A place of prayer or violence?

18th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

Abi Daruvalla talks to some of the Muslims at the El Tawheed in Amsterdam and looks into the national security service's dossier which examines the influence of radicalisation and Islamic terrorism in the Netherlands.

In the aftermath of the murder of the controversial film maker Theo van Gogh on 2 November, the El Tawheed mosque has been repeatedly linked to Mohammed B, the 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan who is in custody for Van Gogh's murder, as well as on terrorism charges.

There has been a lot of finger-pointing, but little evidence against mosques.

But Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen has said on Dutch TV that a report by the national security service (AIVD) into activities at the El Tawheed mosque - published earlier this year - had concluded there was nothing to gain by closing down the controversial mosque.

The El Tawheed mosque is a dilapidated-looking building on the Jan Hanzenstraat, part of the old working-class neighbourhood of Old West in Amsterdam. A neatly typed note (in perfect Dutch) has been taped onto the window, requesting the press to respect the privacy of the mosque's assembly.

The building was bought about five years ago with a EUR 1.5 million loan from the Saudi Arabian charity Al Haramain, which has since been put on the United Nation's blacklist of organisations with al-Qaeda links.

Until earlier this year Al Haramain also used El Tawheed as its Dutch postal address but the mosque "got fed up with the negative publicity this attracted" and now claims to have "no contacts whatsoever" with the banned organisation, although the mosque's spokesman, Farid Zaari, does not accept El Haramain has terrorist connections.

According to Zaari, the loan and postal facility were the only contacts the mosque has ever had with al-Haramain. But in its report earlier this year, the AIVD claimed: "There is a financial, organisational and personnel interconnection between the El Tawheed mosque in Amsterdam and the above-mentioned organisation al-Haramain."

It went on to say: "In the past, the former head of the al-Haramain HQ in Saudi Arabia, Aqeel el Aqeel and his assistant Mansour al-Kadi, have acquired executive positions in the El Tawheed Foundation...in exchange for support in the financing of the Tawheed mosque in Amsterdam. The AIVD does not have evidence that these executives used their influence to interfere with the daily running of the Tawheed mosque. In practice the involvement of the duo remained limited to formal annual inspections."

*quote2*El Tawheed spokesman Zaari denies categorically that his mosque is involved in any way with political extremists and strongly condemns violence. What the mosque does do is rigorously advocate the word of Allah. Zaari: "For example, we will not shake the hand of a woman because that is against our faith and we want to live in accordance to that faith."

Zaari believes this unequivocal stance may have contributed to the negative reputation of the mosque in the Dutch media over the last three years. "We are not ashamed to tell people what is in the Koran. For example, we condemn the act of homosexuality but we don't tell people to insult or hurt homosexuals. People should be free to disagree with each other but differences should be expressed with words, not violence."

Zaari is angry that politicians are now calling for the mosque to be closed down without providing any evidence to justify such a move. "Let them come with the evidence. The authorities are more than welcome to investigate us, it's in our own interest because then people will see we have a clean slate."

In fact, the El Tawheed mosque is mentioned on several occasions in the 2004 report by the Dutch security services into the influence of the radical Salafitism (sometimes also called Wahhabism) movement in the Netherlands. This 'orthodox' form of Islam believes that Western ideals such as democracy, gender equality and freedom of expression are un-Islamic and questions the desirability of Muslims integrating into Western society, says the AIVD.

"The Netherlands has a number of mosque foundations with an outspoken Salafitist character. They have emerged from missions and financing from Saudi Arabia. The mosques involved are Stichting El

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