February 4, 2013 By Mahmood Kooria

Islam: The Dutch Connection


While concluding his celebrated work Orientalism, Edward Said says: ‘I consider Orientalism’s failure to have been a human as much as an intellectual one; for in having to take up a position of irreducible opposition to a region of the world it considered alien to its own,Orientalism failed to identify with human experience, failed also to see it as human experience.’ 1It is brilliant statement that we have to have in mind when we discuss the European intellectual engagements on Islam and Muslim societies. Now it is more than three decades since Said has made such a conclusive observation. Thus first of all, we will ask ourselves, whether the Western academic world studying the Orient changed very much in this last three decades? Except in certain instances, the answer will be: No.

(Photo caption: Leiden University)

Having said that, here we briefly evaluate the Dutch intellectual engagements with Islam and Muslims in a longer history. In the contemporary Dutch politics, Islam has been a point of hot debate since 2007 with the appearance of politicians like Geert Wilders, film makers like Theo Van Gogh, political asylum-seekers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But, I am not engaging with such contemporary dogmatic/political upsurges. Instead, I endeavor to explore intellectual assignations of the region with a broader eastern region and its religion in a longer tradition, focusing on its publishing history.

No other hotspot in the West has engaged academically with Islam and Muslims in such a grand manner as Leiden. The oldest University of the Netherlands, Leiden University (est. 1575) has had its chair in Arabic Language and Culture for the last 400 years – the very first chair in Europe. It was established in 1613 by Thomas Erpenius (d. 1624), and, later-on, it transformed into various departmental forms and organizational structures.2 Since then, Leiden University has produced significant amount of scholars, books, and periodicals related to Islam and Muslims. The University Library and other Dutch libraries such as Manuscript of the Royal Academy Amsterdam, Royal Institute for the Tropics, Athanaeumbibliotheek Deventer, Groningen University Library, Juynboll Family Library Leiden, Royal Institute of Linguistics Geography and Ethnology, Rotterdam Municipal Library have a profuse collection of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish manuscripts, some of the rarest collections in the world. 3 A fabulous contribution of about thousand Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Hebrew manuscripts by Levinus Warner in 1665 to the University marked its prominence as the scarcest depositories of oriental manuscripts in Europe. 4

The publishing company Brill makes its stage with large amount of publications. Its voluminous Encyclopedia of Islam has been published since 1913; coincidentally exactly one century back. It is one of the remarkable collective attempts by Orientalists from Leiden University to study Islam; which was published by Brill. Edward Said himself wrote about it, categorizing it under the form of Orientalist writing in which ‘their authority was redistributed or dispersed or dissipated: to a committee of experts’.  5 Since its publication, it has been the only one encyclopedic corpus on Islam in English covering various aspects. The contributors of the encyclopedia tried to achieve as much authenticity as leading Stephen Humphreys to remark. Stephen Humphreys remarked: ‘The most important and comprehensive reference tool for Islamic studies is the Encyclopedia of Islam… While some (articles) are hardly more than dictionary entries, others are true research pieces – in many cases the best available treatment of their subject’. 6 Even now this attempt is being carried out through its third edition under the editorial board led by Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas and Everett Rowson.

The books published by Brill exceed the releases of any other publishing groups’. Many of the celebrated works on Islamic Studies have been brought out by Brill. The series includes Islamic History and Civilization: Studies and Texts edited by Sebastian Günther and Wadad Kadi; Evliyā Çelebi’s Book of Travels: Land and People of the Ottoman Empire in the Seventeenth Century: A Corpus of Partial Editions edited by Klaus Kreiser;Studies in Islamic Law and Society formally edited by Bernard Lewis and now by Ruud Peters and A. Kevin Reinhart; Brill’s Arab and Islamic Laws Series edited by S. Sardar Ali, Eugene Cotran, Mark Hoyle and Martin Lau;Muslim Minorities edited by Jørgen S. Nielsen, Felice Dassetto and Aminah Mc Cloud;The History of Christian-Muslim Relations edited by David Thomas, Tarif Khalidi, Gabriel Said Reynolds and Mark Swanson;Handbook of Oriental Studies. Section 1 The Near and Middle East edited by W.H. van Soldt; Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Science: Texts and Studies edited by Hans Daiber, Anna Akasoy and Emilie Savage-Smith; Texts and Studies on the Qurʾan edited by Gerhard Böwering Bilal Orfali and Devin Stewart; Women and Gender: The Middle East and the Islamic World edited by Margot Badran and Susanne Dahlgren and the forthcoming series The Muslim World in the Age of the Crusades: Studies and Texts edited by Paul M. Cobb, Konrad Hirschler and Suleiman A. Mourad; and on Ahmad bin Ali Al Maqrizi (d. 1442) Bibliotheca Maqriziana are other remarkable studies on Muslims, Islam, and the Middle East from Brill – many of these series consist more than hundred titles making each so voluminous as to cover innumerable aspects.

For the last six decades, Brill has also published numerous journals on Islam, Arabic, and Muslim communities. The attempt was started with the publication of Arabica:Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies/Revue’études arabes et islamiques (since 1954); Die Welt des Islams: International Journal for the Study of Modern Islam (since 1960); and Indo-Iranian Journal (since 1957). Later on it also came up with Journal of Arabic Literature (since 1970); Index Islamicus (since 1978); Arab Law Quarterly (since 1986); and Islamic Law and Society (since 1993). For the last decade the journals Hawwa:Journal of Women of the Middle East and the Islamic World(since 2002); Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication (since 2007); Journal of Persianate Studies (since 2007); Bustan: The Middle East Book Review (since 2009); Journal of Islamic Manuscripts (since 2009); Journal of Muslims in Europe (since 2011); and Journal of Sufi Studies (since 2012) have been launched furthering its rendezvous with aforementioned themes. Brill also plans to come up with new journals entitled Sociology of Islam edited by Gary Wood and Tugrul Keskin and Intellectual History of the Islamicate World edited by Sabine Schmidtke which will add to its long tradition of studies on Islam, Muslims and the Middle East. Other renowned journals like Oriens; Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient; Numen: International Review for the History of Religions; Medieval Encounters: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Culture in Confluence and Dialogue; Journal of Religion in Europe; Journal of Religion in Africa; and Science of Religion: Abstracts and Index of Recent Articles are research papers on similar themes.

Apart from these two giant institutions, the academies of University of Amsterdam, Vu University Amsterdam, Utrecht University, University of Groningen, Tilburg University, and Erasmus University Rotterdam also have individual departments for Islamic Studies. These departments are connected to one another through an organization named Netherlands Inter-university School for Islamic Studies (NISIS) with its head office at Leiden University. NISIS facilitates the collaboration of the Islamic Studies Departments in each university and organizes frequent talks, discussions, public outreach programmes, training camps for researchers,  and intermittent conferences and seminars on subjects related to Islam and Muslim societies – its seasonal schools commenced in 2010 bring together the reputed as well as promising scholars across the world.

The Islamic universities at The Hague and Rotterdam deserve mention for their attempts to organize and constitute Islamic educational norms and values in their organization, curriculum, and structure. Jamia Madinatul Islam was established by Maulana Alama Arshadul Qadiri and Shah Ahmad Noorani Siddiqui in 1986 with the aim of creating religious scholars and Imams necessary for Islamic activities in the Netherlands. It conducts courses on theological studies, Quran studies and Quran rote-learning for both men and women. The Islamic University of Rotterdam (IUR) was founded in 1997 by the initiatives of Dutch Muslims. IUR is a member of Federation of the Universities of the Islamic World, the largest organization which has affiliated around two-hundred Islamic universities across the world. IUR offers both religious, vocational and language courses at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, only one of its Masters courses has been recognized by Netherlands -Vlaamse Accreditatie organisatie(NVAO), the Dutch and Flemish independent body for higher educational accreditation. But, apart from this single course, we have to keep in mind that none of the courses offered in these Dutch Islamic institutes are recognized by the government. However, the publication division of IUR, Rotterdam University Press has published a number of titles related to Islam, Sufism, and Arabic. They also publish an academic journal titled The Journal of Rotterdam Islamic and Social Sciences edited by Ahmed Akgunduz and Ozcan Hidir from 2010.

Besides these institutions, there are numerous academic organizations and publishing houses with special focus on Islam and Muslims. Many of them have functioned for more than one decade publishing exceptional academic monographs and organizing intellectual discourses on related themes. The Koninklijk Instituut Voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (KITLV) / Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies is leading among organizations. They also have published numerous monographs related to the Muslim communities in Southeast Asia.

While we discuss the Dutch academic immersions related to the study of Islam and Muslims, another point worthy of mention is the series of Quran translations to Dutch language as most of those were done by university professors. The first translation came out in 1641 titled De Arabische Alkoran. 7 It was followed by Mahomets Alkoran translated from the French by André du Ryer, Thomas Erpenius and Jan Hendrik Glazemaker  in 1658. 8 Later on J.H Kramers (d. 1951) – the professor of Turkish and Persian, and the Chair of Arabic at Leiden University, came up with another translation named De Koran. 9 A Qadiyani translation of the Quran was done by an Ahmadiyya Moslim Missie in Netherland in 1953. 10 There are many more Quran translations mainly released in the last century. 11

These descriptions demonstrate various aspects of Dutch academic enthusiasm for an Eastern religion, its followers and prominent locations with multi-layered and profusely articulated participation. As mentioned above, compared to any other Western locus of Oriental Studies, the Netherlands stands out with its centuries-long tradition of university departments, rare manuscript collections, specialized libraries, book publications and discussions specifically centered on Islam and Muslims. If we ask the question as to why it happened so, or why they are so enthusiastic, an answer at this level will be very much frenetic without much deep researches. But, a primary assumptive answer could be another question: is it an outcome of colonial interconnection as the Dutch coloniality controlled the Eastern regions including largest Muslim country in the world? Apart from this idiosyncrasy, all other aspects could be seen in all other loci of Western studies on the Orient. Whatever be the answer, this hypothesis cannot be limited to such a foundational question at any extent. Further researches will shed light on such an essential query. 12

Mahmood Kooria is a doctoral candidate at the Institute of History, Leiden University, The Netherlands. He can be reached at mahmoodpana@gmail.com

End notes:

1 Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978): 328

2 Now Leiden University has three departments associated with the study of Arabic, Islam, Muslims, or the Middle East namely Middle Eastern Studies (which itself has been divided into various departments as Arabic Studies, Assyriology, Egyptology, Hebrew & Aramaic Studies, Papyrology, Persian & Iranian Studies, and Turkish Studies) under Leiden University Institute for Area Studies, Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society under Leiden University Institute for Religious Studies, Arabic Studies under Academic Language Centre.

3 See for a bibliographical overview of the manuscripts kept in Leiden University Library and other libraries in the Netherlands: P. Voorhove, Handlist of Arabic Manuscripts in the Library of the University of Leiden and Other Collections in the Netherlands. (The Hague, Boston and London: Leiden University Press, 1980);Jan Just Witkam,Catalogue of Arabic manuscripts in the Library of the University of Leiden and other collections in the Netherlands. 5 Volumes. (The Hague, Boston and London: Leiden University Press; Leiden: Brill, 1989); Jan Schmidt, Catalogue of Turkish manuscripts in the Library of Leiden University and other collections in the Netherlands (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012); Jan Just Witkam, Inventory of the Oriental Manuscripts of the Library of the University of Leiden.  25 Volumes. (Leiden: TerLugt Press, 2007) – the whole inventory collection could be accessed from http://www.islamicmanuscripts.info/inventories/leiden/index.html – as accessed on 22.01.2013; Jan Just Witkam, ‘The Oriental Manuscripts in the Juynboll Family Library in Leiden’. Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 3 (2012): 20-102

4 P. Voorhove, Handlist of Arabic Manuscripts: xi

5 Edward Said, Orientalism: 284.

6 Stephen Humphreys, Islamic History: A Framework for Inquiry (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1991): 4.

7 Salomon Schweigger. De Arabische Alkoran door de Zarazijnsche en de TurckschepropheteMahometh, in drie onderscheydendeelen begrepen: van der Turcken religie, ghelove, aelmoessen, vasten, ghebeden, bedevaert na Mecha, met t’samensijngods-diensten, ende ceremonien, wetten ende rechten / uyt de Arabische spraecke nu nieuwelijcks in Hooghduytschghetranslateert met t’samen een aenhanghende voorreden, door Salomon Swigger, Prediker der Kercken tot Noorenbergh / ende wederom uyt het Hooghduytsch in Nederlantschespraeckeghestelt. (Berentsma, Boeckverkooper and Hamburgh: BarentAdriaensz, 1641). It was translated based on German, Latin and Italian translations.

8 André du Ryer, Thomas Erpenius, Jan Hendrik Glazemaker.MahometsAlkoran: door de heer Du Ryer uit de Arabische in de Fransche taal gestelt, benevens een tweevoudige beschryving van Mohamets leven en een verhaal van des zelfs reis ten hemel; gelijk ook sijn samenspraak met de Jood Abdias. (Nieuwesteeg: Hendrik van Damme Boekverk, 1707).

9 J H Kramers,De Koran: Uit het Arabisch vertaald.(Antwerpen and Amsterdam: Uitgeverij De Arbeiderspers, 2003). Kramers was assisted by AsadJaber and Johannes J.G. Jansen.

10 Anonymous Author, De Heilige Qor’aan, met Nederlandse vertaling: uitgave onder auspiciën van de Ahmadiyya Beweging.(Rabwah, Pakistan: The Oriental & Religious Publishing Corporation LTD, 1953).

11 Some of those are: L. J. A. Tollens. Mahomed’s Koran: gevolgd naar de fransche vertaling van Kasimirski … eene levensschets van Mahomed. (Batavia: Lange, 1859); Fred Leemhuis. De Koran: Een weergave van de betekenis van de Arabische tekst in het Nederlands (Houten: Het Wereldvenster, 1989); Sofjan S. Siregar. De Edele Koranin het Nederlands en Arabisch. (Islamitische Cultureel Centrum Nederland, 2000); Kader Abdolah. De Koran. (Breda: Uitgeverij De Geus, 2008); Maulana Muhammad Ali.De Heilige Koran Nederlandsevertaling en commentaar (Haarlem: Luisterboek, 2009).

12 For further readings on the topic, among others, see the contributions to W.A.R. Shadid andP.S. van Koningsveld, eds., Islam in Dutch Society: Current Developments and Future Prospects. (Kampen: Kok Pharos Publishing House, 1992); Muhammad Said al-Touraihi, ‘Islamic Treasures in Holland: A Window on the Historical Relationship between Holland and Islam’. IslamicTourism05 (2003): 26-38

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