Caught between an anti-Islam campaign showing no sign of dying down and deplorable living conditions, many imams are packing and leaving the Netherlands for more tolerant European societies.
"Many veteran imams have moved to neighboring European countries where they enjoy more rights and freedom," Mohammad Osalah, the deputy head of the Imams Society in the Netherlands, told IslamOnline.net.
He said imams have a serious image problem in the Netherlands and the word conjures up the image of violence and terrorism due to media onslaughts and the inaction of Muslim leaders to defend the mosque custodians.
"Since the 9/11 attacks, imams have been associated with extremists and criminals, which tarnishes the real image of a sacrificing, tolerant and dovish imam," Osalah said.
"Prevailing Western stereotypes about Islam immediately reflect on people's perception of imams."
He complained that imams and mosques are always blamed for the actions of a handful of Muslims, citing the killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in 2004 for his anti-Islam film "Submission."
"The media and politicians immediately pointed the finger at imams as the main instigators," Osalah recalled, who has a Moroccan origin.
He insists that the government shares a large part of the blame for the imam stereotype.
"The government, directly or indirectly, gave free rein to politicians and the media to blemish the image of imams. They are talking about the imams not with them."
Muslims make up one million of the Netherlands's 16 million population. Turks represent 80 percent of the Muslim minority.
Osalah said imams lack the minimum decent standards of living in the European country.
"Lucky imams get a meager monthly salary, while the many others live on charity from mosque goers," he regretted.
The Muslim activist said that many imams are threatened with deportation at any time over any mistake or even disagreement with the mosque administration.
"Has the government provided the imams with the minimum decent living of standard so that he can feel secure and stable to assume his duties properly?" he wondered.
"A number of imams have lost hope in getting permanent residence and returned home, while others switched careers to make ends meet."
Osalah said the number of imams moving to other countries or abandoning their preaching career is on the rise, warning of a serious shortage in qualified imams.
"Now a large number of mosques are covered by volunteers or unqualified imams who are illegally residing in the country."
Unofficial estimates show imams have left 40 percent of the country's 450 mosques.
Osalah also questioned a government plan for homegrown imams.
"The plan is not backed by prominent Muslim leaders in the country," he asserted.
"It will create a generation of imams with sketchy information about Islam rather than an in-depth knowledge to be able to strike the right balance between reality and religion," he opined.
Osalah wondered how applicants would be able to learn everything about Islam in three of four years' time as proposed by the government.
"We will have a generation of imams who cannot even read the Noble Qur'an properly. How could they educate Muslims about their religion?"
Last year, the Inholland College launched an imam grooming program in cooperation with some Islamic organizations in order to get a generation of homegrown imams and preachers under the auspices of Minister of Integration Rita Verdonk.
Twenty-seven students basically of Turkish, Moroccan and Surinamese origin along with natives enrolled at the four-year program.
The Dutch parliament has approved recently a document outlining a number of measures to combat extremism within the Muslim minority, including an annual state budget to train and qualify homegrown imams so that that country would reach self-sufficiency by 2008.
Source: Islam Online (English)