Amsterdam: Woman mosque leader seeks new Muslim in Europe
Yassmine el Ksaihi doesn't see herself as a feminist rebel. She covers her head and wears modest clothing. She learned to read the Quran at age 5 and promotes traditional Muslim values.
Yet there is something pioneering about her nonetheless: At age 24 she is the administrator of a large mosque, an unusual position of authority for a young woman in the world of Islam, even in Europe.
In a first for the Netherlands, men and women pray together in the Polder Mosque — albeit segregated, with the women praying in the back of the red-carpeted prayer hall. Sermons are in Dutch rather than Arabic. Non-Muslims are welcome.
Across Europe, Muslims are seeking a formula that lets them fit into their country while maintaining loyalty to their faith, and el Ksaihi's mosque, which melds some Western secular values with deep attachment to Islam, is one solution toward resolving such tensions.
Experts say it's part of a European trend: many young Muslims on the continent are staying away from traditional mosques and meeting in more casual settings for prayer and study groups.
Fitting into European society while remaining rooted in Islam is no easy task among native populations that often resent the growing number of Muslims, and — many Muslims feel — discriminate against them in jobs and education.
The Polder Mosque tries to find middle ground between Islamic radicalism and rightwing xenophobia. And it may be at the forefront of the effort to find, if not a European style of Islam, at least grounds for coexistence with European norms.
El Ksaihi seeks to make Islam more accessible to young Muslims born in a secular nation and make Muslims more acceptable to their neighbors. She wants congregants to embrace the religion and culture while extracting it from the homeland of their immigrant parents.
"We choose Dutch as the main language because we focus on the young people. Most of them can only speak Dutch," she said. "If non-Muslims enter the mosque, they will hear what we are discussing. There is nothing scary about what we do."
As administrator, El Ksaihi is in charge of finances and hires the imams who lead the prayers and deliver sermons. She says she finds imams that reflect the diversity of the Amsterdam Muslim community, including preachers from Malaysia and Indonesia as well as from Morocco and Turkey where most Dutch Muslims come from.
The mosque is a cultural center as much as a house of worship. "This is a traditional model of Islam. It's not new," she said. "We are going back to the roots. There is only one Islam."
Source: AP (English)