More Young Dutch Muslims Are Travelling To Mecca For the annual Hadj

With the annual Hajj starting on the 30th of August this year, the Dutch pilgrims have become increasingly younger. In the past, the Hajj was usually undertaken by elderly Muslims. Nowadays, elderly Muslims are still the main age group among Hajj pilgrims, but there has been an increase in younger Muslims fulfilling this important religious obligation. Marjo Buitelaar, a Dutch academic on contemporary Islam, has done research on the developments regarding the Hajj and also noticed this important shift in age demographics.

“The pilgrimage used to be seen mainly as a final religious obligation one had to fullfill, and ask for forgiveness of the sins you have committed. Young Muslims also feel the need for this, but because they are standing in the midst of life, they experience the Hajj and the period after differently,” Buitelaar stated. She added that young people are practicing their faith more and do not longer want to wait until they are in their sixties and seventies before fulfilling this religious obligation. In addition, she believes that not only is the individualization of religion a factor in these new developments, but ‘identity issues’ are also playing a role: as most young Dutch Muslims have a Moroccan or Turkish ethnical background, they are confronted with questions as to where they belong. Since they are not  only not fully accepted in the Netherlands, but also not in Morocco or Turkey, they appreciate the feeling of being ‘just’ a Muslim in Saudi-Arabia.

A few travel agencies can attest to the fact that more young Dutch Muslims are deciding to set out for the pilgrimage. Zaakaria Bouhkim, a 29-year-old Muslim from Amsterdam, runs a travel agency with his father. While they guide a group of 235 pilgrims to Mecca this year, Bouhkim also noticed that the pilgrims are becoming increasingly younger. He states that more than half of these pilgrims are younger than 40 years old. In addition, he claims that the ‘umrah is becoming increasingly popular among young Dutch Muslims. He believes that a lower threshold to go to Mecca is contributing to the trend. In addition, the younger Muslims with these ethnic backgrounds have more money than their parents had, which also contributes to a lower threshold. Naoufal El Ghaouty, the owner of travel agency Diwan Travel, has about 200 people going with him to Mecca each year. He confirms that the typical Dutch pilgrim is getting younger: “In the past, only ten or fifteen percent of the pilgrims were young people, now that has become between forty and fifty percent: a big difference.”

Because the Dutch Muslim pilgrims are becoming increasingly younger, the travel agencies see the need to change their offer accordingly. They offer outings for example; like crossing through the desert with squad cars. It also becomes clear that there is a strong influence of social media in how these young Dutch Muslims experience their Hajj. Muslims post ‘snaps’ on Snapchat for example, where one can temporarily share images and video’s. A young Muslim from Rotterdam, the 20-year-old Hoedayfa Flillou, also agrees that social media plays an important role in the contemporary Hajj experience of young Dutch Muslims. He claims that young Muslims have more access to actual images of the Hajj through social media, because of the ‘selfies’ young Muslims make when they are in Mecca. He also believes that the modern Mecca has become more attractive city-wise for young Muslims, with the new buildings that have been built.

Sources:
https://nos.nl/artikel/2190474-je-hoeft-niet-meer-zestig-te-zijn-om-naar-de-hajj-te-gaan.html https://fd.nl/werk-en-geld/1212837/verplicht-op-reis https://www.rtlnieuws.nl/nederland/steeds-meer-jongeren-naar-mekka-ze-zijn-nieuwsgierig-geworden-door-selfies-van-anderen

Rising numbers of Islamic burials pose challenges to German cemeteries

For a long time, German Muslims have predominantly buried their dead abroad: especially the members of the country’s large Turkish community preferred to find their final resting place ‘back home’. Many of the so-called guest workers had envisaged a return to Turkey during their lifetimes but stayed on in Germany for work or for the sake of their families. The return home was delayed until after death.

Yet for some of the children of those who moved to Germany, the ties to their ancestors’ country of origin are increasingly remote. For others, the expense of a costly transfer of the body is simply too high; although this factor is often offset by the high cost of maintaining a grave in Germany. For yet others, warfare in their countries of origin makes a return for burial impossible.

All of this has led to a strong rise in demand for burials in conformity with Islamic rites in Germany. A seemingly innocuous issue, questions and perceptions surrounding these burials are indicative of the complex processes of adaptation Muslim communities undergo in the Western European context – as well as of the challenges this processes involves.

Running afoul of German law

To begin with, a number of Muslim traditions run counter to German legal regulations.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/menschen/bestattung-von-muslimen-teilweise-problematisch-14942392.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 )) In Germany, burial heeds to be carried out by an expressly hired professional undertaker; a notion unknown in other parts of the world. At the same time, there is not just a need for familiarity with the Islamic ritual on the part of the undertaker, but also for specific facilities to wash the dead body.

Muslim tradition encourages burial within 24 hours after death. Yet the slowly grinding mills of the German bureaucracy mean that burials cannot generally be accomplished in less than 48 hours. Medical regulations ate at times also adduced against quicker burial.

When it comes to the actual burial site itself, Muslims’ graves are customarily oriented towards Mecca – a requirement that cannot be fulfilled by most regular German cemeteries since the existing lines of graves are ordered differently.

What is more, in a somewhat macabre twist, an ‘eternal resting place’ in Germany generally means a maximum of 20 or 25 years – after that, graves are reallocated. Maintaining a grave beyond that point may be either impossible or dramatically increase the price of the grave lease. According to Muslim tradition, however, the dead should be buried in untouched earth and should have a genuinely eternal last home.

To name but one more hurdle, many administrations and cemeteries across the country require bodies to be buried in a coffin; a practice forbidden in Quranic tradition.

Pragmatic solutions

In many cases, practical solutions have been found.((https://www.welt.de/regionales/hamburg/article162782576/Wie-sich-deutsche-Friedhoefe-fuer-Muslime-veraendern.html )) Specialised Islamic undertaking businesses have cropped up all over the country, offering their services to a Muslim clientele. Especially larger towns and cities have begun to create Muslim sections in their cemeteries in order to accommodate graves oriented towards Mecca.

Some municipalities have been more lenient on the rules restricting early burial, provided that no medical reasons demand that the burial be postponed. A specifically Muslim cemetery is set to open in the city of Wuppertal, offering graves with an unlimited lease.

Enduring challenges

In some cases, however, such solutions have proved elusive. Three German states – Bavaria, Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt – continue to categorically prohibit burials without a coffin while others no longer require the casket.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/menschen/bestattung-von-muslimen-teilweise-problematisch-14942392.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

For some on the political right, upholding the so-called ‘coffin obligation’ (Sargpflicht) has become a matter of principled defence of autochthon values and traditions. (It should perhaps be noted that burials in a coffin were only introduced in Germany in the 18th century, making it a tradition presumably less essential to local identity than one might think.(( http://www.brauchwiki.de/Beerdigungsriten )))

Acts of vandalism

Nor have Muslims’ graves gone unnoticed in largely (post-)Christian neighbourhoods, with some expressing anxieties about the expansion of cemeteries’ Islamic sections. Only a month ago a series of Muslim graves was vandalised and desecrated by swastika signs in the southern town of Aalen.(( http://www.swr.de/swraktuell/bw/aalen-muslimische-graeber-auf-friedhof-geschaendet/-/id=1622/did=19107694/nid=1622/1tyli8u/index.html ))

Yet apparently it is not only the far right that has been bent on destroying graves: in 2011, Islamic religious purists appear to have embarked on a purge in the Muslim section of a cemetery in Bielefeld, smashing angel figurines, terracotta sculptures and other ‘German-style’ adornments.

Since the graves themselves and a number of other Islamic symbols remained untouched, police surmised that the vandals only attacked those elements they deemed offensive to their restrictive understanding of Islam.(( http://www.nw.de/lokal/bielefeld/mitte/mitte/4902487_30-muslimische-Graeber-geschaendet.html ))

The salience of identity politics

The question of death and burial is thus surprisingly revelatory about the nature of Muslim life in Germany. The scope for pragmatic accommodation balancing German legal frameworks and Muslim traditions seem large; yet a fair amount of intransigence from various players in the system also makes this room for manoeuvre more difficult to use. Identity politics in its more toxic forms – emanating from ethnically German xenophobes and Islamist fundamentalists alike – leaves its mark.

More generally, when following this issue in the centre-right section of the mainstream media, one is struck by the whole range of contradictory emotions and expectations that German Muslims are faced with: the implicit reproach of a lack of loyalty is directed at those who choose burial abroad. Yet at the same time, the expansion of Islamic segments on German cemeteries is greeted with a certain amount of suspicion and civilizational angst.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/menschen/bestattung-von-muslimen-teilweise-problematisch-14942392.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

In this manner, all sides manage to project their political ambitions onto Muslims’ final resting places. At times, the resulting debate seems almost as eternal as the peace people from across religious divides are seeking for their dead.

Omar Mateen, Twice Scrutinized by F.B.I., Shows Threat of Lone Terrorists

The son of Afghan immigrants, Mr. Mateen was born in New York in 1986, moved to Florida with his family in 1991 and spent his early years there in the Port St. Lucie area near the state’s east coast. He made friends as a child at a local mosque, and built friendships during slumber parties and basketball games, and playing video games. He bounced between jobs in high school and college. In court documents connected to a 2006 name change — from Omar Mir Seddique to Omar Mir Seddique Mateen — he said he had held eight jobs in about four years, including work as a grocer and as a salesman at a computer store.
He came to the F.B.I.’s attention in 2013, when some of his co-workers reported that he had made inflammatory comments claiming connections to overseas terrorists, and saying he hoped that the F.B.I. would raid his family’s home so that he could become a martyr.
The F.B.I. opened an investigation and put Mr. Mateen on a terrorist watch list for nearly a year.
James Comey, the F.B.I. director, said during a news conference on Monday that agents used various methods to investigate Mr. Mateen, including sending an undercover informant who made contact with the suspect, wiretapping his conversations and scrutinizing his personal and financial records.
They also sought help from Saudi intelligence officials to learn more about his trips to the kingdom in 2011 and 2012 for the Umrah, a sacred pilgrimage to Mecca made by Muslims. More than 11,000 Americans make pilgrimages to Mecca each year, and Mr. Comey said the F.B.I. found no “derogatory” information about his trips.
“Why did he do this?” his father asked. “He was born in America. He went to school in America. He went to college — why did he do that?”
“I am as puzzled as you are.”
NY Times: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/06/14/us/politics/orlando-shooting-omar-mateen.html

Young man arrested for praising Jihad online

December 23, 2013

 

The Madrid XL Group of the Provincial Information Brigade, which specializes in Islamic Terrorism, has arrested a 24-year Spanish man and convert to Islam at his home of Entrevias (Puente de Vallecas). He is charged with an offense of glorifying terrorism and the Jihad and the case is in the hands of the High Court.
According to investigators, Abdallah used his Facebook account to defend the “jihad” in Islamic wars or conflicts such as Syria or Palestine. The Police found manuals for weapons and explosives in his house. Abdallah made ​​his first trip to Mecca last year.

 

Abc.es: http://www.abc.es/madrid/20131223/abcp-detenido-joven-enaltecer-yihad-20131222.html

 

Calif. Arab sparks debate over ethnic mascots

December 2, 2013

 

LOS ANGELES — On game days in Thermal, where date farms and desert surroundings evoke the Middle East and nearby communities have names like Mecca and Oasis, fans cheer a high school team known as the Arabs. A belly dancer jiggles on center court. And a black-haired, mustached mascot wearing a head scarf rallies the crowd.

At least that’s the way it was done for decades in the community 120 miles southeast of Los Angeles until Arab-Americans recently objected to a hook-nosed, snarling image used to represent Coachella Valley High School.

The school has agreed to give the mascot a makeover, but not to drop the nickname.

“We’re still going to stick with the Arab,” said school board president Lowell Kemper after scores of residents defended the tradition dating back generations. “It’s just a matter of whether we have a change in the caricature of the mascot.”

But the Arab debate spurs the same set of questions: Is it possible to craft a mascot in the image of an ethnic group that doesn’t offend, or are schools better off scrapping the idea altogether?

The debate comes as the more familiar Indian controversy has gained increased heat.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee complained last month that the Coachella Valley mascot perpetuates negative stereotypes of Arabs and Arab-Americans after one of its members raised questions about the image.

The move prompted a community-wide debate and the school district formed a committee to redesign the mascot in a more flattering light.

Coachella Valley isn’t alone in invoking images of Arabs or Muslims. In the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra, the high school football team, known as the Moors, features a caricature of a scowling, dark-skinned man with two swords on its Facebook page.

Yasmin Nouh, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in greater Los Angeles, said her group was going to speak with the school.

At Coachella Valley, the Arab’s image has evolved. He was once depicted riding on horseback while carrying a spear, later changed to the surly caricature plastered on the school gym’s wall.

 

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/calif-arab-sparks-debate-over-ethnic-mascots/2013/12/02/266539d0-5b89-11e3-801f-1f90bf692c9b_story.html

One mosque, many faiths

November 19, 2013

 

We all sat in a circle, surrounded by the tranquility of a richly decorated mosque in Washington, D.C. We were for once away from all schisms- of religion, faith and nations. Ten American students, a Pakistani professor and an Indian journalist- we all sat in a circle to explore the space where divides end, and our unity begins.

For these students at American University, the experience was a novel one–for most of them, it was their first ever visit to a mosque. Our group was a concoction of identities – Native Americans, Roman Catholics, Moroccan Jews, and me, a Sikh from the Indian side of Kashmir.

The visit was scheduled to give students an experience of a mosque and to clear misperceptions about clashes of faiths. We chose to visit the Islamic Center in D.C., a mosque designed by an Italian architect and constructed in the 50′s. The imam at the center led us through the prayers and explained the three categories in Islam- aMuslim, who may or may not be truly spiritual; a Momim, a believer who practices his belief faithfully; and the highest category of a Muhsin, who is benevolent, charitable and a humanitarian to all mankind. For him, spreading education or ilm met with the highest category- a reason why he often addressed Professor Akbar Ahmed as Muhsin. Imam Abdullah M Khouj, who is from Mecca, became a Hafiz, or someone who memorizes the entire Koran, at the age of 11. He clearly held high reverence for scholarship and service, perhaps even greater than just practicing beliefs.

In the mosque, under the magnificent bronze Egyptian chandelier, we sat together in a circle as teachers and learners. We discussed why women pray in separate spaces, why religions have sectarian divides. We explored how humility and submission are at the core of spirituality, how various faiths were connected with a common thread.

When we were about to leave, I turned to Imam Khouj and told him that the holy text of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib, repeats the name Allah 46 times. Our professor reiterated that the fifth Sikh Guru asked a Muslim Sufi saint, Mian Mir, to lay the foundation stone of the Holiest Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Here we were, a Pakistani professor, an Indian journalist and 10 American students, attempting to find bridges between faiths. My mind raced back to the raging battles between nations, to the gunfire on the borders, to attacks on places of worship, to condemnation in the name of faith. Far away from these clashes, here we were as a small group, dissolving divides that we had known, finding common spaces.

 

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/11/19/one-mosque-many-faiths/

Prince Charles visits shrine to Sufi saint

November 11, 2013

 

The Prince of Wales laid flowers on the tomb of one of India’s most revered Sufi saints today as its imam prayed for the health and happiness of Britain’s royal family. The visit to the shrine or ‘dargah’ of Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, one of Mumbai’s most celebrated landmarks, was to support the restoration of its 500 year old building and to promote dialogue between different faiths.

The shrine commemorates the devotion of Haji Ali, a wealthy merchant who migrated from Bukhara and died while making his Haj pilgrimage to Mecca.

The Prince entered the shrine to the sound of Sufi devotional music, celebrating the saint’s miracles, to pay his respects and inspect the extensive renovation works under way. ‘Haji Ali’ is a tiny mosque-like shrine with arches and minarets at the end of a promontory, surrounded by the sea.

 

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/prince-charles/10440860/Prince-Charles-visits-shrine-to-Sufi-saint.html

A Muslim daughter’s role in preparing her mother for burial – by Momtaz Begum-Hossain

October 25, 2013

I saw a wooden coffin, I answered the phone call to tell us that Umma, as we called our mother in Bengali, had left us, and later that same night saw her lying still like a ragdoll in the hospital ward. The burial was almost immediate. Within hours I was at the register office recording Umma’s death to get the certificate we needed to release her body. At home, my sisters were collating every teacup and saucer she had ever bought, for the well-wishers who were flooding our house with prayers.

We knew about the concept of heaven and hell and were warned that when a parent dies, their children’s prayers are the most important ones. Although a whole village in Bangladesh spent three days reading prayers for Umma, ours would have most impact.

Packed away in a suitcase in my parents’ bedroom was the white shroud that Umma was to be buried in. It had been washed in holy water from Mecca, for when the time came. She had been so busy talking about death and reminding us where to find the fabric that she never had a chance to explain to me and my three sisters that as her daughters we had duties after her death. In Islam it is a daughter’s duty to wash her mother and prepare her for the afterlife; boys attend to deceased fathers. Having never attended a funeral, I didn’t know what this involved. I soon discovered it wasn’t an elaborate bathe, but a wash down with sponges, towels, buckets of water and the bar of soap from my carrier bag.

There were two elder women in charge who directed us where and how to clean her. Umma was so devoted to her religion that I sensed she would be proud her daughters were taking part in such a symbolic ritual. As her limbs were lifted and we took it in turns to scrub her, it seemed as if her expressions were changing. She was a puppet, being moved, bent over, turned from side to side. I didn’t know it was possible to get this close to a dead person, let alone share in the most intimate experience their body would ever go through. She was washed an odd number of times. I can’t remember which number we settled on, just that the procedure was repeated until we were tired.

Afterwards she was dried with towels and scented with rose water. The room was suffused with the fragrance of Turkish delight, though she never wore perfume. Her beauty regime consisted of applying hair oil and moisturiser. I never saw her wear makeup and she had the smallest wardrobe of anyone I’ve ever known; just a handful of saris and blouses and petticoats she had made herself. Just as she had led a modest life, so it was for her funeral. Umma’s hair was combed and plaited and her body wrapped in the white fabric that Ubba, my father, had brought back from Mecca. When she was wrapped and laid to rest we anointed her with more rose water. We took her to a newly opened Muslim burial ground, she was buried there and her spot was marked with a hand-painted a plaque with my mother’s name and dates of birth and death.

Not everyone has a chance to say goodbye properly to someone they love, but I did more than that.

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/oct/26/muslim-daughter-mother-burial

Islam: Tomorrow the Festival of Sacrifice, CII prays for the dead in Lampedusa

Muslims around the world will celebrate the Islamic Festival of Sacrifice tomorrow (Eid al Adha). The festival celebrates the sacrifice made by Abraham mentioned in the Qur’an. This is the biggest holiday of the Muslim world and it coincides with end of the pilgrimage to Mecca. In some countries, such as Morocco, this festival is held the day after tomorrow. In Italy, about two million Muslims will pray tomorrow morning in mosques and in stadiums throughout the country. The most important prayer is scheduled in the Great Mosque of Rome, where about twenty thousand people will gather. The Islamic Italian Confederation (CII) sent a message of greetings for those celebrating. For the occasion, considering what is happening on the coast of Lampedusa, CII decided to hold a special prayer for migrants who died trying to reach our country and remember the tragedy of what is happening along the Sicilian coast.

International Business Times: http://it.ibtimes.com/articles/57488/20131014/islam.htm

Fewer Dutch Muslims to Travel to Mecca for Hajj

25 September 2013

 

Newspaper Trouw reports that the number of Dutch Muslims planning to travel to Mecca this year has almost halved in comparison to previous years. 16 travel agencies in the Netherlands are allotted 5,000 visas a year from Saudi Arabia to allow Dutch Muslims to make the journey. This year some agencies still have half their visa allocations left, with the Hajj taking place in mid October. Trouw suggests that the economic crisis accounts for the drop in numbers, with the trip costing between 3,500- 5,000 Euros per person.