Antwerp: Nothing but Allah and his prophet (1)

Antwerp: Nothing but Allah and his prophet (1)

Belgian weekly Knack published its second and last installment in its series of articles about radical Islam in Antwerp. The first article is was "The Jihadis of Antwerp-North" (De jihadi's van Antwerpen-Noord) which I translated in two parts (Antwerp: The Jihadis of Antwerp North (1) and Antwerp: The Jihadis of Antwerp North (2)

The second article is titled "Nothing but Allah and his prophet", this time focusing on the Salafist movement in Antwerp.  Like the first installment this one is full of interesting information.  In the past I've posted the story of Marij Uit den Bogaard and her attempts to warn the Antwerp municipality of Muslim radicalism.  After her dismissal by the city she wrote several articles about her experiences which I've translated with her permission (links below this article).

Again, I will translate the first half of the article here and will post the other half in the next couple of days.



The greatest threat for a harmonious society in and around Antwerp doesn't come from potential Muslim terrorists.  It comes from a group of Salafists within the Muslim community for whom there is only one right way: that which Allah gave to his prophet Muhammed fifteen centuries ago.

"Cowardice: When a man will fight for the affairs of Allah, then the devil comes to him and says the following: 'You'll be dead and your children will  be abandoned orphans.'  In this way he will stop fighting for Allah."  The wording is maybe a bit cryptic, but a good reader can perceive here nothing else than a call to martyrdom.  The passage can be found in the book The Frailty of Faith (De zwakheid van het Geloof) published by El Tawheed.  The publishing house is owned by Mahmoud el Shershaby, a famous and influential Salafist imam from Amsterdam.  Salafism is a movement that reverts to Islam as it was lived by the first generations of Muslims.  The movement demands strict observance of the laws from the period that Mohammed and his first followers set the lines.  That is the pure Islam and nothing may be added to it.  There are no exact numbers about the number of Salafists in our country.  In the Netherlands there are several thousands of followers of the hard core which consists of thirty preachers.
Most Salafist preachers in the Netherlands and Belgium don't exhort to violence, but their message is labeled by the security services as intolerant and opposing integration.  What's written in The Frailty of Faith shows really that within Salafism there's also a movement that doesn't swear off violence.  In the same chapter one can find that 'the situation of martyrs is so much more advanced and perfect than of the regular dead."

The book can be easily gotten in Antwerp, also in the Bengali mosque library on the Turnhoutsebaan in Borgerhout.  Whoever visits the mosque and asks for the book can get the Dutch version promptly at home.  In "The Key Part 1" (De Sleutel, deel 1) by Tarik Mouhmouh, a young Dutch writer, it says again: "The Jews rape women because it is proscribed in their religion (..) is then everything on earth forbidden for the Muslims and permitted to the enemy infidels?"

That such texts can currently be printed and circulated in Dutch, shouldn't be surprising.  Less and less Belgian and Dutch Muslim youth understand Arabic.  If the radical pioneers want to expand their base they must translate the texts to Dutch. 

Will the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism (CGKR) just allow such writings to pass?  "We already have a case by the criminal court for four years already about the book 'The Way of the Muslim'," says manager Jozef De Witte.  That standard work, written by Aboe Bakr El Djezeiri, calls among other things to throw gays from the roof and to hit women.  "There is still no ruling," says De Witte.

"Pending that we asked the Muslim Executive – fruitlessly – to condemn those texts.  They hide behind the argument that the Executive is not authorized for such matters. Strictly speaking they are right.  But in the Netherlands leading imams did condemn those passages out of the book."

According to De Witte the problem is particularly that in Belgian law only racism is a misdemeanor.  "Other types of discrimination, for example due to sexual orientation or religion, can only be charged at the criminal court [ed. and not the correctional court].  That is too high of a bar."


Forbidding such writing isn't high on the priority list, seeing the seriousness of other practical issues.  Though it is through these so called serious and serene literature that many youth meet the discourse of the Jihadis for the first time.  Exactly two years ago, December 2006, the Antwerp city council was extremely concerned about the "increasing radicalization" of Muslim youth.

 Something else completely happened in the aftermath of the dismissal of Marijke Uijt den Bogaard.  She had been fired half a year earlier, according to her boss, because she was a problematic figure within the municipal non-profit where she worked.  Uijt den Bogaard was however praised in the years previously many times due to the effectiveness with which she brought together various population groups.  That she didn't mince words in her memos and reports is according to her the true reasons for her dismissal.

After an investigation the municipal department for undesirable behavior at work indeed concluded in its report that Uijt den Bogaard was really the victim of the undesirable behavior of her bosses.  Chantal Pauwels (Groen!), at the time the alderman responsible for social construction refused to go back on the dismissal of Uit den Bogaard.  "Legally I can not reveal anything from an individual dismissal file."

Uijt den Bogaard warned for a while in the preceding period about disturbing tendencies among Antwerp Muslims, a concern that that the Integration Department appeared yet to take very seriously several months after her dismissal.  One certain youth movement was then especially watched, the Jongeren voor Islam (Youth for Islam, JVI), a non-profit that was founded in Boom in 2003 and later moved to Antwerp. 

Two years ago the JVI claimed to have a thousand members. People who were there then confirm that several times several hundred Muslims were present at their activities.  The association has contacts with similar organization in the Netherlands and can manage without subsidies from the Belgian government. 

Chairman Farid Zahnoun (37) answered the media criticism in 2006 saying that 'his movement had nothing to hide and that everybody was free to come take a look to see that JVI had only good goals and wanted to keep youth away from the streets.'

Colleagues from the Dutch paper De Volkskrant then tried making contact with him but didn't get any information.  After a long search for a telephone number we got an email address where we could ask questions.  "We don't talk on the telephone.  Then you just distort our words.  We want everyting black on white," Zahnoun told us via a mediator.  The answers to our list of questions comes after several days and are very general.  According to Zahnoun every now and then about fifty faithful come to the courses and workshops of JVI.  "The big conference attracted ten times as many."  Zahnoun additionally emphasized among other things 'that within Islam it's not allowed to preach violence of harm the state in a country with which you concluded a contract.  Consequently we've always preached for a peaceful and harmonious society."

Hamza Arras, one of the founders of JVI and for the past two years working for the 'Diversity Cell' of the Antwerp police, doesn't want to talk to us.  The opinions about him differ.  Some moderate Muslims doubt whether Arras had really exaggerated about his old friendship connections.  Others assure us that Arras realized that he'd been mistaken several years ago and say that he now "very fruitfully" works for dialog between the police and the Muslim community.  His direct boss, François Vermeulen, is very satisfied with his coworker.  He said that Arras is not a member of JVI anymore, but that he, as part of his job by the police, attends meetings.


JVI recently renamed its neatly maintained website - chairman Zahnoun is an information scientist at a big chemistry company - to

Returning to the roots of the faith is the core message that the association wants to make known to the outside world.  There are various writings about prayer, but also for daily living.  Thus the hijab "may not be scented, must be loose and thick, so that men can't see through it." 

As answer to the criticism that women are oppressed under Islam, the writer says that Islam in on the contrary a savior of the woman's status.  "The Greeks and the Persians and even the Brits till the 19th century, *those* were societies where the woman was oppressed," it says.  "Islam doesn't forbid the woman from working outside the home.  So long that she follows the following guidelines:

(1) she must need to do this work and society must also need it.  This can only happen when there is no man that can be found to do this work. 

(2)  She should do this after she finishes her own work (her tasks at home).  (the tasks at home are in first priority). 

(3) This job must be performed in a place where she won't come in contact with men.  Examples of that: educating women, tending to female patients.  Above all she must not be in touch with male colleagues.

(4) Just as well there is nothing that limits her in acquiring knowledge about the religion - stronger yet, she is obligated to it.  And there is nothing that limits her in the teaching of religion, as long as that is necessary and her lessons are held in surroundings where only women are around.  There is nothing wrong with attending for example lessons at a mosque etc.  People should pay attention that these lessons are held separately from the men.

.. Part 2 to follow

Articles by Marij Uijt den Bogaard:
* Brussels: Muslim schools
* Stories of Life: Domestic violence
* Antwerp: Who really wants the headscarf?
* Stories of Life: Working with a Moroccan Colleague

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