Salafism in the Netherlands: Nature, Extent and Threat

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Report Summary:

The study, conducted by the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies (IMES, UvA) in collaboration with the Central Bureau for Statistics, involved: 1) fieldwork in the Salafist community in the Netherlands, 2) network analysis of salafist organizations and 3) a survey among Dutch Muslims querying their degree of orthodox Islamic thought.

The study, conducted by the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies (IMES, UvA) in collaboration with the Central Bureau for Statistics, involved: 1) fieldwork in the Salafist community in the Netherlands, 2) network analysis of salafist organizations and 3) a survey among Dutch Muslims querying their degree of orthodox Islamic thought.

The report identifies the following findings:

Salafism from the Inside
-The core of salafist thought aims at a moral revival through strict interpretations of the Koran and Sunna which seeks to free these religious sources from innovation and guides all decisions in daily life. Salafis consider it an obligation to convert people to Islam. Salafism in the Netherlands is not a homogenous collection of thoughts, and is loosely grouped into the following categories:
(a) Pure religious salafis seek an ‘uncorrupted’ religious lifestyle and do not involve themselves in politics.
(b) Political salafis aim to actively improve the situation of Muslims in the Netherlands. Although they consider democracy to be inferior, they participate in the political system for pragmatic reasons. This is the most visible salafist group in Dutch society.
(c) Jihadi salafis consider it a religious duty to fight for Islam by any means necessary. This can include the use of violence.

Network Analysis of Salafi Organizations
-It appears that the managerial salafist elite is isolated from more moderate organizations. At the time of the study, there was a movement at the formal elite level to develop an overarching organizational salafist network.
-13% of Islamic schools in the Netherlands are connected to a salafist organization, a strong overrepresentation given the size of the community.
-Note that political radicalization appears to take place outside of these organizations.
-Salafist organizations might be split into three categories:
(a) Organizations explicitly profiled as salafist, including some mosques.
(b) Organizations strongly influenced by salafist thought, and involved in institutional networks with other salafist organizations, but that do not themselves identify as salafist.
(c) Organizations which invite salafist preachers to lecture or teach.

Orthodoxy Among Turkish- and Moroccan- Dutch Muslims
-Survey respondents were cast into five ‘types’ (devout follower, devout pragmatic, critic, salafi pride, fanatic, and born again) based on their degree of religious practices, societal participation, political integration, connection to salafist organization and radical thought.
-According to the survey, those Muslims whose religious attitude structure resembles salafist thought are relatively older, less educated and have a higher chance of unemployment. 8% of all Dutch Muslims are orthodox; this includes 15% of Moroccan Dutch Muslims and 5% of Turkish Dutch Muslims.
-Sensitivity to radicalism and extremism is higher among orthodox Dutch Muslims. This group’s tolerance towards a multi-religious society is lower, they think that Dutch women have too much freedom, they politically participate less in society and identify less intensely with the Netherlands, and are more likely to see violence as a legitimate means for attaining religious goals.

Further, a research summary provided by the University of Amsterdam notes that “The researchers’ findings refute the argument that orthodox Islam is a political ideology that seeks to undermine Dutch democracy….The researchers conclude that there is no evidence of radicalisation within the salafist community in the Netherlands and that it poses no threat to Dutch democracy. Salafist organisations actually function as a buffer in that they reject violence. Radicalisation in the sense of active willingness to use violence takes place outside of the salafist organisations.”

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