Are Dutch mosques pressured by foreign financiers to spread orthodox messages and to invite radical preachers? The parliamentary interrogation committee hoped to get an answer to that question in the past two weeks. Did that work out?
Why is the Chamber investigating possible undesirable influence on mosques?
The committee wants to gain insight into the possible foreign influence of mosques in the Netherlands. Money lenders from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey would buy influence by financing Islamic institutions and enforcing an orthodox interpretation of Islam.
Reasons for the interrogation are messages from NRC and News hour which showed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a list of mosques that have applied for money from foreign donors. The list has been kept secret, while the Chamber has been asking for insight for years.
Parliamentary interrogation, what is that?
- The parliamentary questioning is a slightly lighter version of the parliamentary inquiry. It is also called the flash survey. This means that the preparation is less intensive and the research is of shorter duration. Witnesses are obliged to appear and are examined under oath.
What have we learned now?
The committee spoke among others with AIVD boss Dick Schoof, the mayor of Utrecht Jan van Zanen and representatives of the as-Sunnah mosque in The Hague and the alFitrah foundation in Utrecht.
Intelligence chief Schoof warned of a new generation of Salafists, Orthodox Muslims, who push their vision of Islam in mosques and Islamic institutions. Deputy Chairman of the Council of Moroccan Mosques Said Bouharrou agreed. According to him, it is about twenty mosques where the strict doctrine has prevailed. According to Bouharrou, a small group of Muslims impose the orthodox interpretation on other mosques.
Hajer Harzi, former treasurer of the Al Houda mosque in Georgia told the committee how radical Muslims took over the mosque. After the interrogation, she said she received threats.
There are clear concerns about the influence of Salafist teachings on some mosques. According to Schoof, the influence of the orthodox movement should not be underestimated: they speak Dutch well, know their way around on social media and want to set up a parallel society where salafist doctrine stands next to the Dutch constitutional state. How big this new generation is cannot be said, says Schoof.
Is the committee found out whether there is undesirable influence?
Despite all indications that Salafism is gaining ground in the Netherlands, it has not been proven that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey would purchase influence to force mosques to take an orthodox course.
There are indications, but they cannot be substantiated. As-Sunnah and AlFitrah mosques acknowledge that they have received money from the Gulf, but strongly dispute that the money lenders are interfering with the course of the mosque.
Financially, financing from abroad is also not prohibited, and politicians themselves do not want a ban either. An exclusive ban on foreign financing of mosques is not possible, because this is contrary to freedom of religion.
Moreover, the prohibition should apply to all religious institutions, and the Christian parties do not want that. It has been agreed in the coalition agreement to limit money flows from non-free countries as much as possible. Three years later, the government is still investigating whether that is legally feasible.
The Committee does not seem to have arrived at any new insights. The committee has not requested any documents from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Documents have been requested at the mosques, but no hard evidence emerged from that either. The documents from alFitrah were missing, because the foundation does not want to release them. The committee tried to get the documents through the courts, but the appeal only served on Friday, one day after the last hearing.
The committee is expected to produce a final report at the end of April.