‘Large group of Muslims is completely overlooked’, Leiden University examines the future

Students at an Islamic school © ANP

LEAD – Not reasoned from science, but from the people themselves. For example, Professor Maurits Berger will research the future of Muslims in Europe. That approach may sound very logical, but it usually works differently, he says. Why does the professor choose this setup? And what exactly does he want to know and why? We spoke with Berger, professor of Islam and the West at Leiden University.

What makes your research so different?

‘I do not want to talk about all that is going wrong now, I want to talk about what people and especially Muslims want in the future. How do they see their future in Europe? And what role does Islam play in that? That way, it becomes more optimistic and creative. Then we have to do something, build something. The Muslims to whom I have presented this are very enthusiastic. The special thing about this project is also that I do not come up with it myself as a white professor in Leiden, because I do not know it myself. That’s why I’m going to do it with all kinds of people. It is a new form of research, civic science† This means trying to do a survey with people from the community, with citizens. Each according to his own ability. And Muslims in particular are very enthusiastic about this. One of the problems they have with science is that scientists are endlessly interviewing and emptying them. Then they make a movie or a book and then it’s done again. They say: we all make an effort, for the other person, but even we do not feel it at all.

So people can participate actively, how does it work?

‘Now I focus primarily on students. You have a European Muslim student association and a Dutch one. They are both excited. Then we decide together what to do. The first question is: which topics are of great interest to you. Is it healthy food? Is the climate the green Islam? Is that justice? Sufism, mystical Islam? Say it. I did not think in advance what we should do and how. We must consider this in consultation. So step one, which I have now taken, is the question being asked across Europe via social media: what are topics you find interesting, do you want to contribute ideas and participate? And from there we go again. This to me is the right science. I’m driven by curiosity, I do not know what is going to happen yet.

It all sounds very positive, is there no bias? So you start this research with a bias?

‘I’m not saying I have a positive approach, but I do notice that this approach automatically makes it more positive. Lots of things are happening around Islam and Muslims that are annoying and disturbing. Many colleagues are already working on this. I see very large groups of students in my lecture halls, also outside, for whom Islam is important. They are trying to build a future for themselves in Europe. These people are completely overlooked while it is a very large group. I want to know how they see things and where they want to go. People who want to blow up Europe will not take part in my research, no. ‘

Are we not just going to get rid of all those boxes? Are there not many more young people who are worried about the climate or food than just Muslims?

‘Naturally. But I would like to add one more question: to what extent does Islam play a role in this. Because that’s my area of ​​expertise. If they say: Islam has nothing to do with it, we just have to save the climate, yes okay. But there really is a difference. All kinds of Islamic scholars have been thinking about the climate for more than 30 years, in such a way that climatologists also say: it’s an interesting way of looking at it, that’s how we had never looked at it before. It is very useful for these experts. May I give an example of that? Well, we all know, for example, that you should not cut down trees and not eat meat if you want to save the climate. But it also has consequences. Such as: what should the people who make a living from it do? Then you go from climate to ecology, then to economics and then back to governance or to man-woman relations. To us in the West, these are all different worlds, but in Islam, they are all connected in a very natural way. This is exactly what is sought throughout the climate movement, where is the connection? This is already happening much more in Islam. It’s interesting to look at it from a different approach, maybe it will help others too ‘.

Maurits Berger
Maurits Berger © Leiden University

Another point … The Muslim does not exist at all, does it? One has different movements and not all are equally religious. Is not it difficult with such a study?

‘I leave it completely open, people really have to fill it out themselves. I also have quite a few PhD students working on that kind of topics. There is a very strict religious person between and someone who has nothing to do with it. But they both call themselves Muslims. I want to incorporate these differences into the research. But it’s especially nice that the people who would not normally meet each other so quickly or perhaps would not talk to each other at all are now working on the same topic. ‘

How many people in how many countries do you want to participate?

‘I do the whole of Europe. I throw my net and see what comes in. Now I do not want to target and stuff like that. So how many people, yes, I do not know. I am driven by my curiosity. Einstein put it this way: If we already knew what we were researching, then it is no longer called research. Yes … It makes many colleagues nervous. What are you going to do Maurits, they ask. How much, when? Well, I do not know all that. I do it step by step. As a result, I’m suddenly being called up by all kinds of clubs and organizations I’ve never heard of. Such as a climate organization in London and therefore the club of European Muslim students. ‘

But do you already know what you want to achieve with it?

‘My field is Islam and the West. I am curious about what Muslims and their Islam do. Until now, it has always been about things that went wrong. Radicalism, Salafism (strictly religious movement, sometimes also seen as extremist, ed.), All annoying things. While I know and see that most Muslims are busy with completely different things. But a little research has been done on this. So what are they doing? Well, Muslims say: I live in Europe, I am European, but I am Muslim and Islam is important to me. It seems contradictory to some people. So explain it: how does it work? I will investigate that ‘.

Some people may have spots on their neck from your examination. Because they want to see it as soft nonsense, not scientific … How do you look at it?

“Let them come over, then I have to explain. Thinking about the future is one of the most important tasks that scientists should have. Can no one be against it? In fact, I wish it happened more. The funny thing is that we are really only thinking about the future of technology. But I want to do it with the people. Let’s think ahead. The people who are concerned about Islam and Muslims in Europe should be happy about such a study. about Muslims who want to make something out of it ‘.

But you just said it yourself: the group that does not want it, you can not reach with your research. Isn’t that awkward?

‘It’s already covered by, I do not know how many colleagues. They do a lot of research on it. AIVD and NCTV are on top of that, terror experts, Islamologists, anthropologists, radicalization experts. Entire tribes are worried about the small group of Muslims who do not want to participate. Well, that club is in good hands. All that research on what I think is fine. But there is more, much more. Maybe the skeptics will soon be reassured: If there are so many people who want to make something out of it, it may turn out not to be so bad. But now I’m leading the way. ‘

Speaking of which, your research questions are not yet clearly defined. But do you know when the research is finished?

“I don’t think there’s an end date. But I think it’s part of the research to show society something once in a while because it pays off. Things should really start to happen in a year or two. A podcast , an article, a terribly complicated scientific book, who knows. If society is my employer, and that’s how I see it in secret, then I should also report regularly. I will certainly do so. ‘

Let’s talk about that employer. Your chair is paid for by Oman, a not undisputed regime. This has been criticized before. Are you tired of it?

‘No, I understand that well. The sultan has given money to Leiden University, where I am on the payroll. Not with him. I do not have to answer him for everything I do. I can not be a scientist if you have to behave according to the whims of a certain person ‘.

However, it is still controversial how they work there. Or not?

‘I know, yes. But the sultan donated a one-time fund to Leiden in 2006. The chairman is paid for by the proceeds. When they gave that money, they were not so controversial, now actually a little more. But I see it primarily as something that Leiden University has to do with. Because in the end, they pay my salary ‘.

Leiden University’s response to the money from Oman: The chair was established on the initiative of the Sultan of Oman, the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said. When the donation was accepted and the chair was established in 2007, the Sultanate of Oman was considered a relatively free, progressive state in the Middle East. The chair was then placed with the Faculty of Religious Studies at Leiden University (at the time), to provide substance to the study of Islam in Western Europe. The university believed that it was important to research this because of the many initiatives at the time within the study of Islam in the west of Leiden. The donor of the Sultan of the Oman Chair of Oriental Studies has – as was determined at the time – no influence whatsoever on the application procedure or appointment, nor emphatically on the activities of the designated professor, nor on research and education. of the chair holder.

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