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.


Welcome to the Counter-Jihad

The Arab world is poised for an era of political and cultural renewal. In dramatic succession, popular uprisings have toppled long-reigning dictators even as others cling to power. Amid these momentous events, scholars, journalists and politicians are scrambling to explain how these revolutions came about after years of political stagnation and dashed attempts at reform.

Robin Wright’s “Rock the Casbah,” though it was mainly reported before this year’s convulsions, tackles these questions directly. Wright, a veteran foreign correspondent, argues that the Arab world’s younger generation is at the vanguard of a sweeping and seductive cultural revolution. Setting out to challenge the lazy trope that Islam is incompatible with modernity and democracy, she traveled across the Middle East — with forays into the wider Muslim world — to profile hip-hop artists, poets, playwrights, feminists, human rights activists, TV imams, comic book creators and comedians.

In Hartford, Thousands Gather To Celebrate Islam

The annual Islamic Circle of North America convention drew thousands at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, bringing Muslims from a wide variety of backgrounds, mixing “tradition” with the “modern.” Women with headscarves holding Starbucks coffee cups, American converts, and Muslim Americans from states including Texas and the Carolinas came to the convention, drawing more than 15,000 people. Themes of the convention included family, educating young people on the “true meaning” of Islam, and helping overcome misperceptions of Muslims to non-Muslims.

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Muslim Martin Luthers: The Theologians Working Towards a Euro-Islam

Leading Muslim scholars are laying the theological foundations for a “Euro-Islam” which would reconcile their religion with the challenges of modernity. But just how compatible is Islam with secular Western values? The air in the conference room is stale, and the dour mood among those present is not much better. The room smells of sweat, cigarette smoke, cold coffee — and plenty of problems. That comes with the territory at a meeting of some 100 social workers who work in flashpoints like the London boroughs of Hounslow, Eastleigh and Ealing. In their districts they often have to deal with angry youth gangs, unemployment and failed integration policies. Today, on this particular Thursday, they have gathered here in the large hall of the Holborn Bars conference center to learn that multiculturalism also has positive aspects and, most importantly, that no one needs to be afraid of Muslims. Dieter Bednarz and Daniel Steinvorth

Mosque’s Curtain Rises Again; After Much Debate, Sexes Pray Apart

A red polyester curtain that once separated men from women during prayers at the Muslim Community Center on Chicago’s Northwest Side never divided the 1,400-member congregation until it disappeared. A janitor took the curtain down in October 2004 during renovations of the prayer hall. The 6-foot-tall curtain was misplaced and never returned. Some Muslim women lauded the removal as a chance to participate more equally. Other women left the mosque, unable to fathom praying in the presence of men. But after an 18-month debate that may not be quite done, a curtain of the original size replaced a smaller partition on Sunday, becoming a symbol of the struggle in the American Muslim community between tradition and modernity. Some say the sudden move signals an ideological shift on the horizon for the historically multicultural and progressive mosque. The ceremonial curtain-raising followed an emotional two-hour meeting at which board members instructed the president to work over the next month with the women of the mosque to permanently resolve the conflict. “There is a verse in the [Koran], Chapter 33, in which it is said to the Muslims when they ask anything of the prophet’s wife they should ask behind the curtain,” said Dr. Abdul Sattar, the mosque’s newly elected president, who supports barriers to separate men and women. “This is not only something that we are making up. It is in the holy book.” But even Islamic legal experts–including three scholars commissioned by the Muslim Community Center’s board of directors–disagree on whether the missing curtain violated the Shariah, the Islamic legal principles that guide Muslim life. They say such debates are quite common in largely immigrant communities where cultural backgrounds vary and Shariah scholars are in short supply. “One of the principles of Shariah law is you have to be conscious of the context,” said Inamul Haq, adjunct professor of Islam at Benedictine University in Lisle. “Orthodox clergy in America come from back home. It is hard for them to respond to the change in the American situation because they have not lived that situation. Since Islam insists on modesty … this is the way Islamic law is interpreted.” When the case of the missing curtain began, Uzma Sattar, the president’s daughter, said women immediately hung saris and other pieces of fabric to block men’s stares. The curtain was replaced last year by a 3-foot-tall fabric partition. Earlier this month, three scholars submitted written opinions on what kind of barrier, if any, was required by the Shariah. One scholar was Imam Jamal Said of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview. “My personal advice to the leadership of the MCC is to let the sisters decide for themselves what would make them more comfortable in their worship,” Said wrote. “If they prefer a divider or curtain for their privacy or comfort, then give them this freedom.” On Sunday, a band of believers sealed off the back corner of their prayer hall with a 6-foot-tall sheet of pink fabric in time for the fourth prayer of the day. Khaled Abou El Fadl, a leading Islamic jurist and professor of law at UCLA, said these kinds of squabbles, which seem trivial on the surface, emerge in communities where leaders feel threatened by modernity. “In the case of Muslim men–especially Muslim men–that feel Islam is under siege and the West has invaded Muslim culture in every other way, the way they express this anxiety is by being restrictive toward women, making sure women are not going to become more Americanized,” he said. That perceived threat escalated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Abou El Fadl said, when many Muslim women began to assert their autonomy and question the origin of common practices that limited their participation in the community. “We are seeing more Muslim women reading the Koran, reading the tradition of the Prophet, reading the original teachings of Islam and coming back and challenging the role defined for them,” Abou El Fadl said. “A lot of these women were born Muslim, but grew up in the United States and grew up in the West so they have a `my rights’-oriented mentality.” Mary Ali, one of five women on the center’s board of directors, opposed putting up the curtain. She said the mosque has always been a progressive place to worship and only since the recent mosque election has its membership exhibited conservative leanings. Over the years, the 40-year-old mosque has served as the house of worship for Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs, people from South Asia and Africans. But Uzma Sattar said the debate has nothing to do with progressive vs. conservative. It has to do with a woman’s right to worship the way she wants. In the time of the Prophet Muhammad, women did not wear cosmetics or perfume to the mosque, and they covered themselves from head to toe, said Abdul Sattar, who is from Pakistan. Today, they wear makeup, blue jeans and loosely wrapped headscarves, so a curtain is necessary, he said. Whether the Koran calls for a curtain is still debated, but it does address modesty in front of the opposite sex, scholars say. Because Muslim prayer is a physical exercise that requires bowing, kneeling and prostrating, some prefer seclusion. “It’s about having your personal, private space where you can connect with God,” Uzma Sattar said. “In my mind, it’s completely in line with feminism to say women deserve their own space. The men took the curtain down. The women are standing up and claiming space for themselves.” “We want the curtain. We want our privacy,” said Noor Aliuddin, 49, who removes her hijab, or head covering, when she prays. “We have to open our face to God.” But at a time when American Muslims face discrimination, poverty and injustice, Shama Aleemuddin said she cannot comprehend why her congregation is consumed by a curtain. She is on the mosque’s board. She said the center, which occupies a converted theater, must focus on building a new mosque, facing down anti-Muslim bias and hiring a new imam. The curtain debate has drained time and energy from those issues that matter. “It seems that everyone is obsessed with the curtain issue,” she said. “It’s a shame.” Abou El Fadl said leaders should focus on what will move Islam forward in the 21st Century, not decisions they really have no right to make. “If it’s God’s law,” Abou El Fadl said, “then it shouldn’t be up to people to decide.”