A few hours in Amsterdam
In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Beneficent
Over the years, I have transited in Amsterdam many times whilst travelling on KLM Airlines. However, I had never exited the Airport. A few weeks ago, whilst booking flights to Jeddah via Amsterdam for my sister and myself, we decided to have a longer stop over, so that we can visit the city and also meet with Brother Imad of the National Zakat Foundation (NZF) Netherlands.
From the UK to Netherlands
We depart from home on Sunday 17 April 2022 at 3.15am with Talib Bhai (an elderly taxi driver in the final year of the ʿĀlim class) who kindly drops us to Manchester Airport. We only have hand luggage and we check in online. Our flight is at 5.55am, but we decide to go early to the Airport because of the reported queues at Manchester Airport. We arrive into security at 4.15am and it takes 30 minutes to get through.
The scenery is beautiful as we start to descend into Amsterdam, the capital of Netherlands. Netherlands borders Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, with a North Sea coast-line to the north and west. It also shares maritime borders with both countries and with the United Kingdom in the North Sea. It is known for a flat landscape of canals, tulip fields, windmills and cycling routes. The Encyclopaedia Britannica states:
“Netherlands, country located in northwestern Europe, also known as Holland. “Netherlands” means low-lying country; the name Holland (from Houtland, or “Wooded Land”) was originally given to one of the medieval cores of what later became the modern state and is still used for 2 of its 12 provinces (Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland). A parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch, the kingdom includes its former colonies in the Lesser Antilles: Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten. The capital is Amsterdam and the seat of government The Hague. The country is indeed low-lying and remarkably flat, with large expanses of lakes, rivers, and canals. Some 2,500 square miles (6,500 square km) of the Netherlands consist of reclaimed land, the result of a process of careful water management dating back to medieval times. Along the coasts, land was reclaimed from the sea, and, in the interior, lakes and marshes were drained, especially alongside the many rivers.”
We arrive into Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam at 8.20am. Netherlands uses Central European Summer Time, which is one hour ahead from the British Summer Time (BST). Our passports are stamped because the UK is no longer part of the EU. Brother Imad receives us at the Airport. He has been the lead for National Zakat Foundation (NZF) Netherlands since its inception in 2019. He is a dynamic individual with many qualities and skills. He is of Moroccan origin.
Muslims in Netherlands
We proceed to the NZF office. Brother Imad explains that Netherlands has a population of 70 million, of which 1 million are Muslims. The Muslims are predominantly Turkish and Moroccan, and there is also a large revert community. Marriage between the revert community and non-revert community is common.
Many Turkish Muslims are focused on businesses whilst many Moroccans are employed in professional jobs. There are 500 Masjids across the country with approximately 80 in Amsterdam. The Turks have a strong infrastructure here and Turkish charities like IHH also have an office here. Politically, there are 5-6 Muslim MPs. Two female MPs wear the head scarf. On the whole, the Islamic identity is weak. Islamophobia is a general problem across Europe but the environment here is not as bad as France.
National Zakat Foundation Netherlands
We arrive at the NZF office at 9.30am. The office is located in the Adam Smith Building in Thomas R. Malthusstraat 1-3, 1066 JR Amsterdam.
Brother Imad gives us a tour of the office and explains that the rent for NZF is nominal. There are three NZF employees in total who are supported by a group of professionals who volunteer on a regular basis. Interestingly, the organisation does not accept any cash donations to avoid unnecessary hassle and scrutiny. Everything is electronic and online. Since their inception towards the end of 2019, 1 million euros have been raised. Interestingly, the largest donor is a non-Muslim. This year’s target is 1.8 million euros.
The organisation spends all of the donations in Netherlands. To date, over 1000 grants have been given and the demand is growing. The nature of the need varies. The living costs are high here. Some of the beneficiaries are divorcees and victims of domestic abuse. The divorce rate is unfortunately very high and hundreds of applications are received from divorcees. I ask Brother Imad if this is among those married to reverts. He explains that it is across the board.
We have an interesting conversation about the challenges faced by NZF in the UK and my recommendation to adopt a common denominator approach with the Zakat distribution criteria so that the organisation appeals to all Muslims. The community has sufficient non-Zakat funds for non-Zakat projects. In addition, local, national and global charities should market their work positively without resorting to any negativity, as all forms of charity are much needed in the globalised world we live in, and Muslim organisations need to compliment the work of each other.
Overall, within a short space of time, NZF has made phenomenal progress here in Netherlands. Allah Almighty accept the efforts of Brother Imad and the team.
Canal Boat Ride
Amsterdam is famous for its canals. The three main canals, dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age, form concentric belts around the city, known as the Grachtengordel. The city has more than 100 kilometres of grachten, 90 islands and 1,500 bridges. Many buildings and pathways have been constructed upon water.
Brother Imad takes us on a boat ride in one of the canals between 11am and 12pm. Parking is a challenge in the centre of the city. The city is calm and quiet. This is probably because of easter.
English is commonly spoken and understood here. It is taught in schools. I ask brother Imad what the Dutch think about the British, he sums it up in one word: “arrogant”!
Income tax is very high here, but the pension and social security system is also generous. University education is free. Most Muslims rent as they cannot afford to purchase properties. There is no Shariah compliant mortgage scheme here.
Royal Palace Amsterdam
After the boat ride, we walk to the Royal Palace, which is situated on the west side of Dam Square in the centre of city, opposite the War Memorial. It is one of the three palaces still used by the Royal Family.
On our way back to the car, we pass the Cheese Factory shop. Brother Imad gifts us some cheese from here. Allah reward him for his warmth and generosity. A staff member at the shop explains the various ages of cheese and the process by which cheese is made.
Shaykh Saeed al-Mukaddami
A short while ago, I remembered Shaykh Saeed al-Mukaddami, a graduate of Darul Uloom Bury from the 1990s who is in Netherlands. Brother Imad knows him and attempts to phone him. He is based in Rotterdam which is 90 minutes by car. Shaykh Saeed is very happy. When he was a student in Darul Uloom Bury, I was a young child and would sometimes accompany my father to his classes. He mentions that if he knew in advance, he would have travelled to Amsterdam to meet me. I explain that I only remembered a short whilst ago that he was based in Netherlands and promise to visit him on a future journey as the time is short.
Return to the Airport
We return to the Airport at 1.30pm and brother Imad bids us farewell. The few hours spent in Amsterdam have been well worth it, and Insha Allah I plan to return here with more time. May Allah protect the Īmān and dignity of the Muslims here, protect them from all evil and grant them strength.
Dr Yusuf Shabbir
16 Ramadan 1443 / 17 April 2022