smiles and kindness.”