Many Westerners have never set foot in Arab countries or the Islamic world. They get an impression about Islam and Muslims only from the mass media or by direct contact with various groups of Muslim immigrants living in their countries.
The view of Islam among the general public in Europe or generally the West is now more often shaped by events that took place near their home or neighbors rather than the growth at distant Muslim countries. As a result, the impression of Islam leads to more negative aspects. "For example, a group of Moroccan Muslim immigrants in Dutch, Algerian Muslim immigrants in France, Pakistan and the Indian Muslim migrants in the UK, and Turkish Muslims immigrants in Germany," said the Ambassador of the Netherlands Indonesia, Dr. Nikolaos van Dam, in the talk show "Islam in the Perspective of Netherlands, the Middle East and Indonesia." The event was held at the Koesnadi Hardjasoemantri Cultural Center UGM, Friday (25/6).
Nikolaos van Dam during the last twenty years has dedicated his time in diplomatic and academic career. His main expertise is the Middle East affairs and the Arab world. Besides Nikolaos, also attended the occasion Prof. Dr. Amin Abdullah, (Rector) UIN Sunan Kalijaga, as the speaker. The talk show was hosted by Fr. Gregorius Budi Subanar, S.J, professor at the University of Sanata Dharma.
Further, Nikolaos said that the total population of Muslims in the Netherlands is about one million people or about 6% of the population. Islam is the second and the fastest growing religion in the Netherlands. "Around 80% Muslims are Moroccans and Sunnis or their direct descendants," he added.
Muslims in the Netherlands, like other citizens, enjoy the basic rights to freedom of speech, religion, education, and association as stated in the constitution. Now in the Netherlands, there are 453 registered mosques, 43 private elementary schools, two private secondary schools, and two Islamic universities in Rotterdam and Schiedam.
Nikolaos who served as ambassador in Baghdad, Cairo, Ankara, Bonn, and Berlin, added that even in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Libya which clearly have the majority of Muslim population, these countries do not stand out as Muslim countries. Instead, they tend to stand as countries with each typical cultural characteristics, where the Arabic aspects is more prominent. “There is absence of Muslim typical there. Instead, in Turkey, for example, there is clearly formed and a common thing," said Nikolaos.
Islam in Indonesia Indonesia has huge potential to play in a liaison function between the Islamic world and the West. This is mainly because Indonesia can be considered as a successful and peaceful democracy with the majority of Muslim population. Indonesia could play a potential bridge function or as a liaison with certain countries so it can help improve mutual understanding between the parties or a particular culture.
"Admittedly, in addition to Indonesia, which have the potential for that, Turkey has also been considered by some observers as able to serve as a liaison between Europe and the Islamic world based on the geography," he explained. Meanwhile, the Rector of UIN Sunan Kalijaga on the occasion praise Nikolaos who do not much discuss Islam and radicalism or fundamentalism as it is usually put forward by observers from abroad.
Discussing Islam in its perspective can be seen both from inside (insider perspective) or outside (outsider perspective). "As Muslims, we certainly see it as the insider, while others will see from the outside with a perspective that can be different, but could also be the same. New ideas about Islam and its strategic position could emerge from here," said Amin.
He agreed that Islam can be a strategic liaison between nations and between the minorities and the majority. What is needed is the political integration and political participation. Muslims in foreign countries, which tend to be minorities, need to do a sort of cultural creative or cultural breakthroughs so that their existence are truly recognized and make friends with the majority or other groups. "What is important is the creative or cultural breakthrough so that they could mingle and make friends with other groups," he concluded.