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Islam in the West

Muslims have lived in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe for centuries. Their arrival in Western Europe, the two Americas and Australia is however relatively recent. Studying how Muslims relate to their Western environment (and vice versa) and the mutual influences of Western and Islamic philosophies can bring us a step closer to a truly open and inclusive society.

Action and reaction

How do Muslims try to maintain their identity in Western societies? How much space are they given to do so? What obstacles do they face, and how do they react to them? These action and reaction chains are the focus of the work of Professor Maurits Berger. His research focuses not only on Muslim immigrants in Western countries but also on the influence that Western ideas have on Muslims in the rest of the world.

Guest workers

Contacts between the West and the Muslim world go back centuries, but it is only in the last fifty years that Muslims have really become part of Dutch society. Compared to countries such as Great Britain and the United States, the Netherlands is a relatively young immigration country. The arrival of guest workers from Morocco and Turkey in the 1960s and the subsequent family reunifications meant that Dutch citizens for the first time had to deal with Muslims as their fellow citizens.

Mevlana Moskee te Rotterdam © Ruud Zwart
Mevlana Moskee te Rotterdam © Ruud Zwart

 

Friction

The Netherlands is on paper an open society. Our laws and political system do not make any distinctions on the basis of country of origin or religion. But in daily practice, this ideal is not yet a reality. Not every Dutch person is able to embrace the ethnic, religious and cultural diversity that characterises the Netherlands today. And vice versa, many Muslims struggle with typically Dutch customs. This may lead to discrimination, political resentment and religious radicalisation.

 

Sharia

One of the centres of friction is Sharia. Maurits Berger, who is both an Arabist and a legal expert, studies the interaction between on the one hand the ways in which Muslims in Western countries try to express their Islamic precepts and adjust them to a Western context, and on the other hand the reactions of Western societies to these attempts. This interaction is complex; far from being simply a legal issue, it also touches on identity-building, theology, politics and social relations.

 

Vision for the future

Maurits Berger is worried by what he sees and hears. ‘I notice that second and third-generation Muslims feel that the Dutch state fails to represent them. That double standards are the norm. Clergymen and priests can make inflammatory speeches, but Islamic spiritual leaders are quickly excluded as ‘hate imams’. Anti-Semitism is a very sensitive issue, but Muslims are constantly being insulted. They feel like second-rate citizens. Irrespective of whether this feeling is justified, I think it represents a dangerous development.’

Arabic chocolate letter in Dutch shop © Saskia Tielens