A conversation of Dutch Muslim Dennis Honig with Haroun Sidorov, CEO of I4E

As-salamy aleykum, Dennis!

1. Please, tell us about you. Where are you from, what is your background, occupation, etc.

Wa aleykumu as-salam! My name is Dennis Honing, i am 27 years old, father of 4 kids. I have converted to Islam in 2008, alhamduli-Llah. First I was copying and learning in a Moroccan mosque, later on I became Salafi and now I am a regular Sunni Muslim. I work at a company that produces advertisement boards for supermarkets and company’s. My father is an atheist, but not that type of a ‘’militant atheist’’ that complains about religion the entire day. My mother was a christian.

2. Why, when and how you became a Muslim?

Because i became interested in religion from the age of 14, was very interested in the personality of Jesus, but I was very disappointed by how Christianity had made Jesus and his story so big, turning him into a God and the other prophets before him became like old style men from a distant past. I had some Muslim men around me when I was in a youth prison in 2005 and I saw how they interacted with their parents, were very hygienic, one made wudu (ritual washing), and there was a guy who’s father was from a Muslim culture and it made him like convert .There was also a Palestinian guy and he told me one day how Jesus was mentioned in the Qur’an. Those things led me to my Shahada. It felt right. I didn’t know everything about Islam, but it’s monotheistic basis, it’s Abrahamic theme and the way it shapes your life. That attracted me towards it.

3. What were your first steps and your path in Islam?

My first step was browsing the internet to see if there was a place that emphasized on new Muslims like me. When you’re new in Islam you don’t know all things, what one needs to do in the mosque, and that mosque can look like something so new, that it feels a bit scary to just approach it. I found the Poldermoskee (Polder mosque) in Amsterdam, where they did jum’ah (Friday’s) lecture in Dutch and had some converts and Moroccan youth workers.That was the starting place of my journey. Later on it became a little to liberal in my eyes. I went to the Salafis. First the non-political ones, then a Turkish political Salafi group and after that a jihadist group manly composed of Moroccans and converts. I became tired of that worldview. Even before the major exodus to Syria i dropped out and started to interact with intellectual liberal Muslims, some of them influenced by the more Mutazili kind of belief. Now I combine orthodoxy with liberal rational thoughts in my life.

4. How do you feel about yourself as Dutch and Muslim in your own country? How do you feel about yourself in Dutch society as Muslim and how you feel about yourself as a Dutch in the Muslim community of Netherlands?

I feel just like myself. Everyone knows that if the Ottomans or the Moors were able to capture the western Europe, that we would have a native Islamic tradition. The southern part of Holland is mainly Catholic, people know that they are Catholic there because of the Roman and Spanish empires, that the language of that church was Latin inherited from the empire that conquered us as Germanic peoples, in the churches you often find gold colored eagle statues that are as well typically Roman. So thats how it goes; an empire comes and brings its faith, and when the faith is installed, centuries later, even the patriots of the country adore that religious culture, and nobody says “thats something from the middle east” or “thats something of Rome and not from Amsterdam”. So i know that I, as a native convert am from amongst a tiny minority, but it had to be that way. thats how history goes. And also, Holland is a democratic and therefore pluralistic state. So Islam, new or not new, has from a Dutch ideological point of view the full right to be here, even though many people are scared of it or dislike it etc. So I feel like a Dutch citizen that is acting according to the dimensions that the state ideology offers to us as Dutch people.

In the Muslim community its a different story on itself. First i was naive and almost like a hippy. I glorified immigrant cultures and had a left wing approach to the political, cultural and economic circumstance in the world and in Holland in particular. But later on you will find out – if you observe with the open mind– that the immigrant Muslim communities have their own way of glorifying of their empire’s past, have their own racism towards the other tribes, other races and most of them look down on black people as inferior. They suddenly love things like expansive warfare and capitalism when its the Turks fighting the Kurds, or its Dubai or Ryad flourishing, instead of New York or London. I found out that among the Turks (our largest Muslim group here) there are right wing Islamic groups, connected to Turkish right wing political parties. So I became more aware of my own culture, race, and the succeses of my own people in the past and present. A lot of white converts bash their own history and government to ‘’meet up’’ with the complaints of the born Muslims. But they are too naive to see these born Muslims, when they are talking about their own empires or marrying interracially and how their parents would look upon that, then they suddenly become conservatives, sometime beyond Trump himself.

5. How you can describe modern Muslim community in the Netherlands? What main groups and factions it consists of? What is it’s relations with Dutch state and society? What problems do you see in it?

Too much to mention. The Muslim community here is first of all not a real community. They do have certain beliefs, ideas and needs in common. But we have for example in the Hague, a Turkish mosque (of Diyanet) right next to a Moroccan mosque with only 1 wall separating the two. So the word ‘community’ is relative here. But we have Islamic political parties now and a platform called CMO (contact Muslims government) that try to serve the Muslims as whole and thats an interesting thing. The Dutch Muslims and the non Muslim majority is still separated from really knowing each other dynamics and feelings. After 9/11 things changed dramatically, and its never really solved. That is because the media is always looking from problems and controversies. Because peace and explanations don’t sell that good. But on the other hand its also the Muslims themselves. Islamic legal thought and our hadith collections and tafasir tradition contains certain texts that are contradicting mainstream western ideas about human rights. And a Muslim could at least admit that and then explain that there is ikhtilaaf, there are more interpretations (madhaahib) and there are in every single madhab multiple interpretations. So because almost all the Muslims in the media and the public debates walk on the path of apologetics, instead of truly openly self analyze, we have these situation that non Muslims say “its all Islam to blame” and the Muslims say “islam has nothing to do with it”

6. How many Muslims of native Dutch origin do you now? What is their mainstream in relations with other Muslims and the rest of the Dutch society? What role are they playing in Muslim community in the Netherlands? Do they have their voice and considered in it as a specific group with it needs?

Its interesting to see that one of our most active mosques with the biggest Islamic events is ‘’held’’ by a convert and his team consists of many other converts as well. Also we had a short lived Muslim newspaper, that was also made by a convert. And there is a website, as well that shows you all the mosques in Holland, made by a convert plus there are two prominent converts in the Muslim party of Rotterdam (Nida). So we have some very proactive converts in our community. But we also have the problem with many converts that are from difficult backgrounds, hailing from the low class and then often end up taking a wrong path and become Salafis, that allowed them, in a way to redefine their simple lives from passive or stagnated ones into a pious, God fearing one. Its like when you don’t do things in you’re life like get yourself material things and have some fun because you’re just to passive or poor, that it becomes (for some of them) interesting to call that ‘being pious’. Success is suddenly ‘al hayat al dunya’. So we have these types as well. And everything in between. I know a lot of converts and most are individuals shaping their way of living and believing. With different aqeedah’s different ethnic communities around them, different traditions around them etc

There are also two sites and platforms made by converts – one is secretly Salafi dawah, the other is more sincere.

7. Are and were there Muslim communities or Islamic centres of native Dutch Muslims or at least attempts to establish them? Is their importance of something like that among native Dutch Muslims? What are relations between native Dutch Muslims and communities of Muslims of another European origin – Bosnians and Albanians?

Sadly no. Thats because the Salafi and even mainstream Sunni idea that gathering around nationality and taking pride about it, is hizbiyyah and not right. I would love to see more connection with the Bosnian, Albanian, Pomak, Gorani, and Torbeši communities. But it sadly never happens. I, one day have said to a converted brother that organized a lot for converts that we should invite Adem Ramadani (Albanian nasheed singer and Qur’an recitor) but his response was that he was not a conver. Technically that was the case, the gathering where we talked was specially for converts and about converts, but I think we have a lot to learn from bigger European converted communies that have now their own islamic European culture. There was almost a century ago a Dutch convert with the name Mohammed Ali van Beetem. If i am not mistaken he was one of the leading forces behind a European muslim gathering that was also attended by the Tatar mufti of Poland.

Its my dream to have a Dutch mosque with Nordic Germanic art in it, our architecture mixed with the Ottoman architecture to show the good relations between Holland and Ottomans in the 1600’s when we had the Dutch protestants, which rebelled against the Catholics and where pro-Ottoman. On one wall of the mosque (on the outside) I want to see a crescent (moon) of the Dutch protestants that where pro-Ottoman and on the other wall the crescent of the republic in Morocco, which was ruled by a Dutch convert.

8. In the Netherlands you have a famous Party of Freedom, which openly declares its plans to abandon Islam and prohibit Quran. How do you see such perspective? Are Muslims in Netherlands ready to such a scenario and how they can act in such situation? And what should be done to prevent it?

Yes we have this political force, which is pro-Israeli, their members were caught going to the Israeli embassy and one of them was warned from further engaging in such behaviors by our intelligence agency the AIVD. So thats a major thing. If I am honest I think that party is one of the Israeli efforts to maintain an atmosphere of skepticism, even hatred towards Islam in the western Europe. So the pro Israeli feelings can remain intact. Because of our growing Muslim community they know their support will became smaller in our nations especially in the cities. But I don’t think Geert Wilders (the leader) is a puppet. He really believes that he is saving our country and we indeed have many problems with the Moroccan youths in our suburbs. Thats why the party is now more popular than ever before, because you indeed come across aggressive, criminal and noisy Moroccans that create problems in each major city. The PVV party has made a lot of harsh statements towards Muslims and have a lot of almost fascist ideas. But they are controlled by our laws and are not able to make those ideas into reality. But that atmosphere of hate towards regular Muslims is alive and kicking. And it will either fade away or like upcoming cancer, evolve into a major conflict like a civil war. Only Allah knows, and to Him we all belong.

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