Academic role of Dutch Muslims grows rapidly

Academic role of Dutch Muslims grows rapidly

10th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Islamic academics in the Netherlands are rapidly increasing in numbers. Whereas Muslim youths are often portrayed negatively in the press, the picture at Dutch universities is very different.

A large number of students is Muslim and there are even various special Islamic student societies.

Headscarves in the benches of Dutch lecture halls are no longer an exception. For instance at the Free University in Amsterdam, there are 2000 Muslim students, ten percent of the university’s whole student population.

Dr Lenie Brouwer is an antropologist at the Free University and thinks the increase in Muslim students is a phenomenon:

“Yes, it is very interesting and very quick. Especially if you compare it to all kinds of other groups, such as women or children from working class families, both these groups needed a generation before they reached university. And with this group, if you take their parents, some were illiterate, and then you see their children studying. So they have actually skipped a generation.”

Dr Brouwer thinks that is because of the Dutch welfare state: “We give Dutch Muslims the opportunity, and the interesting thing is, they grab hold of that opportunity.”

The self-awareness of this new generation of academics is growing at the same rate as their number. One indication of this is the growing number of Islamic student societies, which provide an alternative to the traditional societies which include wild initiation rituals and drinking sessions.

Photo © Daveness_98

 Dutch schoolchildren being chaperoned to school in our predominantly islamic neighborhood

Student society MashriQ has found a witty alternative to the endless drinks of their fellow societies: this national society organises ‘halal’ drinks, which are like drinks at an ordinary student society, but then without the alcohol.

Rapid growth
MashriQ is a large society with hundreds of members spread across the departments in The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. According to MashriQ, it is the fastest growing student society in the Netherlands. In addition to the halal drinks, it organises debates, festivals, excursions, sports competitions – just like any other ‘ordinary’ student society.

One of the society’s committee members in Amsterdam is Feraz Ahmed. He is half-Dutch and half-Egyptian. Why does he think a separate Muslim student society is necessary?

“I think that Muslim students in particular need more. They are usually not just students, more is expected of them. For instance that you were active alongside your course, that you can do more than read theoretic books. You have to be able to do practical things too.”

The ethnic background of the members of MashriQ couldn’t be more diverse; the parents of these young academics come from Somalia, Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, etc. The ratio of men and women is 50-50; a perfect example of equal rights.

Jihanne Abuhoussain has a Moroccan background, and is also a committee member of MashriQ. She can explain very well why such a special society does not lead to segregation, but is extremely useful to the emacipation of Islamic academics:

“I see our student society as a form of participation at the Free University for both the university and the Muslims. […]Now we provide an opportunity to Islamic students to join a society and to further develop themselves. That puts them in better stead to enter the labour market.”

Photo © amsfrank

 Amsterdam: VU University

Dr Brouwer explains that “this is a trait of the emancipation movement. When people find themselves in new situations they organise themselves, organise themselves in the sense that they feel safe, that they can find support to get ahead.”

The fact that this is possible in the Netherlands is something the Dutch should be proud of. “These young Muslim academics are banging on the doors of power, and that is a good thing.”
Thijs Westerbeek van Eerten
Radio Netherlands

 Photo credits: Daveness_98; amsfrank; Meanest Indian; Fayez Closed Account

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