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

London terror attacker profiled

Khalid Masood, age 52, attacked London, driving a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and stabbing a police officer who was guarding parliament. 

Masood was not born into a Muslim family. His birth name was Adrian Russell Ajao. He was born in Kent to a 17-year-old mother. In school, he was interested in football and parties. 

Masood has two daughters with Jane Harvey, his partner with whom he lived in the mid-1990s. He also has a son with another woman.  

Most of his noted criminal acts occurred before his conversion to Islam.  He was convicted for criminal damage at the age of 18. He also had convictions for assaults, weapon possession, and disturbing public order. At least two of his convictions were for knife-related assaults.

It is unclear exactly when he converted to Islam. In 2004, he married a Muslim woman, Farzana Malik but they separated a few months later as a result of Masood’s abusive actions. By 2005, he was living and working in Saudi Arabia, where he earned qualification to teach English. A few months after returning to the UK from Saudi Arabia, he began to teach English to language learners in Luton.

It is also unclear when he was radicalised; however, he spent time in 3 prisons and told a friend that he had become Muslim in jail. 

In the most recent years, he has been moving around the UK with a notable lack of stability. In about the past 5 years, he has lived in Luton, Forest Glen in East London, and Winson Green in Birmingham. Some of that time was spent incarcerated.

At his death, he was married to Rohey Hydara who did not know of the attacks in advance. His wife and mother have both expressed their condolences to the families of the victims and anger at Masood’s actions. 

In 2015: UK government delayed Muslim Brotherhood classification

In light of the American consideration of classifying the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, we share this 2015 UK news about the British experience on this topic. 

In 2015, British then-Prime Minister David Cameron pulled a report which was expected to say that the Muslim Brotherhood is not terrorist organisation. The government likely did not publish the report because it would have hurt the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, countries which have all banned the Muslim Brotherhood and consider it to be a terrorist organisation.

Chris Doyle, the director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, critiqued the unpublished report for being too political and for possibly contributing to the stigmatisation of Muslims within the UK.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar supporting Salafi radicals in Germany, according to German intelligence report

Recurring scrutiny of religious activities of the Gulf States

The two main German domestic and foreign intelligence agencies (the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz and the Bundesnachrichtendienst) are accusing Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar of financing Salafi missionary activities in Germany. Practices scrutinised include the construction of mosques and educational centres, as well as the sending of Imams.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/extremismus-saudis-unterstuetzen-deutsche-salafistenszene-1.3290991 ))

These findings are gathered in a report by the two agencies, which had been commissioned by the German government. In the context of the recent arrival of Syrian and other Arab immigrants, the authorities’ concerns about the influence of religious exports from the Gulf have been growing. A number of Salafi missioning attempts in asylum centres have been highly mediatised and led to fierce public discussions.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/krude-missionierung-salafisten-werben-nahe-fluechtlingsheimen-13793462.html ))

Earlier this year, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel had scolded Saudi Arabia for funding Wahhabi offshoots and institutions the world over. The Social Democratic politician claimed that “the time of looking away is over”.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/01/14/german-vice-chancellor-accuses-saudi-arabia-of-funding-islamic-extremism-in-the-west/ ))

Focus on Turkey

However, not much by way of official action has perspired since then. One of the most controversial Saudi-funded educational institutions in the country – the Bonn-based King Fahd Academy – was shut down and the Saudi government announced that it intended to cut back on its religious activities in Germany. Yet it was not immediately obvious that these Saudi steps had been taken due to mounting pressure by the German government.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/closure-controversial-king-fahd-academy-bonn-shifting-saudi-religious-politics-germany/ ))

Indeed, during 2016 public attention shifted back to Erdoğan’s Turkey and its control over DİTİB, Germany’s single largest Islamic association. As the diplomatic climate between Germany and Turkey worsened, authorities began to perceive DİTİB as a Trojan horse, suspending decades of close cooperation with the organisation ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/26/amidst-political-controversy-german-ditib-association-vows-greater-emancipation-turkish-state/ ))

The present intelligence report might put the Gulf back at the centre of the attention. It warns that the presence of Saudi Arabia and other wealthy religious players from the Gulf will lead to a further growth of the Germany’s 10,000-strong Salafi scene. A particular concerns it the potential for radicalisation among recently arrived refugees.

The precise linkage between missionary activities and violent jihad

While organisations such as the Kuwaiti Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), the Shaykh Eid Charity Foundation from Qatar, or the Saudi-led Muslim World League reject violence, the intelligence reports asserts that, at least in the practice of the RIHS, “no clear distinction between missionary and jihadist Salafism” can be observed.

At the same time, the report notes that evidence capable of demonstrating these organisation’s active support of jihadists in Germany remained inconclusive.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/salafisten-verfassungsschutz-101.html )) Thus, the precise linkages between missionary foundations and jihadist networks still remain somewhat murky.

The role of the governments of the Gulf States

A particularly delicate matter are the connections between these organisations and the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar. While for instance Saudi Arabia has continued to insist on the ostentatious independence of the Muslim World League, the intelligence report asserts that these associations are “closely connected to state authorities in their countries of origin”.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/extremismus-saudis-unterstuetzen-deutsche-salafistenszene-1.3290991 ))

In other words, in spite of steps such as the closure of the King Fahd Academy, “worldwide missionary activity continues to remain raison d’état and part of foreign policy” of the Gulf States. Consequently, the report expects a further expansion of missionary activities in the future. As a response, the report demands that a European registry of Salafi missionary organisations and preachers be created, so as to prevent their entry to the Schengen zone.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/extremismus-saudis-unterstuetzen-deutsche-salafistenszene-1.3290991 ))

Closure of the controversial King-Fahd-Academy in Bonn: Shifting Saudi religious politics in Germany

Past controversies

Saudi diplomats in Germany have confirmed that the King-Fahd-Academy, a Saudi-financed educational institution in Bonn, will be closed by the end of the school year 2016/2017. The construction of a second academy in Berlin will reportedly also be abandoned.(( http://www.dw.com/en/controversial-saudi-school-in-bonn-to-close/a-19511109 ))

The King-Fahd Academy, opened in 1994, had long been criticised as a hotbed of Islamist radicalism. In the early 2000s, the school came under suspicion for alleged ties to Al-Qaeda. In a Friday sermon at the school mosque, a former teacher encouraged pupils to wage holy war and die in the name of God. At the same time, the Wahhabi-inspired curriculum sought to impart to students a strongly anti-Jewish and anti-Western outlook.(( http://daserste.ndr.de/panorama/media/islamistenschule100.html ))

After attempts to have the school closed did not come to fruition, local authorities used their administrative prerogatives and no longer granted children with German citizenship the permission to attend the school. As a consequence, the King-Fahd-Academy, an vast building complex, today only provides schooling to about 150 pupils.(( http://www.general-anzeiger-bonn.de/bonn/bad-godesberg/Godesberger-Schule-schlie%C3%9Ft-zum-Schuljahresende-article3344239.html ))

A shift in the Saudi approach?

Over the past decade, the King-Fahd Academy had striven to dissociate itself from the extremist image of the early 2000s. German language classes became obligatory, curricula were altered, and the school sought to open itself to the outside academically (by adopting the standards of the International Baccalaureate programme) as well as socially (by hosting open houses and a range of cultural activities).(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/umstrittene-saudische-fahd-akademie-in-bonn-schliesst-14411622-p3.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_3 ))

Yet the school never quite managed to leave its past behind. Henner Fürtig of the German Institute for Global Area Studies (GIGA) thus sees the closure of the school as indicative of a Saudi attempt to ameliorate the Kingdom’s image in Europe: closing the King-Fahd-Academy could enable the Saudi rulers to leave behind one of the most painful controversies of the past few years.(( http://www.dw.com/de/saudi-arabien-strebt-imagewechsel-an/a-19511727 ))

Saudi sources describe the abandonment of the old educational agenda as a consequence of a shifting political approach in Riyadh. Allegedly, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman himself decreed the closure of the King-Fahd-Academy.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/islam-in-deutschland-saudi-arabien-gibt-koenig-fahd-akademien-auf/14464982.html )) The ambitious crown prince recently promulgated his ‘Vision 2030’, seeking to modernise Saudi society, infrastructure, industry, and education. According to Saudi diplomats, instead of remaining in a Saudi bubble, Saudi students ought to be taught in German schools in order to benefit from “one of the world’s best educational systems”.(( https://beta.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article157887884/Der-saudische-Rueckzug-sollte-Schule-machen.html?wtrid=crossdevice.welt.desktop.vwo.google-referrer.home-spliturl&betaredirect=true ))

Reactions of relief

German politicians have generally reacted with relief to these announcements. While complimenting the school’s opening since the early 2000s, Bonn’s mayor Ashok Sridharan nevertheless welcomed the Academy’s closure. (( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/umstrittene-saudische-fahd-akademie-in-bonn-schliesst-14411622-p3.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_3 ))

The Saudi decision to shut down this one-time signature educational institution, does indeed come at a particular political moment. Over the past few months there had been renewed criticism of Saudi practices of religious financing abroad, with for instance Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) accusing Saudi Arabia openly of financing Islamic extremism in the West.(( http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/01/14/german-vice-chancellor-accuses-saudi-arabia-of-funding-islamic-extremism-in-the-west/ ))

More generally, as Euro-Islam reported, winning over the ‘hearts and minds’ of Germany’s growing Muslim minority has been a persistent theme in recent political debates.(( http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/26/amidst-political-controversy-german-ditib-association-vows-greater-emancipation-turkish-state/ )) The role of Turkey and of Saudi Arabia has come under particular scrutiny in this regard. Politicians of all parties have voiced fears of foreign financing and control that could turn German Muslims into a Trojan horse destabilising the country from within. The closure of the King-Fahd-Academy will be welcome news to them.

New Poll Finds Young Arab are Less Swayed by the Islamic State

Two years after proclaiming a new “caliphate” for Muslims in the Middle East, the Islamic State is seeing a steep slide in support among the young Arab men and women it most wants to attract, a new poll shows.

Overwhelming majorities of Arab teens and young adults now strongly oppose the terrorist group, the survey suggests, with nearly 80 percent ruling out any possibility of supporting the Islamic State, even if it were to renounce its brutal tactics.

A year ago, about 60 percent expressed that view, according to the 16-country survey released Tuesday.

“Tacit support for the militant group is declining,” concludes a summary report by the poll’s sponsor, ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm that has tracked young Arabs’ views in annual surveys for the past eight years. Other recent surveys have found similarly high disapproval rates for the Islamic State among general populations in Muslim-majority countries.

The new poll, based on face-to-face interviews with 3,500 respondents ages 18 to 24, suggests that young Arabs are both increasingly fearful of the terrorist group and less swayed by its propaganda, compared with previous years. More than half the participants ranked the Islamic State as the No. 1 problem facing the Middle East, and 3 out of 4 said they believed that the group would ultimately fail in its quest to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

The survey suggests that religious fervor plays a secondary role, at best, when young Arabs do decide to sign up with the Islamic State. When asked why Middle Easterners join the group, the participants listed joblessness or poor economic prospects as the top reason. Only 18 percent cited religious views — a “belief that their interpretation of Islam is superior to others” — and nearly as many picked sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites as the chief motivating factor.

Young Arabs from countries with high unemployment rates were more likely to list economic hardship as a top reason for wanting to join the Islamic State, the survey found. The results align with the findings of other researchers who have noted that many recruits use religion mostly as a rationalization.

“Members do not say they join for economic reasons, but other factors they identify — including ones related to religious reasons — could be a proxy of economic or social factors,” Hassan Hassan, an Islamic State expert at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said in an analysis of the survey’s findings. “In other words, members may consciously or unconsciously conceal true motives.”

The survey, taken in January and February of this year, also shows growing disillusionment with the Arab Spring uprisings that began in 2011. Of the 16 countries in the poll, only in Egypt did a majority describe their homeland as better off now than it was five years ago. Overall, the share of survey participants who said they have seen improving conditions since the uprisings dropped from 72 percent in 2012 to 36 percent this year.

Accordingly, respondents tended to rank stability over democracy as a coveted virtue for an Arab state. For the fifth straight year, young Arabs picked the United Arab Emirates as the top country to live in, with a 22 percent ranking, followed by the United States, with 15 percent.

The margin of error for the survey was 1.65 percent.

 

German vice-chancellor accuses Saudi Arabia of funding Islamic extremism in the West

The German vice-chancellor has publicly accused Saudi Arabia of financing Islamic extremism in the West and warned that it must stop. Sigmar Gabriel said that the Saudi regime is funding extremist mosques and communities that pose a danger to public security. “We have to make clear to the Saudis that the time of looking away is over,” Mr Gabriel told Bild am Sonntag newspaper in an interview.

“Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities in Germany.” The allegation that Saudi Arabia has funded mosques with links to Islamist terrorism in the West is not new. But it is highly unusual for a Western leader to speak out so directly against the West’s key Arab ally.

But Mr Gabriel’s remarks make it clear there are serious misgivings about the Saudi regime within the government. Wahhabism, a fundamentalist sect of Sunni Islam that inspired both Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and al-Qaeda is also the official form of the religion in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis have long funded the building of Wahhabi mosques around the world to spread the sect. King Salman has already been widely criticised in the German media for offering to build 200 mosques for Syrian refugees arriving in Germany, even as Saudi Arabia refuses to take in any refugees itself. Mr Gabriel’s linking of Saudi-funded mosques to Islamic extremism will heighten concerns over the offer. It is not the first time he has clashed with the Saudi royal family.

Isil has claimed responsibility for a number of terror attacks in Saudi Arabia.

But there have also been persistent allegations the Saudis supplied arms and funding to Isil and other jihadist groups in the Syrian civil war.

The spread of Wahhabism, and the West’s responsibility to the world

François Hollande’s declaration of war against Isis (also known as Islamic State) was, perhaps, a natural reaction to the carnage in Paris but the situation is now so grave that we cannot merely react; we also need sustained, informed and objective reflection. The French president has unwittingly played into the hands of Isis leaders, who have long claimed to be at war with the West and can now present themselves as noble ­resistance fighters. Instead of bombing Isis targets and, in the process, killing hapless civilians, western forces could more profitably strengthen the Turkish borders with Syria, since Turkey has become by far the most important strategic base of Isis jihadis.

We cannot afford to allow our grief and outrage to segue into self-righteousness. This is not just the “Middle East problem”; it is our problem, too. Our colonial arrangements, the inherent instability of the states we created and our support of authoritarian leaders have all contributed to the terrifying disintegration of social order in the region today. Many of the western leaders (including our own Prime Minister) who marched for liberté in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo massacre were heads of countries that, for decades, have backed regimes in Muslim-majority countries that denied their subjects any freedom of expression – often with disastrous results.

One of these regimes is Saudi Arabia. Despite its dismal human rights record, the kingdom has been central to western foreign policy in the Middle East since the 1970s and western governments have therefore tacitly condoned its “Wahhabisation” of the Muslim world. Wahhabism originated in the Arabian peninsula during the 18th century as an attempt to return to the pristine Islam of the Prophet Muhammad. Hence, Wahhabis came to denounce all later developments – such as Sufism and Shia Islam – as heretical innovations.

In 2013, the European Union declared that Wahhabism was the main source of global terrorism. It is probably more accurate, however, to say that the narrowness of the Wahhabi vision is a fertile soil in which extremism can flourish. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Wahhabi chieftains did indeed conduct violent military expeditions against the Shia but, during the 1930s, the Saudi kingdom abandoned military jihad and Wahhabism became a religiously conservative movement. Today, some members of the Saudi ruling class support Isis but the Grand Mufti has condemned it in the strongest terms. Like Osama Bin Laden, Isis leaders aim to overthrow the Saudi regime and see their movement as a rebellion against modern Wahhabism.

Backlash over The Independent’s article over the removal of the Prophet’s grave

The Independent newspaper published an article claiming that the grave of the Prophet Muhammad could be destroyed and this plan will spark huge controversy throughout the Muslim world. The newspaper claimed that “hard-line Saudi-clerics” who preach a strict version of Islam called “Wahhabism” believe that worshipping at the grave is an act of idolatry and therefore want the grave removed.

This article has caused a backlash amongst those who know Saudi’s internal politics and have refuted the entire piece claiming that it is “not only out of context, but embellished or completely untrue.” They call for higher standards in journalism, especially as this is not the first time the Independent has published a similar article on Saudi Arabia using the same untenable sources.

Outrage in Saudi Arabia at appearance of London female newsreader without headscarf on state television

August 5, 2014

The unprecedented appearance of a female newsreader on Saudi state television without a headscarf has caused a scandal in the deeply conservative Islamic state. The unnamed anchor, who has previously worn a hijab in clips circulated online, was reading a bulletin from London for the Al Ekhbariya channel. Strict Islamic dress codes in Saudi Arabia require women to dress “modestly” – usually with headscarves, veils and full-length abayas. While women do sometimes appear without head coverings in programmes broadcast by state-controlled channels, newsreaders are never seen without the hijab.

Saleh Al Mughailif, a spokesman for Saudi radio and television, told Al Tawasul news the correspondent was reading the news from the broadcaster’s British studio. “She was not in a studio inside Saudi Arabia and we do not tolerate any transgression of our values and the country’s systems,” he added.

He promised that all measures would be taken to ensure there is no repeat of the incident after many viewers expressed outrage. Al Ekhbariya, which has offices in the Middle East, Europe and America, is known for its use of female anchors after having its maiden broadcast in 2004 presented by the country’s first female news presenter.

Society has been divided over the possibility of granting women more rights as the Government’s labour ministry encourages more women to take up jobs in the private sector, against strong resistance from conservative groups. King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz has appointed 30 women to his advisory body, the Shura Council, in a landmark decision for women’s status, Gulf News reported. A billionaire Saudi prince and businessman, Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal, is also rumoured to take a moderate stance in offices of his Kingdom Holding business empire by not enforcing the veil for employees.