Why do Dutch people convert to Islam?

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

Jacob van Blom, a born and bred Rotterdamer, has bright blue eyes and a full red beard. He is a Feyenoord supporter and runs his own business. Eleven years ago, he converted to Islam.

He says people falsely view Islam as a "foreign culture" that has nothing to do with the Netherlands, but "if you separate the core belief from the cultural aspects, you're left with a beautiful belief that is true for everyone".

Why do Dutch people convert to Islam? And why do others view them with hatred and suspicion?
"There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet," as Jacob recites the Muslim profession of faith, his eyes shine with love. "I was raised as a Christian, but I always had my own ideas. In Islam, I discovered a theory for what I had always believed. It fitted perfectly with what I thought about God".
Greek Orthodox Church
Jacobs’s wife Stefanie Danopoulos also grew up in Rotterdam. Her Dutch mother and Greek father raised her in the Greek Orthodox Church. Initially, she wasn't at all happy that her husband had converted to Islam, but eventually she converted as well.
Stefanie: "When my husband announced that he was converting, I thought that he'd gone mad. You only hear bad things about Islam from the media, so that's how I thought as well. But then I started learning more about Islam and that changed how I feel".
Stefanie’s family is gradually coming to terms with her, "They were extremely negative at first, but after a few years they realised that I hadn't changed that much. I'm just a bit calmer now than I was before. Greek Orthodox people are extremely religious and some of them are just happy because I do at least believe in God".
However, society at large isn't as understanding. After the 9/11 attacks on the United States, Stefanie, who wears a headscarf, was spat at several times. Despite that, they both feel that it is important that their clothing reflects their faith. "I don't care if people stare at me in the street. I am a true believer and people can see it in the way I dress".
Jacob says he knows that conversion to Islam makes some people frightened or anxious. "Dutch people have been living on this bit of the planet for centuries and have developed a rich society and culture. I can imagine that people aren't too happy if a dominant culture suddenly takes root in the middle of all that".
Hofstad Group
When asked about the Hofstad Group, a group of radical Muslims who were convicted of planning attacks in the Netherlands and whose leader, Mohammed Bouyeri, murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004, Jacob dismisses them as "teenagers acting out".
"It was just a group of isolated teenagers. If they were here in the Feyenoord stadium, people would say they were hooligans. Muslim extremists, hooligans, it's all the same thing".
Jacob says the fear of Islam is primarily due to a lack of information, "here in the Netherlands we just don't know the simple basics about Islam. That's also true within the government and the police and security services. I think that's so sad. That's how you make people afraid".