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Young Dutch Muslims Critical Of Salafism


By Michel Hoebink

4 September 2012

The fundamentalist movement of Salafism is very influential among young Muslims in the Netherlands. But it is also attracting an increasing number of outspoken young critics. They describe Salafism as superficial, with too much emphasis on externals. “I’ve yet to meet a spiritual Salafist.”

For a while, he was himself a follower of the fundamentalist movement from Saudi Arabia, but now Dutch convert to Islam Izzeddin Ruhulessin couldn’t care less. “Salafism is an Islam of rules and appearances,” he says, “Wear a veil or a beard, don’t shake hands with someone of the opposite sex. Other than that it has little to offer.”

According to Ruhulessin, it’s not unusual for young people to flirt with Salafism for a while. “I know plenty of guys who first had a pretty wild life and then become fascinated with Salafism. They grow a beard, and wear the outfit, but gradually they lose interest. I don’t know anyone over 25 who is still serious about it.”

Bad name

Salafism has had a particularly bad name in the Netherlands since the 2004 murder of anti-Islam film maker Theo van Gogh by a bearded young follower of the movement. But remarkably, the media hype that followed the murder led to a surge of interest among young Muslims in the Netherlands. That interest has now died down somewhat but there is still a sizeable group of young Dutch Muslims who are inspired by Salafism, which has a strong internet presence.

'Pure' Islam

What makes this movement attractive, says researcher Martijn de Koning of the Radboud University, is its claim to be a pure Islam, stripped of cultural influences. “That appeals to second and third generation immigrants who are looking for an alternative to the traditional Islam that was brought by their parents or grandparents from the countries of origin.”

On-line tyranny

Ruhulessin says Salafists dominate both the lecture circuit and the internet forums used by young Dutch Muslims. But he also sees a growing irritation in the Muslim community with these self-appointed ‘pure’ Muslims. “Ten years ago, the Salafists were popular because they refused to compromise with Dutch society. But meanwhile many Muslims have become weary of the pretentious claim by the Salafists that they are the only ones practicing true Islam.” On the internet, this can result in outright tyranny, says Ruhulessin. “If you dare to question the prevailing Salafist orthodoxy, you may find yourself accused of being an unbeliever.”

Headscarf compulsory

Another source of irritation is the Salafist emphasis on outward appearances. Especially for women, says Ruhulessin, who are judged mercilessly if they don’t veil themselves. “Young Muslim women who don’t wear veils are annoyed by this attitude. Even if they are model Muslims in every other respect, the only thing that matters to the Salafists is whether or not they wear a veil or headscarf. For many of these young women this is a reason to stay away from lectures of similar events in the Muslim community, so all you see are those who do wear veils.”


Martijn de Koning recognises the situation described by Ruhulessin. In fact the critics have been around for much longer, he says, “but recently they have become more vocal on Facebook and the internet forums.” According to de Koning, the Salafists are also accused by their fellow Muslims of being intolerant towards non-Muslims: “They are criticised for making anti-Semitic statements, for example, and for sowing religious hatred in Dutch society – pretty much the same accusations that are made against them by Dutch public opinion in general.”