Islam in Nederland en België
Shadid and van Koningsveld are at it again, this time with a full-length comparative treatment of Islam in two countries, the Netherlands and Belgium. For both authors this is well-travelled territory. On numerous occasions during the past 30 years, they have collaborated on comprehensive studies involving Muslims living in the West, as well as occasionally on other religious and cultural minorities. Their expertise is particularly known as it concerns the institutionalization of Islam in Western European society, and several of their previous works have examined the topics covered in the present volume.
Belgium and the Netherlands share much in common: both are small, parliamentary states that play a central role in European Union politics. Both countries are host to similar immigrant populations, with strikingly parallel immigration histories (chiefly to fill vacancies in heavy manufacturing and mining during the 1960s and early 1970s); both have made a number of “accommodations” to their large Muslim populations (e.g., in terms of support for building mosques, training Muslim teachers, and making provisions for Islamic burial sites); and finally, following de-industrialization and several economic crises, both countries have struggled to address the escalating levels of unemployment, school and housing segregation and social exclusion by employing terms like “integration” to shore up the widening chasm between indigenous and non-indigenous groups.
Except for the fact that the northern half of Belgium is Dutch-speaking (ignoring for now the variety of dialects), thus linking it further with its northern neighbor, this is as far as the comparison goes. Belgium’s internal government is vastly more complex, with regional (Brussels, Wallonia and Flanders) and communal (German, Dutch and French) differences, with each level of government assigned to manage different affairs. Meanwhile, governance in the Netherlands is more centralized and its dominant religious influence (except for its southern most provinces) is Calvinist Protestantism in contrast to Belgium’s Catholic hegemony. The Netherlands also hosts more than 40 Islamic primary schools, while Belgium has seen only one established in the past 20 years.
The book is divided into five sections with eight chapters. In the first two chapters Shadid and van Koningsveld discuss the position of Islam in both Belgium and the Netherlands, including the history of immigration, the demographic differences of settlement and ethnic concentration, as well as the official recognition of Islam by the respective governments. This section also contains important summaries of the different religious-political movements, Islamic schools of law, and summaries of various well-known Islamic sects such as the Ismailis, Alevis and the Twelvers.
Section two focuses on the place of mosques and imams, their legal support and status, as well as a discussion of the various Islamic organizations in both countries. In both chapters covered in this section, considerable emphasis is placed on the ethnically segregated mosques and Muslim organizations. The major ethnic groups include Indonesian, Surinamese, Turkish and Moroccan. The differences between the Netherlands and Belgium are striking here, with the Dutch model consisting of various national councils, while in neighboring Belgium there has been an officially recognized head of the Muslim community since 1998 (not unlike that for the Jewish, Eastern Orthodox or Protestant communities). Some of that controversial history, involving the selection and screening of eligible candidates, is also provided.
Chapters five and six consist mainly of the rudiments of Islamic belief and behavior, including summaries of the five pillars, debates over clothing and halal food, and feast days. Nestled in between these elements are several pages discussing the increased attention that has been given to political Islam in the past decade. Several reports have emerged which suggest that Islamic radicalism is on the rise, and that young men are particularly susceptible to recruitment by Islamist organization owing to their pervasive experience with cultural alienation and labor market discrimination: this lack of belonging, of not feeling sufficiently a part of one’s society is widespread in Europe among its (primarily male) Muslim youth. While radicalism represents a tiny minority, this relatively new concern for “integration” has spiked in the aftermath of 9/11, but also several incidents of “home grown” terrorism in Europe. In the Dutch context, worries increased following the murder of Theo van Gogh and death threats directed at Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Chapter seven provides detailed information of family relations. The topics covered here range from (imported) marriage and polygamy, child rearing and divorce, to generation gaps between parents and children, sexuality, adoption and family planning. This section reflects some of the internal contestation within Islam over culture, tradition and degrees of orthodoxy. As their discussion suggests, there continues to be considerable debate among ordinary Muslims over what passes for “Islamic” and what doesn’t, some of this complicated by the fact that many imams continue to receive their training abroad and lack sensitivity to, or prior experience in, the European context. Different answers are yielded by different contexts – both national and local– and also by the different persons involved in this debate.
Finally, chapter eight addresses education. The differences in education law between the two countries are discussed, but the biggest difference in terms of Islamic instruction in schools between the two countries – apart from the sheer number of Dutch Islamic schools – is that Islamic instruction has been widely available in Belgium in its public schools since shortly after the official recognition of Islam in the mid 1970s. The availability of Islamic instruction has also been possible to some degree in Catholic schools in which a majority of students have a Muslim background, often by focusing on stories that the Bible and Koran share in common. Alternatively, there is instructional emphasis on the religious plurality of the Belgian context. These developments help to explain why there have not been increased numbers of Islamic schools in Belgium. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, given the constitutional freedoms to establish schools based on a specific pedagogical philosophy or religious worldview, founding Islamic schools has been the preferred route taken. However, their numbers have leveled off since the late 1990s, and a few schools have been closed down. This book was likely in press at the time that three schools were closed in 2007, at least one of them involving fiscal mismanagement and a scandal over a school “field trip” to Mecca. Given the comprehensiveness of this book, criticisms are hard to come by. Yet notwithstanding the thorough treatment of their subject, readers familiar with the literature on Islam in either country will not find much that is new here. A lot of research from the 1980s and 1990s is repeated and rehashed. Perhaps this is unavoidable for a book whose aim it is to provide an historical overview of the Islamic presence in Belgium and the Netherlands for close to 50 years. And, to be sure, much of the important development occurred prior to 2000. Yet the growing anxieties in Belgium and the Netherlands about its large non-Christian minority, with outspoken proponents of a more restricted immigration policy in both countries (particularly emanating from Vlaams Belang and the Partij voor de Vrijheid), might have received more treatment, and especially the role of the media. Despite these omissions, this book will provide Dutch language users with a reliable resource covering the essentials of Islam in Belgium and the Netherlands.