The launch meeting of the Leiden Islam Academy on 7 December in the Academy Building drew just the right audience: a diverse group of people who were all in some way engaged with Islam. This was just what the directors of the Academy, Maurits Berger and Fatiha Azzarhouni, were hoping for.
Around 150 guests attended the meeting, including not only the ambassadors to the Netherlands from the United Kingdom, Morocco, Pakistan and Indonesia, but also students, consultants, GPs, business people, security experts, teachers, journalists, politicians, civil servants, imams and many other professional groups. These guests were representing the groups in society that need to share in the abundant knowledge on Islam available within Leiden University. And this is precisely why Leiden Islam Academy (LIA) was established.
The symposium was about the various ways in which Islam is manifested in Dutch society, and how a university should approach this topic. It began with a few short addresses and a round table discussion between a politician, a representative of a history teachers’ organisation, a journalist, an imam and an academic. Next there were four parallel sample lectures: an introduction to a specific topic as a taster for the participants, followed by discussion. After this, the guests had ample opportunity to chat or network over drinks and snacks. The meeting was especially honoured by the presence of philosopher Tariq Ramadan, professor in Oxford and Qatar, who gave a very interesting closing address: ‘Professor and activist: for me, not a contradiction but a pleonasm.’
‘All the important questions touch on Islam’
This was the view of the politician in the round table discussion. He has noticed that Islam is blamed for just about everything, whether the issue is migrants, criminality or whatever else. Tariq Ramadan, however, took a different view when he spoke later: 'It lies deeper. Nearly all problems can be traced back to the ever-growing gap between rich and poor. Even radicalization has nothing to do with Islam.’
‘Europe has been Muslim for many centuries’
Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, used his own term clash of perceptions as the line of his argument, touching on a wide range of current themes. For instance, he pointed out that Islam in Europe is nothing new: there have been Muslim communities in Eastern Europe for just as long as Christian ones. And what about the colonial past...? Even back in those days, the Dutch East Indies had a large Muslim population. ‘And you never hear anything about that,’ muttered someone in the audience.
Source: Leiden University