|By Juliane Hammer**
Islam Online, Berlin, Germany
December 29, 2005
The labor immigration brought high numbers of Muslims into the country, but it was terminated in 1974. As in other countries after this termination, the numbers would still increase due to family reunification. Dutch statistics do include references to religion, so the figures are more reliable than in other countries. In the late 1990s, the number of Muslims in the country was approximately 460,000, which makes up for 3% of the Dutch population. There might be more than 4000 Dutch converts to Islam. After realizing that most laborers and their families wouldn’t leave again, a policy of integration was adopted in 1981, but with the right to vote and the right to be elected on a local level. Muslim communities are concentrated in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht.
The Dutch relation to religious groups is defined by the laicist principle of separation between state and church. In history however different churches were closely linked to political parties and trade unions. The religious influence of these churches on politic has been in a state of decline during the last fifteen years.
A high number of Muslim organizations exist in the country, such as the Turkish Islamic Cultural Federation, which is closely linked to the Turkish department of religious affairs. As in Germany, the department provides the imams for the local mosques and is influential for decisions. Other Turkish groups who refuse to work with the department and the Turkish state are the Suleymaniye, Milli Goerues, and some Alawis. These groups work together with their bigger sister groups in Germany, often with the main headquarters in Germany. There is a Union of Moroccan Muslims in the Netherlands, which keeps a low profile and which is responsible for construction of a number of mosques.
The estimated number of existing mosques and prayer houses is approximately 400 spread all over Netherlands. Based on the idea of social justice and also probably in a search for allies in trying to keep religion one of the founding pillars of Dutch society, the churches have been active in different forms of dialogue with the Muslim community. This often includes help with the establishment of mosques and community places. The Netherlands have open as well as confessional schools, and in the late 1980s, it became possible to fund Muslim schools after the model of other congregational schools. A number of these schools exist, as well as some schools run jointly by Christians and Muslims. Most mosques and community centers offer courses for Qur’an learning and Arabic.
Belgium is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic and has adopted a policy of recognition of religious communities. It does not entirely follow the French model of divide between state and church. Besides the Roman Catholic Church, the Reformed Church, The Anglican Church and the Jews are recognized as religious communities, meaning that the community has control over curricula and teachers of religion in the state schools.
In 1969, the Islamic Cultural Center in Brussels was founded, an institution housing a mosque, a library, and information service as well as offices. It was funded by The Muslim World League and Saudi Arabia, and it hosted the European Council of Mosques for several years. It mainly functioned as an intermediary between the Muslim community and the Belgian state, negotiating the needs and interests of the Muslims. On the other hand there was a heavy influence on the Muslim communities exercised by the Turkish and Moroccan governments. Several attempts have been made to found alternative umbrella organizations to challenge the domination from the center as well as the government agencies.
Following long discussions, a law was passed in 1974 providing recognition of Islam as one of the religions in the country. It is the basis of regulations that provide the Muslim communities with money to pay their imams. The implementation has been slow on a local level, caused by the disunity of the Muslims on the one hand and reluctance of Belgian officials on the other. The climate has apparently changed to one less tolerant towards the Muslim community. On top of that, the Islamic Cultural Center lost a lot of its influence due to inner problems of leadership and increasing challenges from other Muslim groups to the effect that the law remains largely unimplemented.
In public as well as free Catholic schools, instruction in Islam is especially provided for Muslim children. The Islamic Cultural Center functions as an official partner in providing teachers and the curricula, and many schools also cooperate with such local mosques and communities
**Juliane Hammer is a freelance writer from Berlin, Germany. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in Islamic Studies at University of Humboldt in Berlin. For feedback, e-mail [email protected]