Dutch Imams promoting 'shared' values
Imams in Dutch mosques usually preach the same virtues commonly accepted by other Dutch people. As a result of the polarisation of opinions about Islam, Muslims are now often regarded as 'strange and different', with emphasis being placed on the differences. However, a recent study shows that imams often use their sermons to propagate issues and values, which the rest of the Dutch population also thinks, are important.
By Michel Hoebink*
Fred Leemhuis, professor of Arabic at Groningen University points out:
"The image of Dutch imams is based on comments by two or three radical salafi [fundamentalist] Imams, who continually turn up in the media. We wanted to find out what Dutch mainstream imams are really preaching. And, in particular, which virtues they're commending to their congregations."
Together with Anand Blank, who is using the research for his PhD dissertation, Mr Leemhuis analysed the sermons of six randomly chosen Dutch Imams from different ethnic backgrounds. The imams were also extensively interviewed.
In a parallel study, social psychologist Pieter van Oudenhoven looked at which virtues Catholics, Protestants, and non-religious Dutch people hold high. The study shows that the opinions of the imams are very moderate and hardly differ from those of other Dutch people.
The image of the provocative salafi imam does not match reality at all, says Mr Leemhuis:
"What is noticeable about the sermons of the imams is that a large majority represent a kind of moderate middle-of-the-road orthodoxy. Not extreme either one way or the other." (Photo right: Two Dutch Imams)
According to Mr Leemhuis the virtues that the Imams present to their audiences are the same as the ones that score high among other groups of Dutch people: respect, consideration, reliability and openness. Two virtues stand out in their sermons: the necessity of good neighbourliness and showing respect towards others.
"Most imams say in their sermons and in interviews that the main thing is to be a good neighbour." By neighbours, the imams are emphatically referring to more than just those people who live next-door to you. "They tell Muslims that you should have good relations with the whole neighbourhood, particularly with non-believers."
In their sermons, the Imams do express understanding for the difficult position of Muslims in the world, says Mr Leemhuis, but they speak about this in conciliatory and diplomatic terms.
"Patience and wisdom are praised as being good characteristics for dealing with this, and not violence by any means."
Mr Leemhuis was therefore not surprised about the calm reaction from Dutch Muslims to the controversial anti-Islam film by Dutch MP Geert Wilders.
"That was totally in line with the picture we gained from our research."
More oriented towards the Netherlands
The study 'Dutch Virtues' was presented on Monday 26 May in Groningen. The study was carried out by the Institute for Integration and Social Efficacy at the University of Groningen, under the supervision of social psychologist Jan-Pieter van Oudenhoven and Arabic expert Fred Leemhuis.
Mr Leemhuis thinks the reason why the mora opinions of imams correspond so well to those of other Dutch people is partly because these religious teachers are becoming more and more oriented towards the Netherlands.
(Photo left: Imams)
The imams continually come across the same problems, have a great deal of contact with one another and solve those problems in the same way. They also use the same sources when they write their sermons. Mr Leemhuis cites an example in the shape of the book entitled: 'Gardens of the virtuous people'.
"A beautiful, pious collection of stories about the life of the prophet Mohammed which is also available in Dutch."
Mr Leemhuis believes the shared opinions of Muslims and other Dutch people about virtuous behaviour provide a good opportunity for Dutch politics:
"If you want to promote the integration of Dutch Muslims and non-Muslims, you have to emphasise the things they have in common and things they can identify with."
*RNW translation (nc)
[Copyright Radio Netherlands 2008]