Humour and pragmatism characterize Dutch Ramadan

Cross-cultural difference come to the fore in the month of Ramadan for many Muslims in the Netherlands, but a sense of humour on both sides combined with the pragmatism for which the country is famous have led to an easy-going atmosphere this year.

Under the themes of peace and promoting relations between different faith communities, the month was opened with public events on September 24, the largest in Amsterdam and Rotterdam being linked by video.

Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen and Government Reform Minister Atzo Nikolai attended in the Dutch capital, while Education Minister Maria van den Hoeven was present in Rotterdam.

Abdel Ezzaki, a man of Moroccan origin who lives in the picturesque city of Leiden, remains amused that the Dutch year after year forget that Muslims fast during the day.

At the beginning of Ramadan he is greeted as usual when he enters the office where he works with the query, 'Cup of coffee, Ab?'

'Sorry, Ramadan,' comes his response, which has to be repeated at regular intervals through the day.

By mid-month, the Dutch have got used to it and no longer offer him anything. But there is a down-side.

Ezzaki predicts that, as in years past, once Ramadan is over it will be a couple of weeks before it becomes clear to his colleagues once more that he does actually enjoy a cup of coffee with them.

Sportsmen and women have a particular problem, as the European sports calendar pays no heed to Muslim needs.

Foppe de Haan, coach of the Dutch under-23 football team, says problems arise during training, as he realized with his players, the striker Ali Elkhattabi and the goalkeeper Khalid Sinouh.

'With the keeper there is no problem, but there certainly is with other players,' De Haan told the NRC Handelsblad. 'You certainly notice that players tire more quickly.'

The team sought the advice of a dietician and cut out afternoon training for its Muslim members.

For many Muslims, an exception is made to the fasting rule on match days. The father of one of the players, Ismail Aissati, is an imam, who takes the view that fasting is not required on match days.

But De Haan acknowledges: 'I have left people out of the team for this reason.'

Boxing trainer Hennie Mandemaker, who coaches Husnu Kocabas, a lightweight of Turkish origin, notes a problem of a different kind.

'Most people put on weight during Ramadan, because they fast during the day and eat more than usual at night,' he says, and this is a problem for a lightweight boxer.

This year the Ramadan Festival organization, on the internet at, has arranged a series of lectures with themes like 'Jews and Moroccans in the Netherlands' and a whole series entitled 'Islam and Christianity.'

Chrisje Aardening, who helped organize some of the debates in Amsterdam, said they had made a definite contribution to easing tensions in the Dutch capital that rose sharply after the murder of film maker Theo van Gogh in November 2004.

'The aim was dialogue and approaching each other, rather than having people present opposing views,' she said, adding the debates had been held in a cordial atmosphere with attendance from a broad spectrum of Amsterdam society.

Source: Monsters and Critics (English)

See also: Why are there still all those questions?

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