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

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.

Highlights: Next-gen designs from the Global Grad Show

The Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week 2018. (Arab News)
Updated 19 November 2018

Highlights: Next-gen designs from the Global Grad Show

  • The Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week showcased 150 innovative designs created by students from around the world
  • Designs ranged from high-tech solutions to simple objects

DUBAI: Highlights from the Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week, which showcased 150 innovative and potentially life-changing designs created by students from around the world, ranging from high-tech scientific solutions to conceptually simple physical objects.

Ukranian designer Olga Zelenska says her work “focuses on simplicity, sustainability and aesthetics of design,” and “From Nowhere With Love” delivers on all three. It’s a set of biodegradable postcards, designed for “migrants and modern nomads” to allow them to take a piece of their homeland’s nature with them wherever they travel. The postcards contain seeds specific to the plant life of the country or area in which they are bought. Those seeds can then be planted wherever the buyer — or the recipient of the postcard — wishes. (We’re not sure they’re guaranteed to grow well, but you get the idea…)

Yara Ahmed Rady is a product design student at the German University in Cairo. Her GGS project “Dyslexia Learning Difficulty” is designed to help dyslexic children learn Arabic through a series of exercises that use conventional teaching techniques which Rady has transformed into educational games using digital technology and engaging all five senses, thereby, she wrote in her project description “offering alternative routes to literacy.”

One of the questions that GGS was attempting to answer this year was “How do we do more with less?” South Korean designer Yesul Jang, currently studying in Switzerland, came up with a product which addresses the needs of the ever-growing number of people living alone in small apartments or rented rooms in urban spaces. “Tiny Home Bed” is a raised bed with storage space — covered by a sliding fabric curtain allowing easier access than drawers — beneath. The frame is constructed of lightweight wood and is, Jang insists, “easy to construct.” Just as importantly, it’s not an eyesore.

After several years of working in the sportswear industry, London-based designer Jen Keane wanted to come up with a more sustainable way to make products. By combining digital and biological technology, she created a strong, lightweight, hybrid shoe that is made partly from bacteria. “I weave fibers into the shape and the bacteria grows around it,” Keane explained to Arab News. “It’s kind of a scaffold.” Keane added that she created the shoe in her kitchen at home. “I don’t have a lab,” she said. “I don’t have a [science] background. I learned how to do this by reading a lot, experimenting and talking to biologists. It’s totally doable.”

Sustainability also factored into Christian Hammer Juhl’s thinking when the Netherlands-based Danish designer was creating his inflatable furniture collection “10:01.” Made from dense foam material, the furniture can compress down to 10 percent of its original size (through a process similar to vacuum packing). So it’s not only ideal for modern transient lifestyles, but also means that transport from factory to retailer is more sustainable too.

Billed as “clothing that can save your life,” David Bursell’s “Tardigrade” is the jacket you’re going to want to be wearing when the zombie apocalypse hit. Or, you know, a more conventional kind of Armageddon (Bursell says it was “inspired by climate change and the increasingly extreme natural and social crises it will trigger”). “Tardigrade” can be transformed into a shelter, a shoulder bag, a hammock, and any number of other things. It’s detatchable pockets can be used to collect water and other material. A warning though: at the moment, the jacket aids survival for “three to seven days,” so you might want to invest in several if things get really bad.

“It’s flying lighting for urban safety,” designer Jiabao Li told Arab News about “Twinkle,” which she co-designed with fellow Harvard student Honghao Deng. Basically, flying drones clamp themselves to lampposts during the day to recharge their batteries, and at night they head to poorly lit neighborhoods. “They fly off to follow people around and provide sufficient lighting to guide their way. Like fireflies,” she explained. Both designers describe their creations as “living” creatures. “They’re curious animals,” said Deng. “We don’t think they should be owned. They should just be living around the place.” Li and Deng are currently talking to various governments trying to get permission for a trial run.

Developed by a team of students from the Art University of Isfahan, “Naji” is an ingenious product designed to provide assistance in times of severe flooding. In normal situations, the device — four rectangles constructed of ethylene vinyl acetate (“resilient and buoyant”) with holes in — forms part of the base of streetlights, and the designers claim it will fit into existing infrastructure without the need for additional construction. If an area floods, however, the device floats to the surface of the water and provides a place for people to sit safely in one of the squares, strap in and await rescue.

Another team project, this time from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, “Acorn” is designed, according to the team’s statement “to be entirely beneficial to the environment.” Lead designer Zhang Liye told Arab News that the project is specifically intended for use in desert cities like those in the Gulf “because the soil lacks minerals and nutrition.” “Acorn” is an easy-to-assemble biodegradable plant base made from compressed crop waste that you simply bury in soil so that it can provide that missing nutrition to your plant.

A great example of how designers at GGS tackled another question: “How can technology make us more human?” In other words, how can we make life easier for people in tough situations? “Sahayak” is designed for porters working on railway platforms in India, who traditionally carry luggage on their heads, which can create several long-term health issues. “Sahayak” is a backpack that transfers the weight of their loads from their heads to their shoulders and protects the spine. “The design uses an inexpensive torsion spring to distribute the load throughout the backpack’s frame, reducing the load borne by the user’s head and neck by 75 percent,” designer Risbagh Singh claimed in his GGS statement.