Jewish integration example for Muslims

Could the way the Jewish population integrated into Dutch society be an example for Muslims asks Jan-Jaap de Ruiter.

Last year the Netherlands commemorated the 200th anniversary of the kingdom. There is another memorable anniversary which is threatening to pass by unnoticed. Two centuries ago, on February 26, the returning king Willem I installed a committee by royal decree which was to promote the irreversible emancipation of the Jewish population. It was a goal inspired by the Enlightenment and the ideals of the French Revolution.

This so-called Committee for matters pertaining to the Israelites, later the Main Committee, existed until 1870. The committee fell under the auspices of the then extant ministry of religious affairs. Its members were representatives of both the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities. Rabbis were answerable to the committee which, in its turn, was closely supervised by the ministry.


I was reminded of this piece of Jewish history when I heard that Islamic communities in the Netherlands want to intensify their official contacts with the government. This move is prompted by the radicalisation taking place among young Muslims and the fact that young jihadists are leaving for Syria. The supervision of Turkish boarding schools and the visit of radical preacher Al Haddad to the Netherlands also play a part.

Labour minister Lodewijk Asscher wants to do his bit in  ‘bringing about cooperation’. Several Turkish and Moroccan organisations also want to discuss radicalisation among the young with local authorities. This renewed call for cooperation between government and Muslims suggests the time has come to appoint a Committee of matters pertaining to Muslims, under the auspices of the social affairs ministry and with representatives from all Islamic groups.

Such a committee could monitor the education and appointment of imams, just as the Jewish committee appointed rabbis. In 1822 it was determined by royal decree that no foreigners were to be admitted as (chief) rabbi without the committee’s approval and that rabbis had to study in the Netherlands. The committee also supervised Jewish schools.


The approach was a political success. At the beginning of the French period in 1795, Jews kept to certain neighbourhoods where they lived like second-rate citizens. By the end of the 19th century most had ‘integrated’ and spoke Dutch.

For historical reasons and because of the current debate about and with Muslims, it might be a good idea to establish a Committee for matters pertaining to Muslims which would have legal authority over everything to do with Islam and which would itself be supervised by the ministry of social affairs.

This would force the hopelessly divided Muslim communities to unite and puts the responsibility for integration on both parties. More importantly, a united approach by Muslims and the authorities can only reflect positively on the Muslim community in the Netherlands.

 Jan-Jaap de Ruiter is an researcher in Arabic studies at Tilburg University.



This article was published earlier in Trouw

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