Former PVV (Freedom Party) politician in Netherlands, Joram van Klaveren (39), made tough Islamic criticism for seven years. Now he is Muslim himself.
On October 26, 2018, he officially joined what Muslims call the Umma , the community of believers. Joram van Klaveren (39) who for seven years in the Lower House of Netherlands did hard anti-islam politiek on behalf of the PVV. This man is now Muslim himself. He is converted. "Because that is actually what you do," he explains, "if you pronounce the shahada - La ilaha illa llah, moehammad rasoolu llah." He speaks the creed from memory. But that evening in October, at his publisher's home, Imam Mhamed Aarab, he spoke the words and said after him.
It is very strange to hear this former confidant of Geert Wilders speak like that. It is the man who use to say 'Islam is a lie' and 'the Koran is poison'. Who did not get tired of repeating that Islam is an ideology of terror, death and destruction. He initiated the so-called 'Moroccan debate' in the House of Representatives, calling attention to the high proportion of Moroccan-Dutch boys to crime. He finally broke up with the PVV in 2014 when Wilders made his notorious 'less, less, less' statements. "I thought that went too far." He remained, in the very anti-Islam politicians - Van Klaveren / Bontes Group.
The unexpected conversion of Joram van Klaveren, formerly Protestant Reformed, appears to be the end of a long search for religious meaning. Looking back, you could say that it started at the age of 12 or 13, says Van Klaveren. We speak to the now Muslim former PVV in the Marriott Hotel in The Hague. His publisher accompanies him. The atmosphere is cheerful.
It all started with the intention to write an ánti-Islam book. When he and Louis Bontes did not come to the Lower House with the new party VoorNederland (VNL), Van Klaveren decided to leave politics. Finally he had time to write a book. Not just an anti-Islam book. He intended to show all Muslim misery - violence, Jews who must be beheaded, contempt of women, homophobia - is justified by faith. So that Muslims could no longer ignore it.
It was different. Halfway through his research, now he was deep in the Islamic tradition, he had to rewrite. The outcome of his search is called, Apostate: From Christianity to Islam in Times of Secular Terror. No Islamic misery. It was precisely a refutation of objections that non-Muslims have against Islam.
You write only one sentence about what you felt when you made the creed: "I noticed a certain personal joy and peace."
People whom have read the book said to me: you are very dry. But I'm not that extravagant, I'm not going to hype when the Netherlands wins a match at the World Cup. It did not rain gold after the shahada and I did not suddenly think, wow, why does the world look different?
It was not really a happy moment for me either. I thought: if everything I have written so far is correct, if I believe all that, then I am de facto a Muslim. If I felt something, it was disgust. I looked at my Bible in the closet, on the table in front of me were books about Prophet Muhammad. In previous years I had developed a great aversion to Islam. If you then have to conclude that you were not right, that is not fun. But as a God seeker I always felt a certain unrest. And that gradually disappeared. It felt a bit like coming home, in a religious sense.
How did your relatives react?
My wife accepts that I am a Muslim. If you are happy about that, she finds, I do not stop you. Incidentally, she never felt the repugnance I felt for Islam. She was not so happy that I was with the PVV. But it is your journey, she said. She does not feel the need to go with that. My daughters are still too young to talk about this.
And your family?
Not everyone knows it yet. My brothers and sister reacted alternately, from positive to indifferent. My mother was not very happy with it. I understand that. Such a turnaround is not common.
Do you not fear the reactions from the PVV corner?
Many people will not react enthusiastically. Undoubtedly it will be violent, GeenStijl might break me down, De Telegraaf will dedicate an article to it. But it is what it is. Even when I was with the PVV, I did not worry about what others thought of me. I had a conviction and then you go for it. That is also true now.
Who helped you in your search?
With Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad [a British Islamologist at the University of Cambridge, also a convert, ed.] I have had a solid mail exchange. That proved very valuable. And Mohamed Ben Hammouch, my publisher. It was funny how I ended up with him. I was actually looking for an ordinary publisher, I came across the Kennishuys. I did not know at first that they were Muslim. That old-Dutch way of writing, that immediately attracted me. Intuitively I chose them.
Do you see the hand of God afterwards?
Haha, no, rather the hand of Google.
What is actually changing in your life now? Do you pray five times a day? Will your name change?
No, I do not feel the need to change my name. I also do not feel that I have been sworn from God. Furthermore, I am fresh from the press, I still have to make it my own. Until now it was mainly a rational exercise. So I still have to practice praying. Alcohol, I did not drink that much anyway and I ate mainly chicken. I only know two Suras [chapters of the Qur'an, ed.], Al-Fatiha and al-Ikhlaas, the shortest ones. I bought a small book, it is called 'I learn the Koran' and it is actually for children up to 10 years old, a nice pink book.
And your children, are they Muslim?
They really need to know that for themselves. I have agreed with my wife that if the children need answers, they will receive them from us. They are also not deliberately baptized. I did not want to impose Christianity, so I will not do that with Islam either.
Earlier you once said that your daughter can come home with a Muslim if that were her choice. If he was kind to her and would not forbid her to go outside. Can she now come home with a non-Muslim?
It is ultimately her own decision. If the man takes good care of her and makes her happy, fine. His faith did not matter to me then, nor will it now.
Jew-hatred, women's oppression, violence, one by one you break the prejudices against Islam until nothing but a beautiful faith remains. Do you suddenly find Islam an enrichment for the Netherlands?
I discovered that many of these negative stories originated in medieval Europe. Christians saw Islam as a competitive religion and did everything to disqualify it. Actually, my biggest obstacle was Mohammed. There are a lot of lies spread out about him. In my book, I quote the nineteenth-century historian Thomas Carlyle: "The lies that well-meaning believers have poured out over this man Mohammed, only shame on ourselves." Only when I discovered that, I could say that I was a Muslim.
So an enrichment for the Netherlands? Yes, I think so. But I also write that much of Islam that you see now is colored by Wahabism from Saudi Arabia. Very unfortunate, because that is a very puritan view of Islam, extreme in the eyes of many people. The big bite of Dutch Muslims is of course not Wahabitian. They do not withdraw from social life and do not think that everyone who is non-Muslim is wrong or scary. There are so many prejudices about real Islam.
Eh ... until recently you have contributed to it
I know, but I've only noticed it since my conversion. I suddenly get questions like: do you hate gay people now? Are you going to Syria now? Can you still pet a dog? I have contributed to maintaining and nurturing a poor image of Islam, but you can not imagine how these prejudices work until you deal with them yourself.
Don't you feel guilty?
Yes, of course, I have a responsibility in that. I can not brush that away. It is not something I cheerfully look back on, but I can not do anything about it. Except now share my findings. It would be nice if the PVV supporters also read my book.
Do you understand if many Dutch Muslims do not immediately support you?
Yes. I know. But I did not do this for Muslims, I did this for myself. I think that everyone deserves a second chance, that is also an Islamic principle. So it would be nice if people support me in this but if that is not the case: so be it. My feelings and ideas do not change.
How is your relationship with Christianity now?
I still think it's a beautiful belief that has contributed a lot for the development of humanity. Only in dogma such as the crucifixion, the original sin and the trinity I can no longer believe. And if I do not believe that anymore, then I can no longer call myself a Christian.
In your book, a theme shines through absence: homosexuality
Because it did not really play for me personally. I do not know many gay people. My book is a theological search about things that touch me. Of course, I do not hate gay men all of a sudden, I think it's just as nice or annoying people as before.
Have you also looked at social issues differently since your conversion?
I have not suddenly turn Left if you mean that. I am still a supporter of low taxes and a small government. And I still think that we need to implement an immigration policy whereby you bring in people who can add something to society, such as Japan and Australia does. A total immigration stop for people from Islamic countries, I thought was pretty absurd before my conversion. And the idea that all Islam should be banished from the Netherlands, which I once submitted a motion for, of course I do not support that anymore.
And the Moroccan problem?
That was specifically about criminals. The analysis I made, namely that everything is the fault of Islam, was simply incorrect. But that was PVV policy: everything that did not work had to be linked to Islam in one way or another.
Okay, so you would resubmit the motion without a Islam component?
No of course not. There are many problems with Moroccan Dutch who are criminally active, no one denies that. Only, does it make sense to consistently refer to 'Moroccans'? I do not think so.
If there is now an attack in the Netherlands, how would you react?
If an attacker calls himself a Muslim and looks for legitimacy in Islam, then you can not say that it has nothing to do with it. Supporters of the khawaridj movement turned against the moderate Islam in the seventh century. They murdered their own leaders if they found it too stretchy. That principle has never disappeared. That is now IS.
It is not only the historical doctrine of Islam. It is important to explain that extremists are wandering. Again and again. That is difficult. People want bite-sized answers. Or have their judgment ready.
Most Muslims are tired of explaining
I am fresh, so I want to do that well in the coming years. With all the love.
You observe in your book that a lack of intellectual framework among Dutch Muslims causes problems. Can you explain that?
The small group of people who have a thorough knowledge of Islam, speak good Dutch and operate publicly, are very small. The extremes get the stage and that creates a one-sided image.
What is the solution?
Reading and teaching. If Dutch Muslims are educated from an early age in that historical context, then we become a community of the middle way. "