Dutch Sunni Muslim groups recognise Ahmadiyya sect

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A Dutch Muslim broadcasting company competing for airtime has recognised the controversial Ahmadiyya sect as one of the main currents in Islam. Such recognition is unique in the world.

By Mohamed Amezian and Michel Hoebink

"In the whole of Europe you won't find a single Muslim organisation which includes Sunnis and Shiites, Alevites and Ahmadiyya," says Fethi Killi of the Muslim Broadcasting Foundation (SMO) proudly. "We have achieved that for the very first time."

The Ahmadiyya is an Islamic sect that is considered heretic by the main institutions of orthodox Sunni Islam. As many members of the large Dutch Surinamese community belong to the Ahmadiyya, the recognition of the sect, which originated in Pakistan, has always been a sensitive topic. The Dutch authorities recognise the Ahmadiyya as one of the main movements in Islam. But orthodox Muslim organisations refuse to recognise them as Muslims.

The issue surfaced again recently in the process of establishing a new Muslim Broadcasting Company. The former Dutch Muslim Broadcaster (NMO) had failed because of internal divisions. Five new organisations are now competing for the available airtime, of which the SMO is the largest and most favoured candidate.

An important measure used by the Dutch authorities in selecting the new Broadcasting Company is that they should represent as many of the Dutch Islamic groups and movements as possible. The SMO complies with this demand by including in its organisation all the groups that are recognised by the Dutch authorities as the 'main movements of Islam': Sunnis, Shiites, Alevites and Ahmadiyya.

"It's important to do justice to the diversity of the Muslim community in the Netherlands," says Yasin Furqani of the Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands (RMMN), one of SMO's members. "The Ahmadiyya are an important section of that community and therefore belong to our organisation."

The Ahmadiyya are highly controversial in the Muslim world, explains Fathi Killi of the SMO. He thinks that in particular the Sunni groups in his organisation have shown themselves to be very mature in their decision to co-operate. "For the first time in Europe, these groups have decided not to exclude others on theological grounds. We emphasise that we all worship the same God and believe in the same prophets and the same Holy Books."

Not all Dutch Muslim organisations are content with this ecumenical approach, says Killi. "Some refuse to cooperate and emphasise that there is only one correct Islam, namely theirs." Negotiations to merge or co-operate with another candidate, the Muslim Dutch Service (MON), failed for this reason. The SMO allegedly refused to recognise the Ahmadiyya as an equal partner.

Radi Suudi, spokesman of MON, denies that his organisation wants to exclude the Ahmadiyya. "We are most willing to co-operate with them. But the SMO demanded from us a written declaration that we recognise the Ahmadiyya as a major Islamic current. We are a journalistic organisation and as such we do not want to occupy ourselves with such theological issues."

The Dutch authorities are expected to decide in January which of the candidates will get the airtime and which will be the new Muslim broadcasting company.