Netherlands: Mosque design shows movement identity

Netherlands: Mosque design shows movement identity

Traditional mosques with domes and minarets express unwillingness to integrate. That is what Dutch people often think. But research by architectural historian Eric Roose shows that those who commission the design of Dutch mosques only want to express what Islamic movement they belong to.

Mosques are an increasingly prominent feature of the Dutch landscape. Some Dutch people feel annoyed by this, especially when the mosques are richly equipped with oriental embellishments, domes and minarets. Others, however, feel that Muslims are now part of Dutch society and have the right to mark their identity in the Dutch landscape.

Anthropologist and architectural historian Eric Roose takes an original position in this debate. In his dissertation he meticulously describes the decision-making process around the design of twelve Dutch mosques. The patrons who commission the design of these mosques, it turns out, have motives beyond the desire to assimilate into Dutch society or not.


-Traditional mosques in the Netherlands are a sign of failing integration. What is your comment?

Eric Roose: The Dutch people are obsessed by the issue of integration of Muslims. Many can only understand Dutch mosque design from that perspective. Traditional Dutch mosques are either viewed as a sign of failing integration or as a sign of emancipation of Muslims in Dutch society. My research challenges this perspective. It reveals that the patrons who commission the design of the mosques are not in the least preoccupied with these issues. What they want with their design is to express their allegiance to some Islamic views and movements as opposed to others.


-So the patrons want to demonstrate their position within Islam. But does that necessarily mean that they cannot also make a statement to Dutch society?

No, it doesn’t. But such statements are usually rhetorical. The integration debate is a reality they have to deal with. You see that in the beginning of the design process the issue is not discussed, but when the patrons are questioned by journalists and local officials, they start to invent reasons why their design is a statement of integration in Dutch society. The patron of the Essalam mosque in Rotterdam, for instance, once said that his mosque fits very well into the surroundings because if you remove the dome and minarets, it looks like the Rotterdam city hall. These are rationalisations in hindsight.

-Is there more freedom in Europe to express your religious identity in the design of a mosque than there is in Muslim countries?

I think so, yes. The Essalam mosque in Rotterdam could probably not have been built in Morocco, where the building of mosques is subject to strong regulations. Having said this, however, I must emphasize that local authorities in Dutch towns are getting increasingly critical and stubborn where it comes to domes and minarets. So the freedom to express one’s religious identity in mosque design is eroding in the Netherlands.


Source: RNW (English)

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