How Dutch Muslims fare if they fall from their faith

The Turkish-Dutch writer Lale Gül (23) was rejected by her parents this week because of her fierce criticism of her orthodox-Islamic upbringing in Amsterdam-West. Following the Gül affair six questions and answers about apostasy within Islam in the Netherlands.

1. Why did Lale Gül leave her parental home?

In the recently published book I’m going to live Gül sharply criticizes her parents – and especially her mother, who she calls, among other things, the “hate aunt of the house”. The twenties blames her parents for unnecessarily restricting her life with their conservative views.

The book reached the second place on the bestseller lists and brought Gül a lot of media attention. That led to a flood of threats and a new low point in the relationship with her parents. According to the writer, the immediate cause for her departure from the parental home was that she was praised by PVV leader Geert Wilders during the last election debate. She said Friday to Het Parool: “That was the last straw.”

2. Is it more common for Muslim families in the Netherlands to break up with an apostate family member?

No figures are available, but according to religious scientist Maria Vliek of Radboud University, families deal very differently with an apostate family member.

Vliek conducted doctoral research into apostasy among Muslims in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands and interviewed 44 apostates. “I spoke to a woman who was quitting Ramadan, and her mother was preparing breakfast for her the next morning. But it can also come with a lot of pain and conflict. Often it is a huge shock to families.”

Sometimes the shock is so great that a family breaks with the renegade. This is called ‘repudiation’, a term that is also used in Islam for divorces.

3. Do Dutch Muslims often react as violently to apostates as is now the case with Lale Gül?

In 2002, the later VVD politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali was seriously threatened after she declared that she had left Islam. Hirsi Ali had to go into hiding and now lives in the United States.

Five years later, the debate flared up again when Ehsan Jami established the Central Committee for Ex-Muslims. He called passages in the Quran “backward” and stated that the Prophet Muhammad was a “criminal” and “a terrible man”. He too was threatened.

His committee asked, among other things, extra protection for apostates by the government. After a year, the committee was disbanded, according to Jami because too few apostates dared to step forward. Critics argued that it did not help that he attacked Islam as a whole, rather than confining himself to the problem of apostates.

Jami was initially a member of the Labor Party, but left that party because he received too little support. Today he is a councilor for Liveable Rotterdam.

Last week, the Rotterdam city council approved his initiative for a poster campaign, aimed at “the right of apostasy and freedom of belief”. It is not officially about Islam specifically, but Jami does not allow any misunderstanding about its focus. “It’s not about Ingrid, it’s about Fatima. Threats and intimidation are normal when you want to leave,” he said. The Telegraph.

4. How many non-believers with a Muslim background are there in the Netherlands?

From the report Religious perception of Muslims in the Netherlands of the Social and Cultural Planning Office shows that in the Moroccan-Dutch community about 5 percent is not religious. This is 10 percent among Turkish Dutch people. There are major differences in that group; a quarter of the highly educated Turkish Dutch say they do not believe, while that is no more than 5 percent for the low educated.

The Humanist Covenant has The New Freethinkers set up, where non-believers from a Muslim background meet during open and private meetings. Facebook groups are also active. According to researcher Vliek, several hundred former Muslims in the Netherlands are members of such a group.

5. Does apostasy only occur in Islam?

No. In all faiths there are apostates. In the Netherlands, authors such as Maarten ‘t Hart and Franca Treur, for example, wrote about the suffocating Protestant environment in which they grew up. From the 1960s and 1970s, the Dutch churches emptied, which is called de-Christianization or secularization.

Secularization among Christians is much less controversial than in Islam, especially because in the latter religion the Quran is more often taken literally and there is little room for interpretation. In fundamentalist Christian communities, such as those in the Dutch Bible Belt, a break with the faith can still have painful social consequences, such as expulsion.

6. How is apostasy viewed in international Islam?

In principle, the Quran is strict when it comes to abandonment of faith. “A renegade will burn in hell,” it reads.

However, the holy book of Islam does not contain any rules or worldly punishments for apostates. Muslim scholars agree that punishment should be done, but disagree on what this should entail, says Leiden professor of Islam in the West Maurits Berger.

According to the strictest movements within Islam, such as Saudi Wahhabism, apostasy is punishable by death. Berger: “Unfortunately, many Muslims think this is the general rule. That makes apostasy in Islam so unpleasant.”

In Muslim countries where apostasy is punishable, a minority, often no prosecution takes place, but attempts are made to bring apostates back to the faith. When it does come to trial, the defendants are usually people who publicly claim to be apostate or criticize Islam.

A well-known example of a renegade who has been sentenced to death is the writer Salman Rushdie. The Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did so in 1989 in response to Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses, in which the Prophet Muhammad succumbs to earthly temptations.

Obviously, Islamic law does not apply in the Netherlands. This is where freedom of faith applies, and if believers want to change their minds by force of an apostate, criminal law comes into play.
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