Islam in the Netherlands

Islam is the second largest religion in the Netherlands after various forms of Christianity, practiced by 4% of the population according to 2012 estimates.[1] The majority of Muslims in the Netherlands belong to the Sunni denomination.[2] Most reside in the nation's four major cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht.

The early history of Islam in the Netherlands can be traced to the 16th century when Ottoman traders began settling in the nation's port cities. While religious exposure arrived via trade partnerships, improvised Mosques in Amsterdam were first constructed in the early 17th century.[3] In the ensuing timeframe, the Netherlands experienced sporadic Muslim immigration from the Dutch East Indies during its status as a colony of the Netherlands. Starting with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire through the independence of Indonesia, the greater Kingdom of the Netherlands contained the world's largest Muslim citizenry. However, the number of Muslims in the Kingdom's European territories was very low, accounting for less than 0.1% of the population.

The Netherlands' economic resurgence in the 1960 to 1973 timeframe motivated the Dutch government to recruit migrant labor, chiefly from Turkey and Morocco. Later waves of immigrants arrived through family reunification and asylum seeking. A notable portion of Muslim immigrants also arrived from now-independent colonies, primarily Indonesia and Suriname.


Ottoman traders and Dutch converts

The first traces of Islam in the Netherlands date back to the 16th century. Ottoman and Persian traders settled in many Dutch and Flemish trading towns, and were allowed to practice their faith, although most of them belonged to the Jewish or Greek Orthodox community under the Sultan. References to the Ottoman state and Islamic symbolism were also frequently used within 16th century Dutch society itself, most notably in Protestant speeches called hagenpreken, and in the crescent-shaped medals of the Geuzen, bearing the inscription "Rather Turkish than Papist". When Dutch forces broke through the Spanish siege of Leiden in 1574, they carried with them Turkish flags into the city.[4] During the Siege of Sluis in Zeeland in 1604, 1400 Turkish slaves were freed by Maurice of Orange from captivity by the Spanish army. The Turks were declared free people and the Dutch state paid for their repatriation. To honor the resistance of the Turkish slaves to their Spanish masters, Prince Maurice named a local fortification "Turkeye". Around this time the Netherlands also housed a small group of Muslim refugees from the Iberian peninsula, called Moriscos, who would eventually settle in Constantinople.

Diplomat Cornelius Haga gained trading privileges from Contantinople for the Dutch Republic in 1612, some 40 years before any other nation recognized Dutch independence. Two years later the Ottomans sent their emissary Ömer Aga to the Netherlands to intensify the relations between the two states with a common enemy.

In the 17th century dozens of Dutch, Zeelandic and Frisian sailors converted to Islam and joined the Barbary Pirates in the ports of North-Africa, where some of them even became admirals in the Ottoman Navy. Many sailors converted to escape slavery after being taken captive, while others "went Turk" of their own volition. Some of the converted Dutchmen returned home to the Netherlands. However, this was deemed problematic, not so much due to their conversion, but due to their disloyalty to the Dutch Republic and its navy.

Treaty with Morocco

In the early 17th century a delegation from the Dutch Republic visited Morocco to discuss a common alliance against Spain and the Barbary pirates. Sultan Zidan Abu Maali appointed Samuel Pallache as his envoy, and in 1608 Pallache met with stadholder Maurice of Nassau and the States General in The Hague.

Dutch East Indies

In the 19th century the Netherlands administered the archipelago that would become Indonesia, a majority-Muslim country with the largest Muslim population in the world. In the first half of the 20th century hundreds of Indonesian students, sailors, baboes and domestic workers lived in the Netherlands, thus constituting the first sizable Muslim community. In 1932, Indonesian workers established the Perkoempoelan Islam (Islamic Association), which was a self-help organization that lobbied for the establishment of a Muslim cemetery and a mosque in the Netherlands. Both were realized in 1933.[5] After the bloody war of Independence from 1945 to 1949 this community grew.[6]


During the 1960s and 1970s the Netherlands needed a larger labour force for the labour intense jobs in the lower educated sectors. These sectors were short of workers because of the traditionally service-oriented Dutch economy. The Netherlands concluded recruitment agreements with countries like Turkey and Morocco, allowing people from these countries to stay in the Netherlands (smaller numbers of Muslim immigrants in this time came from Tunisia and Algeria).

Official work immigration ended in 1973, but the number of Moroccans and Turks remained on the increase as immigrants brought their family to the country using family reunification laws. A number of Surinamese Muslims came to the Netherlands before and after the independence of Suriname in 1975.

In the 1980s and especially since the 1990s, Muslims came to the Netherlands as refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from Bosnia, Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.[7]

Apart from asylum seekers, currently most Muslim immigration takes place through marriage migration and family reunification laws. Most Moroccan and Turkish 1st and 2nd generation immigrants married people from their home countries. In the past years the Netherlands passed immigration laws which force future immigrants and their prospective Dutch partners to abide by very strict requirements. Immigrants must pass tests showing knowledge of Dutch in their home countries. The Dutch partner must be at least 21 years old and prove an income of at least 120% minimum wage. These strict laws have caused Dutch interested in marrying people from other countries to move to Belgium for a temporary period, in what has been called "The Belgian Route".[8]

Because of increasingly restrictive legislation on family formation and reunification, and the economic development of their home countries, the number of immigrants from Turkey and Morocco has decreased sharply since 2003.[9] Immigrants from Turkey decreased from 6,703 in 2003 to 3,175 in 2006, and immigrants from Morocco decreased more than halved from 4,894 to 2,085.[10] Net immigration has slumped to a few hundred a year, and has even been negative in some years.

Demographic situation

Share of Muslims as of 2004

According to Statistics Netherlands (CBS), a Dutch governmental institution, about 5% of the total Dutch population are Muslims (24 October 2007). Earlier statistics presented by the CBS showed a larger number of Muslims, but this information was solely based on ethnicity and not on religious belief.[11] Since 2007 a reduction of around 50,000 Muslims was measured by the CBS, but this is not seen as a significant drop; it is seen as a result of improved research parameters. Secularisation of the second generation has nonetheless been observed, mostly amongst citizens of Iranian and Turkish background.

Like most non-Western immigrants, most Muslims live in the four major cities of the country, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. An estimated 140,000 Muslims reside in the capital where they form around 17 per cent of the population. Half of these Muslims are predominantly Arabic and Berber-speaking communities from the Maghreb region, Egypt and the Middle East. Turks make up 25 per cent of the Muslim population in Amsterdam. There are also relatively many Turks in Enschede, Arnhem and Zaanstad.[12]

There were 850,000 Dutch residents who professed Islam in 2006. Of this 38% were ethnic Turkish, 31% were Moroccan, 26% were other Asian/African, 4% were European (Non-Dutch) and 1% (12,000 people) were native Dutch. 40,000 of the Muslims were Pakistanis, 34,000 were Surinamese, 31,000 were Afghan and 27,000 were Iraqi.[13] At the end of 2012 the number of Muslims is estimated to be around 4% of the total Dutch population according to the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics.[1]


There are about 400 mosques in the Netherlands, with about 200 Turkish mosques, 140 Moroccan mosques and 50 Surinamese.

Shi'a Muslims

108,728 Twelver Shiites are reportedly living in the Netherlands on 1 January 2005. This group is composed of Iraqis (43,523), Afghanis (36,683), and Iranians (28,522).[14]

Broken down by ethnic group, Turks have more organisations than Moroccans and networks between these organisations are closer.

Umbrella organizations


The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was built in 1947. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Netherlands is the main umbrella organization. Mobarak Mosque in The Hague was inaugurated by Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, who was serving as the President and Head Judge of the International Court of Justice at The Hague.


Non-sectarian Muslims who reject the authority of hadith, known as Quranists, Quraniyoon, or Ahl al-Quran, are also present in the Netherlands.[15]


Whereas all foreign nationals who have legally resided in the country for five years have the right to vote in local elections, Moroccans traditionally turn out in low numbers, while turnout among Turks is comparable to that among native Dutch.

After the 2003 elections, there were at least ten MPs from Muslim background among the 150 Members of Parliament,[16] but as few as three among them may have been active believers, while two explicitly classified themselves as ex-Muslims.[17]

Nebahat Albayrak (ex-State Secretary of Justice) and Ahmed Aboutaleb (ex-State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment, now mayor of Rotterdam) were both the first Muslims in the Dutch cabinet.

Geert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom was put on trial for inciting racial hatred, relating to his inflammatory comments regarding Islam in early October 2010.[18] Wilders was acquitted on June 23, 2011, the judge citing that his comments were legitimate political debate, but on the edge of legal acceptability.


The murder of Theo van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch citizen of Moroccan descent, on 2 November 2004, as well as the arrest of the Hofstad Group on charges of terrorism, caused a lot of discussion about Islam and its place in Dutch society. The possibility of banning the burka was discussed in the cabinet.[19]

Following the murder of Theo van Gogh, a number of websites appeared praising the murder and making death threats against other people. At the same time, starting with four arson attacks on mosques in the weekend after the murder, a significant number of apparently retaliatory incidents took place. By November 8, Christian churches were in turn targeted. A report for the Anne Frank Foundation and the University of Leiden counted a total of 174 violent incidents in November, specifying that mosques were the target of violence 47 times, and churches 13 times.[20]

Between 23 November 2004 and 13 March 2005, the National Dutch Police Services Agency (KLPD) recorded 31 occasions of riots against mosques and Islamic schools.[21] The case that drew most attention was an arson attack that led to the destruction of a Muslim primary school in Uden in December 2004.[22] The period of heightened tensions between Dutch and Muslim communities was also evidenced by several confrontations between what are known as the "Lonsdale Youth" (Dutch youth groups characterised by their preference for Lonsdale clothing, which is often popular with Neo-Nazi groups) and Turkish and Moroccan youths in provincial towns like Venray.[23]

These incidents took place against the backdrop of increasing suspicions and anger towards Muslims, which have developed over a longer time. In May 2006, a poll by Motivaction / GPD (1,200 Dutch adults +/- 3%) found that 63% of Dutch citizens felt that Islam is incompatible with modern European life.[24] A poll of June 2004 found that 68% felt threatened by "immigrant or Muslim young people", 53% feared a terrorist attack by Muslims in the Netherlands, and 47% feared that at some point, they would have to live according to Islamic rules in the Netherlands.[25]

Feelings of fear or distrust coincide with a high degree of social segregation. About two-thirds of Turks and Moroccans "associate predominantly with members of their own ethnic group," while a similar proportion of native Dutch "have little or no contact at all with immigrants." Moreover, contacts between the groups are decreasing, notably those between second generation Turks and Moroccans and Dutch.[26]

Sharia law in the Netherlands

In 2006 Minister of Justice Piet Hein Donner provoked a widespread public outcry when he suggested the Netherlands might accept Sharia law in a constitutional manner. "It is a sure certainty for me: if two thirds of all Netherlanders tomorrow would want to introduce Sharia, then this possibility must exist. Could you block this legally? It would also be a scandal to say 'this isn't allowed! The majority counts. That is the essence of democracy." [27] The statements were categorically refused by parties across the political spectrum, as well as by one Muslim leader.[28]

Dual citizenship

When two Muslim politicians, Nebahat Albayrak and Ahmed Aboutaleb, both of whom hold foreign as well as Dutch passports, were proposed as state secretaries in 2007 a discussion was started by the Party for Freedom (PVV) about dual citizenship and the possibility of foreign citizens to hold office. No other political party joined the PVV in their opinion. After their appointment a motion of no confidence was entered by Geert Wilders, which also did not get any support from any other political party. A week later the PVV entered a motion of no confidence against parliament member Khadija Arib who serves on an advisory council to King Mohammed VI of Morocco; this motion was also defeated without any support from the other parties in parliament. In a country with as many as 2 million residents with dual citizenship, it would prove virtually impossible for any political party to put forward a list of candidates without the odd dual citizen. Even within the PVV itself the policy failed when party representatives turned out to have Turkish and Israeli passports.


After the murder of Theo van Gogh in November 2004, Minister of Integration and Immigration Rita Verdonk commissioned an inquiry into the radicalisation of young Muslims. The conclusion was that many of them experience alienation, feeling disconnected with both their first-generation immigrant parents and from Dutch society. Previous reports had already found that young Muslims don't share the deep ethno-national attachment their parents feel with their country of origin, and instead are coming to identify primarily with their religion. While they participate less in religious activities than their parents, they more strongly link their identity with Islam and with the global Muslim community; radical and orthodox Islamic groups offer some of these young Muslims clear answers and a firm sense of belonging. While prior research found that the degree of religiosity in general decreases among Muslims with higher education and stable employment, the new report noted that highly educated young Muslims can also experience "relative deprivation" all the more strongly - the sense that despite their efforts they receive fewer opportunities than Dutch people of the same generation - and turn to radicalism in anger and frustration.[29]

See also

Woman cycling on a sidewalk in a khimar in The Hague, on a Dutch bike.


  1. 1 2
  3. "NPO Radio 1 - 'Liever Turks dan paaps'".
  4. Bevrijders Leiden droegen Turkse vlaggen Historian Ewout Klei on, 14 April 2012
  5. Klaas Stutje, 'Indonesian Islam in Interwar Europe: Muslim Organizations in the Netherlands and beyond.' in Muslims in Interwar Europe: A Transcultural Historical Perspective, edited by Bekim Agai, Umar Ryad, Mehdi Sajid, 125-150. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
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  7. Demant, Maussen & Rath 2007, p. 11
  8. "België vindt Nederlands vreemdelingenbeleid te streng", Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (in Dutch), de Volkskrant, 2006-01-17, retrieved 2009-03-15
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  12. "Bevolking in kaart" (PDF), Bevolkingstrends, Statistisch kwartaalblad over de demografie van Nederland (in Dutch), Statistics Netherlands, 53 (3), p. 7, 2007-04-16, retrieved 2008-03-15
  13. van Herten, Marieke (2007-10-25), More than 850 thousand Muslims in the Netherlands, Statistics Netherlands, retrieved 2008-03-15
  14. "The cultural reality of the Dutch Shi'ite Ithnā 'Asharīs by Labiba Shubbar". Ulum Insania. January 26, 2006. Retrieved 2010-07-12.
  15. Edip Yuksel, Edip’s Semi-personal Report (Oxford 2010),, Retrieved April 27, 2013
  16. Demant, Maussen & Rath 2007, p. 33
  17. Tweede Kamer telt 14 katholieken te weinig (in Dutch), Radboud Foundation, 2003-02-21, retrieved 2009-03-15
  18. Reuters (2001-10-04), Geert Wilders Race Hate Trial Begins, The Guardian, retrieved 2010-10-17
  19. "BBC NEWS - Europe - Dutch government backs burqa ban".
  20. van Donselaar, Jaap; Rodrigues, Peter R. (2004-12-01), "Ontwikkelingen na de moord op Van Gogh" (DOC), Anne Frank Stichting, Leiden University, p. 3, retrieved 2009-03-15
  21. Winkler 2006, pp. 78–79
  22. Demant, Maussen & Rath 2007, p. 7
  23. Winkler 2006, p. 79
  24. Islam Incompatible with Europe, Say Dutch, Angus Reid Global Monitor, 2006-06-07, retrieved 2009-03-15
  25. Demant, Maussen & Rath 2007, p. 38
  26. Demant, Maussen & Rath 2007, p. 24
  27. "Sharia could come via democracy: Dutch minister", Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau, Expatica, 2006-08-13, archived from the original on 2007-09-29, retrieved 2008-03-15
  28. Muslim Leader: Netherlands Must Defend Dutch Values, NIS News Bulletin, 2006-09-13, retrieved 2009-03-15
  29. Demant, Maussen & Rath 2007, pp. 14–16


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