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.


Saudi Arabia’s East Coast Festival lines up top-class cultural activities

Updated 25 March 2019
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Saudi Arabia’s East Coast Festival lines up top-class cultural activities

  • Dammam Corniche event celebrates Saudi heritage; more ‘seasons’ to come
  • The festival is being held at the waterfront of King Abdullah Park, and access to the 10-day event is free

DAMMAM: People in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province have had no shortage of things to do during the Sharqiah Season. From pop concerts featuring international artists to massive sporting events, there is something for everyone among the 83 different events planned.

However, it would be remiss not to celebrate the heritage and culture of the country itself. The Enter East Coast Festival, an open-air marketplace with plenty of activities for locals and tourists to enjoy.

The festival is being held along the Dammam Corniche, at the waterfront of King Abdullah Park, and access to the 10-day event is free.

It features stalls with craftsmen beavering away. At one, a potter is bent over a wheel as he makes vases, lanterns and small toys. At another, carpenters fashion chairs and tables out of planks of wood. A weaver hums as he plaits together palm fronds to form baskets and fans.

The vendors are mostly from Saudi Arabia, but there are other countries showcasing their work too. 

Fishermen and sailors from Oman display pearls still in their shells, delicate replicas of traditional fishing boats, and stretches of fishing net. The stalls from Kuwait feature items from the past and vendors from Bahrain offer local sweets, handmade items and clothing.

There are Saudi dances and musical performances too. One stage, resembling a ship, features performers dressed as sailors singing traditional sea shanties. Another stage has drummers and a singer. A huge area in the middle of the space is allotted to dancers, flag-bearers, and even armed officers participating in a traditional Ardah, or Saudi dance.

Those looking to eat something can chow down on Saudi offerings including jareesh, margoog, or qursan. There are food trucks selling Western fare such as burgers and tacos. 

The festival runs until March 30, when the Sharqiah Season ends. 

The season is a collaborative effort between the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, the General Entertainment Authority, the General Culture Authority and the General Sports Authority. It is the first of 11 scheduled festivals planned across the country for 2019.

Future seasons will focus on different areas of Saudi Arabia, with different entertainment options for each city, and different parts of the year, such as Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha.

Decoder

What is Sharqiah Season?

The festival features more than 80 events in Eastern Province cities, including Dammam, Dhahran, Alkhobar, Al-Ahsa and Jubail. Future seasons will focus on different areas of Saudi Arabia, with different entertainment options for each city. Upcoming seasons will focus on different areas, and also different parts of the year, such as Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha. Read our reports on the Sharqiah Season festival here: http://www.arabnews.com/tags/sharqiah-season