Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Eid Mubarak

By Sharida Mohamedjoesoef, Ramadan Roundup V for the Amsterdam Weekly

Thirty days filled with an odd mixture of contemplation, devotion, will-power, partying and family get-togethers, and, this year, jazzed up with lively debates and lectures on a wide variety of topics related to Islam and Muslims in the Netherlands. In Amsterdam--home to some 120,000 Muslims--alone, over a hundred activities were organised, and those were just official events! All this came to an end last Monday, as Muslims all over the world, from Amsterdam to Zanzibar, took part in the Eid al Fitre celebrations, the feast marking the end of Ramadan, in Dutch better known as the Suikerfeest.

True, a few years ago, one would have needed a magnifying glass to spot any such activity. But then again, a few years ago there was no 9/11, no murder of Theo van Gogh, no reports on the radicalisation of young Muslims and so on. It is events like these that catapulted the Muslim community into action; and not just on the cultural and religious front either, as Dutch Muslims are also becoming increasingly active in the political arena.

Given the upcoming elections on 22 November, one the biggest Turkish organisations in the Netherlands, the Milli Gorus, decided to host an iftar coupled with a debate on the role of Muslims in Dutch politics. One of the speakers was Hikmat Mahawat-Khan. A Muslim of Surinamese descent, Mahawat-Khan knows what it is like to be the topic of debate. He is known for his spicy one-liners and speeches peppered with critical remarks on what he considers to be misbehaviour on the part of Muslims. When news got out that Mahawat-Khan had joined EenNL, a political offspring of Pim Fortuyn's legacy, his critics had a field day, labelling him a traitor serving a xenophobic and racist agenda. Well, you can say many things about him, but a racist he is not.

[For those of you who missed this part of recent Dutch history, the would-be politician Fortuyn called Islam a 'backward culture'. He was brutally murdered in May 2002 by an animal rights activist.]
With hotheaded Mahawat-Khan on the panel, you are usually in for a fiery debate on integration and participation. And sure enough, I was not disappointed. Loud grunts of disapproval rippled through the audience as he was off on his hobby-horse again, saying things like 'integration has failed' or 'Muslims themselves are in part responsible for the fact that they are being discriminated against on the Dutch labour market.'

Yet what would have been an absolute no-can-do a couple of years ago, finally seems to be taking root: criticism from within the Muslim community, from the new Milli Gorus foreman, Yusuf Altuntas to Mohammed Ousala, a prominent member of the Dutch Association of Imams. Truly unique, given the fact that those two organisations are all-Sunni, while Mahawat-Khan belongs to the Lahore Ahmadiyya movement and is thus considered a heretic by various Muslim groups.

Be that as it may, more and more prominent Muslims at least seem to have cottoned on to the fact that postmodern gibberish (read: politically correct remarks) or jihad-denial will not solve the problem of polarisation. They will have to address this issue in their mosques and Islamic cultural centres and make their fellow Muslims understand that they and they alone can change the image of Islam. During this year's Ramadan, Muslims more than ever seized the opportunity to counteract the message of violence and hatred spread by the Bin Ladens of this world. But it's only a first step comprising thirty days. What about the remaining 335 days? Now there's challenge for us, if ever you saw one...
From your Ramadan reporter: Eid Mubarak, Happy Eid!