Islam in Netherlands


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There are almost one million Muslims in the Netherlands, representing 5.8% of the population. Dutch Muslims come primarily from Turkey and Morocco, but there are substantial minorities from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, and former Dutch colony Surinam. Muslims are concentrated in large urban areas, particularly the four largest cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Ulrecht. Below is a table of the ethnic breakdown of the Muslim population in the Netherlands1:

Educational Achievement using the International

Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), The Netherlands


Labor Market

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Unemployment among Moroccan and Turkish communities in the Netherlands is higher than the national average: Compared to a 9% unemployment rate of native Dutch, 27% of Moroccans and 21% of Turks are unemployed2. Unemployment among immigrants has doubled since the Netherlands experienced a recession in 2002.3

In 2004, lower than one-half of non-Western immigrants had a salaried job, compared to 67% of native Dutch. One-half of Turks are salaried compared to only one-third of Moroccans. Turks are more likely to be self-employed than Moroccans and are generally more successful in the labor market.4

Compared to native Dutch, Turks and Moroccans are overrepresented in elementary or lower level jobs, and underrepresented in medium-, higher-level and scholarly jobs. Moroccans lag slightly behind Turks in professional statistics, although both groups are becoming more active in middle-level jobs and a middle class is beginning to develop.5

Twenty-five percent of non-Western immigrants between 15 and 65 receive social welfare. The elderly are especially economically vulnerable. Compared to 11% of native Dutch elderly who have a low income, 67% of Turkish elderly and 86% of Moroccan elderly have a low income.6

The average annual income for Native Dutch households is €20,000, compared to €13,000 for Moroccan households and €13,600 for Turkish households.7

According to a 2005 report by the Social and Cultural Planning Bureau, there are indications of direct and indirect discrimination against Muslims in the labor market.8 Direct discrimination is intention-based, whereas indirect discrimination includes rules, procedures, and reward systems that result in disparate impact on different groups. In hiring especially, employees may discriminate directly based on an applicant’s cultural background;9 at a systemic level, hiring protocols generally leave room for employees to select candidates based on normative qualities in the attitude and personality of the candidate. These normative criteria can be disadvantageous for non-Western immigrants. Also, research conducted by the International Labour Organization10 found that the non-Western immigrants experience more discrimination in the Netherlands than in any neighboring country. Non-Western immigrants tend to look for work within networks of friends or family.11


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Educational attainment levels are growing at a faster rate among non-Western immigrants than among native Dutch, but with 10% of these immigrants having finished higher education or university education, these numbers are still behind native Dutch.12

Linguistic achievements of Turkish pupils in the final year of primary school are 2.5 years behind native Dutch peers. Moroccans are two years behind. Moroccans and Turks are underrepresented in advanced types of secondary education. Moroccan and Turkish youth have twice the high school dropout rate of native Dutch.13

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s (EUMC) Analytical Report on Education found that discrimination within the education system does exist. Complaints concerning dress codes and the hijab constitute of significant problem.14

The OECD collects data on education from various statistical agencies within the country, the majority of which comes from census data from the year 2000. The OECD classifies educational achievement using the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED): ISCED 0/1/2: Less than upper secondary; ISCED 3/4: Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary; ISCED 5A: “Academic” tertiary; ISCED 5B: “Vocational” tertiary; ISCED 6: Advanced research programs. 0-2 are considered low, 3-4 as medium, and 5 and above are considered high. This data is not reported by religion, but does have country of origin as reported by the respondent. It is thus possible to construct an approximate picture of the educational achievement of the population in the country with ancestry from predominately Muslim countries. One significant problem is that some countries, such as India and Nigeria, have large Muslim populations but the immigrant population cannot be readily classified as predominately Muslim or non-Muslim. As such, the educational data is split by predominately Muslim origin, predominately non-Muslim origin, and a separate category for those whom classification would not seem justified. Proportions are for all reported data, individuals with no reported ancestry or education are excluded.15

Educational Achievement using the International

Standard Classification of Education (ISCED)


State and Church

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In 1983, the formal ties between the state and religious groups were severed and a law governing these ties was abolished. Since then, relations have been based on the constitutional principles of freedom of religion, non-discrimination, and equal treatment. No formal recognition of a religious community is required for such protection. In the Netherlands, the state does recognize certain groups and provide them with state resources for education, broadcasting, and spiritual care in prisons and in the army. There is generally no difficulty in qualifying for this status, and Islam has been granted these privileges.16 Existing regulations and laws have been applied to Muslims and, if necessary, adapted to their needs.

Muslims in the Government

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Muslims maintain a presence in Dutch politics as Muslim parties running candidates in local elections and as parliamentarians sitting in the national government. The most visible Muslims involved in the Dutch government in the past decade have been Ahmed Aboutaleb, elected mayor of Rotterdam in 2008, and Ayan Hirsi Ali, the parliamentarian whose controversial exit from parliament in 2006 was widely covered in international media.

Muslims in National Parliament
Prior to the most recent federal elections in 2010, the Public Political Institute (IPP) following the most recent national elections revealed that the number of parliamentarians who are immigrants to the Netherlands has risen to 10.7%, up from 8% in 2006. “17
There are now 6 MPs of Turkish origin and 5 of Moroccan origin, the study reveals, with a total of 16 seats going to allocthonen Dutch. Four MPs of Turkish origin are incumbents: Coskun Coruz (CDA), Khadija Arib (PvDA), Tofik Dibi (GL) and Sadet Karabulut(SP).18 Two cabinet members in the previous government, out of a total of 13 cabinet ministers, had Muslim backgrounds: Nebahat Albayrak was Secretary State of Justice, and Ahmed Aboutaleb was State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment.

Following the June 2010 national elections, 5% of the parliament are practicing Muslims, an accurate reflection of the proportion of Muslims in Dutch society as a whole.19 MPs identifying as Muslim are not necessarily affiliated with Islamic parties. Ahmed Marcouch, who came to the Netherlands as a 10 year old boy, was elected to the parliament after working actively in Amsterdam local politics in the neighbourhood of Slotervaart, known for its high proportion of Muslims. In May 2011 Marcouch was awarded a prize for his work to promote gay rights in the Moroccon Muslim community in the Netherlands. Other national parliamentarians include Tofik Dibi, whose parents emigrated to the Netherlands from Morocco, has been an MP for the Green Left since 2006, and Coskun Coruz was born in Turkey and moved to the Netherlands at the age of six, and now sits as an MP for the Christian Democrats. 20

Local Islamic Parties
Two political parties in the Netherlands currently seek to represent Muslims in municipalities, though neither won a seat in the most recent elections.

The Netherlands Muslim Party (NMP) ran the most candidates in the March local elections, with candidates in the Hague, Rotterdam, Noordoostpolder, Almere, Woerden, Alkmaar and Tilburg. However, it did not succeed in winning any seats. The NMP was founded in 2007 by Henny Kreeft, a convert of Dutch background; men and women of both Dutch and non-Dutch ethnicity participate in the board. The party has yet to occupy seats in the Parliament. Currently, the NMP endorses the separation of church and state and Kreeft emphasizes that it does not support the establishment of “a Muslim republic” in the Netherlands.21

The party’s vision statement 27 emphasizes its commitment to democracy and consultation (shura (Arabic) or overleg (Dutch)), and stresses that it has no intention of changing or installing new legal systems (Article 1.1). The party seeks a “moderate middle road for which Islamic values and norms will be an important source of inspiration for political action, but expressly embraces democracy and rejects the blind application of shari’a law” (Article 1.2). The party platform advocates freedom of religion and religious expression, and sees youth as a particularly important target for political investment. The NMP outlines a position assuming equality between men and women, which extends into party membership and participation (3.1). In regards to homosexuality, the party does not condemn homosexuals but takes a position against gay marriage (Article 3.2). The platform also expressly outlines a position on euthanasia and abortion, both of which are legalized in the Netherlands. Working from the position against the taking of a life, the party in most cases is against euthanasia, and similarly abortion, although it except cases of rape and potential maternal mortality (3.3).22

A second party, the Islamic Democrats (ID), occupied one seat in the local municipal council following elections in 2006. The party representative was A. Khoulani, of Moroccan-Dutch descent ran a candidate in the Hague. The party’s run in the Hague in 2010 elections was unsuccessful. Although the party initially planned to post candidates in other municipalities, these plans were put on hold as a result of internal conflicts in the party. To date, the two Muslim parties have not attempted to merge into a single party, and neither ran candidates in the June 2010 national elections.23

Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam

October 2008 marked an important development for Muslims in the Dutch government. Moroccan-born Muslim politician Ahmed Aboutaleb was elected Mayor of Rotterdam, a position he maintains today. The event has been hailed in media and political circles as a significant historical turning point for the Netherlands, a country still somewhat mired in the grips of the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant backlash prompted by the murder of Submission filmmaker Theo Van Gogh.16 Aboutaleb, the Labour Party member and 2007 State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment of the IV Balkenende government, began serving his term on January 1, 2009. He currently possesses dual Dutch-Moroccan citizenship.
Rotterdam is one of the first major European cities to appoint a Muslim immigrant as its mayor,17 and the first foreign-born Labour Party politician.24
Born in Beni Sedi, Morocco, Aboutaleb grew up in a small village as a son of an imam. Together with his mother and brothers, he moved to the Netherlands at age 14 where he went on to study telecommunications in college. After graduation, Aboutaleb worked in television and radio, and then moved into communications for Ministry of Welfare, Health, and Cultural Affairs.25 He went on to serve as head of information at the Social and Economic Council (SER) and manager of the Communications and Publications sector at Statistics Netherlands (CBS). He directed the FORUM Institute for Multicultural Development as well as the Social, Economic, and Cultural Development Sector of the municipality of Amsterdam.
Aboutaleb served as alderman (council member next in status to Mayor) for Work and Income, Education, Youth, Diversity and Urban Policy in Amsterdam, has served on Education boards, and helped develop and implement the Dutch coalition for Peace in the Middle East. He also served on the Board of a multicultural studies center at the University of Tilburg.26
Aboutaleb’s appointment met with criticism from right-wing Dutch political parties Leefbar Rotterdam and Party for Freedom. Geert Wilders stated publicly that “appointing a Moroccan as mayor of the second largest Dutch city is just as ridiculous as appointing a Dutchman as mayor of Mecca. Instead, he should become mayor of Rabat in Morocco. With him as mayor, Rotterdam will be Rabat on the banks of the river Maas. Soon we may even have an imam serving as arch bishop. This is madness.”27

Aboutaleb’s Labour Party colleagues such as Rob Oudkerk and some Dutch media members, however, support his appointment. Dutch newspaper The Daily Trouw claims the appointment represents integration progress for the Netherlands: “The city which six years ago under the leadership of Pim Fortuyn rose up in revolt against the country’s immigration policy will now have a Moroccan-Dutch mayor. The decision of Rotterdam’s city council in favour of Ahmed Aboutaleb could not have been more spectacular. Naturally, a candidate for the post of mayor should always be judged first and foremost by his leadership qualities, but this decision has a much more far-reaching significance on a par with [Barack] Obama being elected President of the United States. It propels the national debate about integration a huge step forwards.”28

Ayan Hirsi Ali, former Member of Parliament
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s political life is of particular significance to Muslims in the Netherlands because of a political scandal regarding her immigration to the Netherlands. Hirsi Ali was elected to Parliament as a VVD candidate in 2002. In May 2006, the television program Zembla23 reported that Hirsi Ali had presented false information on her application for asylum. On May 16, 2006, she resigned from Parliament under the assumption that her citizenship would be revoked by Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk (The Minister later announced that Hirsi Ali could keep her citizenship). Hirsi Ali’s party, D66, demanded Hirsi Ali’s resignation and threatened to walk out. When Minister Verdonk survived a no-confidence vote by Parliament and showed no indication of resigning, D66 pulled out of the three-party coalition, causing the government under Prime Minister Balkenende to collapse.29

Political Participation

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Statistical data from Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Ulrecht and Arnhem (1994 and 1998), and from Amsterdam and Rotterdam (2002) reveal that the Turkish turnout in local elections is higher than that of Moroccans and equal to or greater than that of native Dutch.30 Sixty percent of Turks have more confidence in political institutions, compared with 40% of the Moroccan population.31 Turks vote overwhelming (90%) for candidates of Turkish backgrounds. This is much less true for Moroccans who only vote for Moroccan candidates half the time.32 Otherwise, the overwhelming majority of Turks and Moroccans vote Labour.33

In the 1960s and 1970s, Muslims in the Netherlands led a “concealed” existence, due largely to the fact that most Muslims were guest workers. Political participation was undertaken to establish institutions that would enable them to practice their faith, but contact with the government was limited to practical problems. In the 1980s, mosque organizations proved effective mobilizers of political support and became influential advocates of immigrant populations.34 Now, Muslims interact via Islamic umbrella organizations. The Dutch model for relations with religious bodies was forged during encounters with mostly Christian and other religious groups. These religious groups have had representative organizations with amenable spokesmen. This model requires that Muslims in the Netherlands form a coherent community, which presents the diverse and fractured Muslim community with the challenge of presenting a unified position in negotiations with the government to make their actions politically legitimate.35 This model, in which mosques and umbrella organizations which are effectively coalitions of mosques, does not provide many opportunities for political leverage for Muslim-identified Dutch who are not affiliated with a mosque.

Muslim Organizations

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The Moroccan and Turkish governments exercise substantial control over religious matters in the Netherlands through an official Turkish organization and a network of Moroccan social organizations.36 Since the November 2, 2004 murder of controversial filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, there has been an attempt to remedy this with the creation of a union of Dutch imams to negotiate important issues with the state.

Two organizations have been officially recognized by the state according the European Parliament’s (EP) study on “Islam in the European Union: What’s at Stake in the Future”: CMO (Contactorgaan Moslems en de Overheid) was officially recognized as a consultation partner by the government on November 1, 2004 and CGI (Contact Groep Islam) was recognized on January 13, 2005 (Netherlands Justice Ministry; EP143). CMO has a following of over 500,000 mainly Sunni members, including the four main Turkish organizations (Milli Gorus, Diyanet), the Union of Moroccan mosques and the Surinam World Islamic Mission.37 When the CMO was established, it served as an umbrella organization for these six national mosque federations; it aims to present a common standpoint on issues related to integration. Shiite’s, however, were excluded from the set-up phase, as were other non-Sunni groups who established the CGI.38 CGI has a following of 115,000 members39 with Alevite, Lahore Ahmadiya, Sunni, and Shia backgrounds.40 Both receive public funding and hold meetings regularly with government officials on concerning the integration of Muslims in Dutch society.41 They do not always agree on issues of policy.

In May 2007, Dutch ex-Muslim united under a new organization in Amsterdam, called the Central Committee for Ex-Muslims. City council member Ehsan Jami (PvdA) and Afshin Ellian, a well-known professor in international law and philosophy are involved. The committee is committed to helping other so-called Muslim “apostates,” and will address issues like domestic violence and women’s rights.42

Islamic Education

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There are 37 Islamic primary schools and one secondary school in Rotterdam that started in August 2000, which are recognized and financed by the state. The courses offered must follow a national curriculum that fills most of the available time, while a few hours per week are allotted to week religious lessons and ceremonies.

Under the 1984 Dutch Education Act, parents have the right to obtain religious education for their children in public schools, but they must find and pay the teacher. . Muslim parents use this legal opportunity only in exceptional cases. Some municipalities (like Rotterdam), however, subsidize this activity. School authorities retain the authority to choose which language courses are taught in, which has limited the development of Islamic religious instruction.43

Governments of Turkey and Morocco (to a lesser degree) are influential partners in Islamic education institutions in the Netherlands. Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs has appointed imams to the 140 Turkish mosques in the Netherlands.44 To counteract what the government fears is a barrier to integration, Dutch officials require all imams and other religious leaders to complete a year-long integration course before they are allowed to practice in the Netherlands. The state also subsidizes education for local citizens who desire to become imams. Other educational partnerships are developing such as the founding of an Islamic institute in February 2005 by a coalition of Muslim organizations in partnership with individual university programs. Since September 2005, there is also master’s course for Islamic spiritual caregivers at the Free University in Amsterdam. The Amsterdam program will train imams in Dutch culture and Christianity.45

For higher education, there is the privately-funded Islamic University of Rotterdam (IUR) and an Islamic University of Europe in Schiedam as well as some smaller training institutes. There is also a four-year training program in the Education Faculty of Amsterdam to train teachers for secondary schools.

Islamic Practice

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There are at least 400-500 Muslim places of worship in the Netherlands, with traditional mosques being built in the major cities. Of these, nearly half are primarily Turkish and some 90 are primarily Moroccan. Although there have been reports of obstruction by local officials, mosque building has continued without substantial barriers.

Dutch law allows for traditional Islamic burial rites and public cemeteries typically offer special sections for Muslims. Although there has been some protest by animal rights groups, there have not been any legal barriers to halal slaughter, which is disciplined by a 1996 law.46

There are no laws banning headscarves and cases before the Equal Rights Committee have generally been resolved in students’ favor. In some cities, including Amsterdam, attending classes with a veiled face is not allowed. In 1998, the National Committee of Equal Treatment ruled on a case about teachers wearing a headscarf. The Committee found that the hijab was not a threat to the “open “ and “tolerant” attitudes required by Dutch laws on public education. Only safety reasons or reasons of functionality could provide legitimate ground for prohibition. In late 2005, the Parliament passed a resolution urging the government to ban the wearing of burqas.47 In March 2007, the fourth coalition government of Prime Minister Balkenende’s decided not to enact the ban.48

Security, Anti-Terrorism and Immigration Issues

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The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon (September 2001), the terrorist attacks in Madrid (2004), the assassination of Theo van Gogh (November 2004), and the bombings in London (2005) have led to a proliferation of plans for anti-terrorism measures in the Netherlands. After 9/11, the government presented an Action Plan to Fight Terrorism and Security (Actiplan Terrorismebestrijding en Veiligheid) and in 2004 a national anti-terrorism coordinator position was created.49 The government has spent considerable effort creating initiatives to prevent further radicalization that involves community building, strengthening individuals’ attachments to civil society, and adequate capacity for interventions against radicals.50

Immigration policy practices in the 1960s and 1970s accommodated Muslim immigrants who were guest-workers in the Netherlands. In the 1970s, immigrants began settling more permanently in the Netherlands and subsequently the 1980s saw an increase in family reunification and marriage migration.51

Since the mid-1990s, there have been efforts to make Dutch immigration policies more restrictive. This transformation has happened in three respects: first, an ‘asylum-seekers crisis’ in the mid-1990s was caused by a great influx of asylum applicants. The asylum application process was reformed in the Aliens Act of 2000. As a consquence, the number of asylum requests has decreased significantly. The Netherlands now receives only 25% the number of asylum applications it did in the late-1990s.

Second, general immigration requirements have been tightened, especially in relation to family reunification and marriage migration.52 This has coincided with a doctrinal shift in immigration attitudes toward cultural assimilation-in other words, toward policies which encourage immigrants to embrace Dutch culture. The Integration of Newcomers Act (WIN) of 1998 required all new immigrants to take a civic integration course. As of March 15, 2006, the application process was enhanced to include an examination to evaluate immigrants’ Dutch language comprehension. The test also gauges immigrants’ familiarity with Dutch culture and includes film footage of gay men kissing and of a bare-breasted women coming out of the sea. The goal of this film, according to then Justice Minister Rita Verdonk, is to inform newcomers about what they can expect when coming to the Netherlands and serves to emphasize how Dutch values as “a free society” might conflict with “the values of immigrants.”53

Third, there have been a number of proposals to create more possibilities to expel from the Netherlands non-nationals who have committed criminal acts. These proposals have come from prominent politicians such as Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner (December 2003) and Minister of Immigration and Integration, Rita Verdonk (April 2005).54

Bias and Discrimination

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In February 2008, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) released a new and third report on the Netherlands. While the report does not include statistical or numerical data on several key issues, it nevertheless reports on both setbacks and progress made since the second report on the Netherlands, released in 2000. The newest release applauds the development of international instruments relevant to combating racism and racial discrimination in the Netherlands. Anti-discrimination bureaus established to protect victims of racism and discrimination against immigrants and monitor these kinds of offenses are cited as steps in the positive direction. In addition, attention given to the disadvantaged position of members of ethnic minorities in the labor market is cited as encouraging in the report.

However, a number of recommendations made in the ECRI’s second report have not been met. This is due partly as a consequence of several “national and international events, the tone of Dutch political and public debate around integration and other issues relevant to ethnic minorities has experienced a dramatic deterioration” resulting in polarization between majority and minority communities. Muslim, and notably the Moroccan and Turkish communities have been particularly affected by these developments, which have resulted in a substantial increase of Islamophobia in both the political arena and in other contexts.

The current negative climate around Muslims in the Netherlands is closely connected to security concerns posed by terrorism, and racism and violence have particularly exacerbated after the September 11th, 2001 attacks in the United States and the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. Examples of the rise in Islamophobia are evident from the increase in racial profiling, job discrimination, to inequity in financial services. The ECRI reports that since the second report, there has been a rise in complaints concerning discrimination and the applying for mortgages and “redlining” practices (refusing mortgages to applicants living in certain areas and neighborhoods). From events in global politics in recent years, Dutch politicians have subsequently not hesitated to resort to stereotyping, stigmatizing, and racist attacks against ethnic minorities part of the Muslim community in the country. The ECRI reports that this type of discourse has portrayed Muslims as invading the country and posing a major threat to the country’s security and identity, and Islam has also been portrayed as a violent religion in itself.

In this third report, the ECRI recommends that Dutch authorities take further action in a number of issues. It recommends in particular that Dutch authorities promote a public debate on integration, addressing such topics as polarization and antagonism among some communities of ethnic minorities. Addressing racist and xenophobic discourse in politics, denouncement and countering of Islamophobia, and taking measures to redress disadvantage and discrimination experienced by ethnic minority groups in employment and racial profiling are suggested issues of needed attention.

Public Perceptions of Islam

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Recurrent issues such as the wearing of the hijab, emancipation of women, respect and tolerance for homosexuals, freedom of speech and criticism of Islam, the role of Imams and the functioning of Islamic schools have caused the debate about Islam and the integration of immigrants to sharpen. Terrorist attacks by Muslims in the US, Madrid, and London, and the murder of Theo Van Gogh have had a negative impact on public perceptions of Islam, but this fear of Islam had already been steadily growing in the Netherlands.55

Since the 1990s, a significant group of native Dutch has had a negative opinion about immigrants. Half of the population feels there are too many Muslims and do not want immigrant neighbors.56 Regard for Dutch multi-ethnic society has become increasingly negative, and Muslims are singled out. Three-quarters of Dutch would be unhappy with their child choosing an immigrant partner.

A June 2004 opinion poll revealed that 68 percent of respondents felt threatened by “immigrant or Muslim young people,” 53% feared a terrorist attack by Muslims in the Netherlands, and 47 percent feared that eventually, the Netherlands would be ruled by Islamic law.57 The fact the Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Dutch Muslim who became a radical in the Netherlands had a significant impact on native Dutch perceptions of Muslim youth and their religiosity.

Another significant change in public opinion is reflected in attitudes towards mosques. In the early 1990s, mosques were seen as “enrichments to the urban landscape” and “symbols of emancipation and of recognition.”58 In the 20th century, mosques in traditional style are now said to be “unimaginative,” “ugly,” and “cheap imitations.” They indicate that Muslims in the Netherlands do not cre about their new societal environment and simply build “nostalgia mosques” which serve as reminders of “countries of origin.”59

Van Gogh’s murder accelerated the rise of explicitly anti-Muslim politics, reflecting skepticism toward the ability to integrate Muslims into the society and critiquing Dutch ideals of cultural diversity. A parliamentary report determined that “multiethnic society had been a dismal failure, huge ethnic ghettos and subcultures were tearing the country apart and the risk of polarization could only be countered by Muslims effectively becoming Dutch.”60 The publication in 2000 of an essay by Paul Scheffer entitled “The Multicultural Tragedy” also had a huge impact on Dutch public opinion regarding the multicultural approach that had been a point of pride in previous decades. This essay, which identified socio-economic, geographical and cultural segregation, lifted the taboo on critiquing Dutch multiculturalism.61

Media Coverage

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Since the 1980s, media coverage on Islam has jumped from incident to incident: the Iranian Revolution, the “Rushdie-Affair,” the canceling of a December 2000 opera performance of {Aisha and the Women of Medina} because it was considered offensive. In May 2001, the television program NOVA broadcast an interview with Moroccan imam Mr. El Moumni, who criticized homosexuality as a “contagious disease” and made other offensive critiques of European lifestyles, leading to the “El Moumni affair.”62 The events of 9/11, bombings in London and Madrid, the van Gogh murder, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s controversy have all received heavy media coverage. Hirsi Ali is a Somalia-born Dutch politician and writer (as of July 2007, she works for a conservative think tank in Washington, DC), who received attention for her critique of Islam as a misogynistic and backward religion and was the center of a political controversy regarding the integrity of her citizenship application.

In spite of this sensational coverage, Uitermark and Hajer, in a study of public debate in national newspapers surrounding the van Gogh murder, conclude that “after an initial period of moral confusion and a search for new meaning-giving narratives, there was a marked rise in the appreciation of several structural problems that face migrants in the Netherlands.”63

Intellectual and Political Discourse

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Such anti-Islam sentiment is the product of an evolving discourse in the Netherlands about immigrants and multiculturalism. In the 1980s and even through the 1990s, the government made steps to help Muslims catch-up to more established religious groups in the Netherlands and were generally supportive.64 In the 1990s, immigrant incorporation policies were redirected toward cultural assimilation. By the mid-1990s, “good citizenship” and “civic integration” became key political concepts. Paul Scheffer’s essay, “The Multicultural Tragedy” critiqued the Dutch multicultural model for being based on naïve and ineffective measures.65 Openly-gay Pim Fortuyn’s vocal and heavily publicized critiques of Islam lifted the taboo on Islam and helped shaped the increasingly prominent concept that liberal Western values are in opposition to Islamic values. This dichotomy still dominates intellectual and political discourse.

An issue has arisen with Muslim attitudes towards homosexuality. Traditionally, the Netherlands has been extremely tolerant of gays, and was the first country to legalize gay marriage. With an influx of a number of more conservative Muslims, there have been concerns that this tolerance was under threat. This provided some of the political capital of Pim Fortuyn, an openly gay anti-immigrant politician, who was assassinated during a successful campaign (although not by a Muslim).

Prior to his murder, Theo Van Gogh turned a high profile lens on the issue of the treatment of women in traditional Islamic society. His film Submission told the story of a Muslim woman forced into an arranged marriage in which she is seriously abused. The film was made with the help of Hirsi Ali, a liberal Dutch-Somalian politician who escaped from an arranged marriage herself. Particularly controversial in the film were scenes of a semi-naked woman with marks from beating and verses from the Qu’ran inscribed upon her body.

Before the controversy surrounding Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s political life and asylum application, Hirsi Ali was a prominent figure because of her criticisms of Islam. Her critiques focus largely on Islam as a misogynistic and violent religion. She has published two books so far (Infidel, 2007 and The Caged Virgin, 2006. She believes that the 21st century has begun with a battle between the values of Islam and the West.66

Most intellectual discourse about Islam has tended to be quite critical of Islam. Right-wing politician Geert Wilders, politicians Marco Pastor, Joost Eerdmans, and Hilbrand Nawijn, philosophy professor Herman Philipse, Iranian refugee, law professor and NRC Handelsblad columnist Afshin Ekkuab, and Ethics professor Paul Cliteur have all been prominent critiques of Islam as a threat to secularism.

Discourse of citizenship for Moroccan-Dutch persons sparked criticism of a new Moroccan law, passed in March 2009. For many years, Moroccan law stipulated that children born to a Moroccan father are automatically Moroccan nationals. Under the new law, legislation is being tightened further, now calling for children of a Moroccan mother – and the father of a different nationality – to also automatically obtain Moroccan citizenship. Local authorities in the Netherlands are obeying the new law from Rabat. In accordance with Morocco’s wishes, Dutch municipalities register children of at least one Moroccan parent as Moroccan. Such cooperation is drawing criticism from a number of Dutch politicians, including conservative MP Paul de Krom, who has called the move “bizarre and shocking that the Dutch government is pro-actively cooperating with the territorial inclinations of another country, even when parents have not requested it themselves.” Dual nationality is not usually permitted in the Netherlands, but Moroccan citizens are among those exempted from this rule, as Morocco does not allow for its citizens to renounce their Moroccan nationality.67

Recent Legislation on Islam

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In 2006, the Dutch cabinet backed a proposal by the country’s immigration minister Rita Verdonk to ban Muslim women from wearing the burqa in public places. The burqa, a full body covering that also obscures the face, would be banned by law in the street, and in trains, schools, buses and the law courts. The cabinet said burqas disturb public order, citizens and safety. The new government decided in March 2007 not to support the ban, on account of the fact that only an estimated 150 women in the Netherlands wore the burqa and that it would be stigmatizing and counterproductive.68

There has been a shift in the tone of the government since the installation of Prime Minister Balkenende’s fourth coalition government on February 22, 2007. Prime Minister Balkenende appointed two minority Cabinet members: Nebahat Albayrak (Turkish) became State Secretary of Justice and Ahmed Aboutaleb (Moroccan) was appointed to State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment.

In December 2006, VVD Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk was in the middle of a political controversy related to the deportation of rejected asylum seekers. On December 12, Parliament (in a motion supported by all the left-wing and centre-left parties) requested that Minister Verdonk halt the deportation of approximately 26,000 individuals until a new cabinet had been formed. She refused. She also did not respond to a second demand to halt deportation for 24 hours until the issue could be discussed further in Parliament, causing Parliament to demand an official statement from Prime Minister Balkenende’s cabinet.69 Prime Minister Balkenende stated his support of Minister Verdonk at which time Parliament accepted a motion of no-confidence. Before the vote occurred, a representative of the VVD party said they would pull all their ministers from the cabinet if Verdonk resigned. To avoid a collapse of the government, the cabinet met for ten hours and decided that Verdonk’s immigration responsibilities would be assumed by Hirsch Ballin, the Justice Minister.70 Minister Ballin executed the December 12 motion by the PvdA in Parliament to postpone deportation.71

Verdonk had been a prominent minister. She was nicknamed “Iron Rita” and had a reputation for toughness, outspokenness, and uncompromising immigration policy.72 She was also a central character in the summer 2006 controversy surrounding the deportation of homosexual Iranian asylum-seekers back to Iran. She claimed they would not face persecution so long as they were discreet. In 2006, the government declared Iranian homosexuals a “special group” facing persecution at home and deserving of asylum.73

In his fourth cabinet, Prime Minister Balkenende assigned Turkish Minister Nebahat Albayrak over immigration policy. In May 2007, the center-left government announced that it would grant amnesty to approximately 30,000 failed asylum-seekers, indicating a break from the get-tough policies of Minister Verdonk. This decision also involved appropriating $74 million to municipalities to help subsidize housing and integration courses.74

In June 2007, Albayrak announced plans to modify immigration restrictions in order to bring more skilled laborers to the Netherlands. To meet Dutch requirements as a highly skilled immigrant, an applicant must have a job offer with a minimum salary dependent on the immigrant’s age. In 2007, the minimum annual income for those under 30 years of age was €34,130; the wage minimum for those over 30 years of age was €46,541. The government plans to fast-track the application process for these highly-skilled migrants.75


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Dagevos J. Werkloosheid en uitkeringsafhankelijkheid. In Rapportage Minderheden. Eds. J. Dagevos. M. Gijsberts & C. van Praag. The Hague: SCP, 2003: 201-230.

Dittrich, M. “Muslims in Europe: Addressing the challenges of radicalization.” EPC Working Paper 23 (March 2006).

Dowes, D., M. de Koning and W. Boender. Nederlandse moslims. Van migrant tot burger (Dutch Muslims. From Migrant to Citizen). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press/Salomé, 2005.

European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. Muslims in the EU: Discrimination and Islamophobia. 2006.

European Parliament, Policy Department Structural and Cohesion Policies. Islam in the European Union: What’s at Stake in the Future? May 2007: 143-146.

Integration of Migrants through Volunteering (INVOLVE). “Country Report the Netherlands” 2007. European Commission in the framework of the INTI programme. Available online:]. Accessed 20 July 2007.

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF). Intolerance and

Discrimination against Muslims in the EU. Developments since September 11. Vienna: IHF, 2005.

Maussen, M. “The Netherlands: Anti-Muslim Sentiments and Mobiliation in the Netherlands. Discourse, policies and violence.” In Muslims in Western Europe after 9/11: Why the term Islamophobia is more a Predicament than a Solution. Ed. Jocelyne Cesari. Securitization and Religious Divides in Europe. GSRL-Paris and Harvard University. 1 June 2006: 100-142.

NIS News. “Dutch Authorities Enforce New Moroccan Law.” EPC Working Paper 23 (March 31, 2009). Available online:

Open Society Institute, European Union Monitoring and Advocacy Program. Muslims in the EU. Cities Report. The Netherlands, 2007. Available online:].

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Where Immigrant Students Succeed – A Comparative Review of Performance and Engagement in PISA 2003 15 May 2006. Available online:,3343,en_33873108_33873626_36703111_1_1_1_1,00.html#B#] Accessed 28 July 2007.

Phalet, K., and J. ter Wal., eds. Moslim in Nederland (Muslim in the Netherlands). Five volumes. The Hague: SCP, 2004.

Schriemer, R. Analytical Report on Education. National Focal Point for the Netherlands. European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), 2004.

Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau (SCP). Hoge (jeugd)werkloosheid onder etnische minderheden. Nieuwe bevindingen uit het LAS-onderzoek (High Youth Unemployment among Ethnic Minorities. New Findings from the LAS Study). The Hague (2006).

Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau (SCP). Jaarrapport Integratie (Integration Annual Report). The Hague (2005).

Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau (SCP). Uit elkaars buurt. De invloed van etnische concentratie op integratie en

beeldvorming (Out of Each Other’s Neighbourhood. The Influence of Ethnic Concentration on Integration and Formation). The Hague (2005).

Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau (SCP). Gezondheid en welzijn van allochtone ouderen (The Health and Wellbeing of Elderly “Non-Natives”). The Hague (2004).

Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau (SCP). In het zicht van de toekomst: Sociaal en Cultureel Rapport 2004 (In View of the Future: Social and Cultural Report 2004). The Hague (2004).

Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal. “Members of Parliament” Page. Available online: Accessed 31 July 2007.

“Third report on the Netherlands,” European Commission against Racism and Intolerance 12 February, 2008. Full report available online:


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CDA Christian-Democratic Appeal (Christen-Democratisch Appel) Party

D66 Democrats ’66 (Democraten ‘66)

EUMAP European Union Monitoring and Advocacy Program

EUMC European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia

GL Green Left Party (Groen Links)

OSI Open Society Institute

PvdA Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid)

SP Socialist Party (Socialistische Partij)


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  1. Source: Douwes (2005:27); also Phalet and Ter Wal (eds) (2004), cited. in OSI 11 

  2. SCP, 2006 “The Netherland’s Social and Cultural Planning Office (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau, SCP) is a Government agency that conducts research into the social aspects of all areas of Government policy. The main fields studied are health, welfare, social security, the labour market and education, with a particular focus on the interfaces between them. The SCP’s reports are widely used by the Government, civil servants, local authorities and academics. Further information is available on the SCP website at:” (Footnote 11; in ISO 11.)  

  3. SCP 2006; qtd. in Open Society Institute 22. 

  4. SCP, 2005; qtd. in OSI 22. 

  5. SCP 2005; OSI 22 

  6. SCP 2003; OSI 22. 

  7. SCP 2005; OSI 22. 

  8. SCP 2005, OSI 23. 

  9. Houtzager & Rodriguez, 2002 

  10. Zegers de Beijl et al, 2000; qtd. in OSI 23. 

  11. Houtzager and Rodriguez, 2002; qtd. in OSI 23. 

  12. SCP, 2005; OSI 18. 

  13. SCP, 2005; OSI 18. 

  14. Schriemer, 2004; qtd. in OSI 19. 

  15. OECD, 2003. 

  16. US State Dept., 2004. 

  17. Meer Allochtonen en Vrouwen in de Tweede Kamer” Press Release, Instituut voor Publiek en Politiek. June 16 2010.  

  18. Dutch House of Representatives, List of Members of Parliament, June 2010. 



  21. NMP homepage: 

  22. NMP vision statement: 

  23. Van der Bol, Brian and Mark Hoogstad, “In spite of numbers, Dutch Muslims are a political non-entity” NRC International, February 5 2010.,_Dutch_Muslims_are_political_non-entity 

  24.,,2-10-1462_2411550,00.html, op. cit 

  25. “Rotterdam Gets a Muslim Mayor” 17 October 2008.,,2-10-1462_2411550,00.htm 


  27. Wilders slams appointment of Moroccan mayor” 17 October 2008. 

  28. “A Moroccan Mayor for the Netherlands” Trouw Netherlands 17 October 2008. 

  29. “Cabinet crisis as D66 demands Verdonk’s resignation” Expedia 29 June 2006. 

  30. Martinez et al, 2002; OSI 33. 

  31. Fennema and Tillie 2000; OSI 33; “A follow-up study is Van Heelsum & Tillie (2006), Opkomst en partijvoorkeur van migranten bij de gemeenteraadsverkiezingen van 7 maart 2006.” (Footnote 53) in OSI 33. 

  32. Martinez et al, 2002; OSI 33. 

  33. OSI 33. 

  34. OSI 34-35. 

  35. OSI 36. 

  36. US State Dept., 2004. 

  37. “Profile of the Netherlands” European Muslim Network. Available online at: Accessed 20 July 2007. 

  38. ter Waal 2005; qtd. in INVOLVE. 

  39. Netherlands Justice Ministry; EP143. 

  40. Dittrich, 2006. 

  41. EP 143. 

  42. “Dutch ex-Muslims create new organization” Deutsche Presse-Agentur 2 May 2007. 

  43. Marechal B., Allievi, S., Dassetto F., And Nielsen J. 48; qtd. in EP 144. 

  44. OSI 36. 

  45. US Dept of State, 2006; OSI 36. 

  46. Besluit 16.11.1996, houdende uitvoerung van artikel 44, negende lid, van de Gezondheids- en welzijnswet voor dieren (Besluit ritueel slachten) Stb 1996/573. 

  47. Islamic Human Rights Commission, 2004; US Dept of State 

  48. Dutch News, 3 March 2007. 

  49. “See” (Footnote 154) In Maussen: 118. 

  50. Maussen 118-119. 

  51. Maussen 119. 

  52. Maussen 120. 

  53. “Immigrants have to pass a racy test. Netherlands show its liberal culture” Associated Press 16 March 2006. 

  54. Maussen 121; see Advisory Committee on Aliens Affairs, “Openbare Orde en Verbliijfsbeeindiging” April 2005. 

  55. see Sniderman et al, 2003; qtd. in Maussen 38. 

  56. SCP, 2005; qtd. in OSI 38. 

  57. Maussen 38;“ ‘Griezelen uit onbegrip. Angst voor Moslims’ De Volkskrant 23 June 2004.” (Footnote 63) in ISO 38. 

  58. Maussen, 2004; qtd. in OSI 39. 

  59. see Maussen 2004, 2005, 2006; qtd. in OSI 39. 

  60. Fekete, 2004. 

  61. OSI 45. 

  62. qtd. in Prins, 2002; see also Meuleman, 2001, 2003; qtd. in Maussen 125. 

  63. 2005, 22; qtd. in Maussen 126. 

  64. see Landman, 1992; Hampsink, 1992; Shadid and Van Koningsveld, 1995; Rath et al, 2001; qtd. in OSI 45. 

  65. Maussen 45. 

  66. Ayaan Hirsi Ali. “The Role of Journalism Today” American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. 19 June 2007. 

  67. NIS News. “Dutch Authorities Enforce New Moroccan Law.” EPC Working Paper 23 (March 31, 2009). Available online: 

  68. “No burqa ban in the Netherlands” 3 March 2007. 

  69. “Verdonk wil motie niet uitvoeren” (in Dutch) NOS.NL 12 December 2006. Available online at: 

  70. “Balkenende: gezinnen met kinderen niet meer uitgezet” NU.NL 14 December 2006. Available online at: 

  71. “Bos tevreden met benadering Hirsch Ballin in asielkwestie” De Volkskrant 14 December 2006. 

  72. “Europe: The Netherlands: Iron Rita Sidelined” The New York Times 15 December 2006. Available online at: Accessed 21 July 2007. 

  73. “Dutch Grants Special asylum rights to Gay Iranians” Reuters 19 October 2006. 

  74. “Europe: The Netherlands: Amnesty deal for Immigrants” The New York Times 26 May 2007. Available online at Accessed 21 July 2007. 

  75. “Dutch to Fast Track-skilled Immigrants’ families” Global Immigration Services 25 June 2007.