Tales of the unexpected: A trip through halal Amsterdam

Three of the largest immigrant communities in Amsterdam hail from Morocco, Turkey and Indonesia. (Shutterstock)
Updated 25 July 2018
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Tales of the unexpected: A trip through halal Amsterdam

LONDON: Amsterdam is a city famed for its embrace of liberal hedonism. But scratch beneath the surface of its red-light district and coffee-shop culture, and the capital of The Netherlands can be an enthralling destination for halal travellers.

The vast majority of Amsterdammers are non-religious. This means, intriguingly, that the city’s largest religious group is in fact Muslims, and as a result Amsterdam is surprisingly welcoming for Muslim travellers seeking a European city getaway.

Three of the largest immigrant communities in Amsterdam hail from Morocco, Turkey and Indonesia. This has given rise to a delightful Dutch-Muslim culture that enhances this iconic city’s reputation for picture-postcard canals, classic dutch architecture, fascinating museums and art galleries, all framed by a mass of bicycles, narrowboats and trams. In fact, those willing to step off the beaten track will discover Amsterdam harbors some serious hidden Muslim travel gems.

The stunning Rijksmuseum, for example, is home to an intriguing 16th-century artifact from the Dutch Revolt, when Calvinist Holland fought for independence from the Catholic Spanish Empire. This ‘Geuzenpenning’ is a medal of the revolution’s naval forces, designed as a half-moon with the inscription ‘Liver Turcx dan Paus’ (Rather Turkish than Papist), revealing the admiration the Dutch had for the Muslim Ottoman (Turkish) empire that helped them during the revolution. In fact, some reports say that when Dutch revolutionaries breached a siege in Leiden they entered carrying Ottoman flags, and at another, in Sluis, Maurice of Orange freed 1,400 Muslim slaves held captive by the Catholics.

The medal is indicative of a longstanding Dutch interest in Islam, which has seen the religion and Arabic taught at Leiden University since 1586 and the Holy Qur’an first translated into Dutch in the 1600s. The medal will be part of the “80 Years War” exhibit later this year.

The Rijksmuseum is also home to a stunning collection of paintings by the Flemish-French artist Jean Baptiste Vanmour depicting life in the 18th-century Ottoman courts. Room 1.3 hosts a series of detailed imperial scenes, views across Istanbul and individual figures of Grand Viziers, Dervishes and many more.

Amsterdam’s Ottoman influence is most clearly seen at the Westermoskee Ayasofya camii (Western Mosque Aya Sofya). Everything about this monumental mosque in Amsterdam-West screams classical Ottoman. This stunning piece of architecture of historic imperial proportions — its 1,700 capacity is the largest in the Netherlands — aims to replicate the mosques built by masters like the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. Designed by the French-Jewish couple, Marc and Nada Breitman, it sits picturesquely on the banks of the Schinkel Canal. The Westermoskee boasts a 42-meter-high minaret, a 25-meter-high central dome and nine smaller domes that create a stunning colonnade over the main entrance. It is a dreamy, regal mirage of a place you feel you’ve seen scattered all over former Ottoman lands.

For a more up-to-date taste of Amsterdam’s embrace of Islamic culture, head to Kinkerstraat, just a few minutes walk from the Westermoskee. As local Amsterdam-West resident Lara Mazurski explained, it’s “the coolest place, where all the local Mipsters hang out.”

“It’s just buzzing in the evenings when the young Muslim boys and girls go to the gourmet food joints and hang out in the sheesha bars, especially during Ramadan. We love living around here,” Mazurski told me.

Kinkerstraat is a short tram ride out of central Amsterdam. It’s home to some of the coolest halal hangouts around, including the renowned Monopoly Burger and the Hookah Lounge, which is open late serving flavored hubbly-bubbly pipes and mocktails.

But Amsterdam’s phenomenal mix of Muslim migrants means that, even away from these hotspots, the city is blessed with diverse Halal cuisine and numerous places of worship, including the Fatih Mosque — housed in a stunning 17th-century Jesuit Church, where you pray in a Gothic nave that belongs, well ... in a church. A surreal experience, much like a visit to the hedonistic yet halal Dutch capital.


Book Review: Standing tall, the rise of the mighty minaret

Updated 16 min 20 sec ago
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Book Review: Standing tall, the rise of the mighty minaret

BEIRUT: “The Minaret,” Jonathan Bloom’s superb study of the lofty tower that epitomizes Islamic architecture, was republished in 2018, confirming the book’s importance almost three decades after its original release.

Tracing the origin and development of the minaret, which first appeared toward the end of the 8th century, Bloom reveals that the original structures had little to do with the call to prayer but were designed to be what they are today — a symbol of Islam.

This beautifully illustrated book not only explains when and why Muslims decided to attach towers to mosques but also looks at the evolution of the minaret from Turkey, Egypt, and India to West and East Africa, Yemen, Central Asia and Southeast Asia.

The 2018 edition has been revised and expanded, providing a sweeping tour of the tower’s prominent position in Islamic architecture.

Despite claims that Islamic architecture has stagnated, Bloom uses this book to outline his belief that it is alive and well, telling readers that in the past few decades “Muslims in Islamic countries have built ever taller and more monumental minarets … while Muslims in the West have sought to build mosques and Islamic centers using such traditional architectural forms as domes and minarets.”

The author brings the architectural form to life by detailing the types of minarets found around the world. A number of contemporary minarets are still built in the Ottoman or Mamluk style, but there are notable exceptions such as the futuristic mosque designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange for the King Faisal Foundation in Riyadh.

Bloom also explores the political dimensions of the Islamic symbol. He describes growing opposition to new mosques in Europe, particularly in Switzerland, where a 2009 poster circulated by the far-right Swiss People’s Party showed Ottoman-style minarets piercing the Swiss flag like missiles. This book sheds light on the campaign, and others like it, which have used the symbol of a minaret to oppose immigration.

From the aesthetic charm of the minaret, to its sociopolitical implications, this book is a must-read for those seeking to understand the powerful impact that bricks and mortar can have on society.