Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Understanding Dutch converts to Islam

How do the pathways of Dutch converts to Islam involved in jihadist movements differ from those of Dutch converts who are not, in terms of their life prior to Islam, their conversion experience and the form of involvement with the Islamic community after conversion?

Duration
2017  -   2018
Contact
Bart Schuurman
Funding
Nationaal Coördinator Terrorismebestrijding en Veiligheid (NCTV) Nationaal Coördinator Terrorismebestrijding en Veiligheid (NCTV)
 
International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague (ICCT) International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague (ICCT)
Partners

Fiore Geelhoed & Richard Starting, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Converts to Islam form a minority of the Muslim population in Western countries, yet conversion to Islam can no longer be considered an exceptional phenomenon. Schuurman, Grol and Flower (2016) assert that estimations of the percentage that converts form of the total Muslim population varies greatly per country. These estimated percentages range, for example, from 0.3 to 4.5 percent in Germany and 1.4 percent in Denmark to 23 percent in the United States. In the Netherlands converts are estimated to represent 1.4 to 1.9 percent of the total of approximately one million Dutch Muslims.

Although religious conversion, including conversion to Islam, is obviously not a new topic of study within the sociology and psychology of religion, converts to Islam have attracted increasing research attention in recent years. This increase of attention can especially be witnessed in the field of radicalisation studies due to the apparent overrepresentation of converts to Islam in jihadist movements such as IS. On the basis of open source data, it is estimated that converts make up 6 to 23 percent of the foreign fighters from various Western-European countries and allegedly constitute even up to 40 percent of the known homegrown jihadists in the US. In the Netherlands, it is estimated that 12.9 percent of the 310 Dutch foreign fighters known in 2017 is a convert.

The overrepresentation of converts in jihadist movements, both as foreign fighters and ‘homegrown’ extremists, has raised concerns about converts to Islam as constituting a potential security threat. Various authors have attempted to explain this overrepresentation, yet despite the numerous explanations that have been offered from a micro- to a macro-level, Schuurman, Grol and Flower (2016) call for a better understanding and hence more research on the overrepresentation of converts in Jihadi groups by using primary data.

Apart from raising questions, focusing on converts from the perspective of radicalization has justly raised some critical eyebrows, mainly due to the generalizations and the negative stereotyping that can follow from it. As Bartoszewicz (2013) argues, there is no ‘the convert’, but there are many different converts with diverse perspectives on Islam. Radical converts are only a very small minority within a minority. As a result, she rightly asserts that focusing on converts as a security risk obstructs viewing the possibilities for converts as allies in countering extremism. Similarly, stereotypical images of converts as ‘the other’ can stand in the way of the bridge that converts could form between non-Muslims and Muslims from Muslim families.

While keeping these critical notes in mind, this study aims at increasing our understanding of the different pathways in Islam that converts take by answering the following research question

How do the pathways of Dutch converts to Islam involved in jihadist movements differ from those of Dutch converts who are not, in terms of their life prior to Islam, their conversion experience and the form of involvement with the Islamic community after conversion?

This question will be answered on the basis of semi-structured interviews with a diverse group of Dutch converts. Before elaborating on the research methodology, the next section offers an overview of the terms used and the available research on involvement in jihadist and extremist movements in relation to converts to Islam in Western countries, thereby pointing at the void that this study aims to fill. Thereafter, the focus shifts to the results of this study, after which the conclusions will be presented.

Connection with other research

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