A few years ago, I had a conversation in a mosque in Rotterdam with two Muslim girls who were about 6 or 7 years-old. They asked me, in fluent Dutch, if I was Turkish. I explained that I was Dutch, and had in fact converted to Islam. At one point during our exchange, one of them said, "So back when you were still Dutch…"
This innocent statement reveals a sad reality: these young children, born and raised in the Netherlands, were already "programmed" to think that people cannot be both Dutch and Muslim.
Many young Muslims who were born and grew up in the Netherlands feel alienated and unwelcome in society, which is illustrated by conversations like this one. This feeling can lead to stereotyping, and a disconnect between Muslims and non-Muslims. Despite this, through my work as the director of the Platform for Islamic Organisations Rijnmond (SPIOR) – the Netherlands' only local Muslim umbrella organisation, comprised of mosques and grassroots Muslim organisations in the area around Rotterdam – I am optimistic about the impact of a growing number of people looking for positive connections and common ground.