Joram van Klaveren was once one of Europe’s most out-spoken Islamophobes. As a prominent member of a Dutch far-right party, he even went as far as proposing a law to ban the Quran. Driven by his prejudices, Joram intended to write a book that would be fiercely critical of Islam.
It was only while researching Islam for his book that he realised the error of his ways. In a beautiful turn, Joram converted to Islam and wrote a book about his journey instead. He now publicly advocates for the religion he loves and holds multiple political and advisory roles.
I had the pleasure of asking Joram a few questions about politics, society, and coming to Islam.
[Questions by Adam Hafiz, with answers by Joram van Klaveren]
AH: Can you tell us more about the moment you decided to become a Muslim?
JVK: I was of course writing an anti-Islam book after I left politics. That was a long-held desire. I wanted to give all I said in politics against Islam a theoretical grounding. But during my search for information, I was confronted with so many facts that were at odds with the things I used to think about Islam that I started to have new questions.
Because I wanted it to be a factual and correct book I also reached out to Muslim scholars to ask questions. One of these scholars was professor Abdal Hakim Murad. I put a Wikipedia-link at the end of my mail so he would know who I was. I thought he would never answer because I was part of an anti-Muslim group. But he did answer. And he gave me a very extensive reaction. He answered questions himself, pointed out books to read, and gave names of other scholars who I could ask for information.
Because I already had some doubts about certain Christian dogmas (the trinity, the sacrifice of Christ, and original sin) my search started changing into a search for God. And on the way, I got Islamic answers to my Christian questions.
In my book, I write about my different obstacles on the way to Islam. The last one was about the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh). After I analysed his life and character (that took me months) I was absolutely convinced he truly was the messenger of Allah.
And because I already believed in one God, my acceptance of the messenger made me de facto a Muslim. But the night I realised that there was still a feeling of aversion. After I woke up the next day that feeling was completely gone and I felt very strong and happy in my heart.
That day I told my wife and my mother I became a Muslim.
How was the reception of your book among non-Muslims?
The book has been alternately received by non-Muslims. My former political party colleagues (of the anti-Islam organization the PVV) found it terrible. A Christian television station provided aftercare for Christians who might have been upset by my conversion to Islam and the contents of the book.
In terms of content, there were also non-Muslims who indicated that they thought it was a good and personal book.
Does religion have a place in politics?
Of course. Legislation is also about morality. And our morality comes from religion. So it certainly has a place. I do think it is important that the political system gives space and freedom to different political groups, so that everyone is represented and can build a society together.
Have you travelled in Muslim countries, and is there any particular place or story that you would like to share?
I have been to Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey. All very different but beautiful countries. If you travel through different Muslim countries you see the beautiful, rich and diverse character of Islam.
What is the attitude towards Islam of politicians in Europe, and how have you seen it develop over your career?
It depends on the political party. There are a few explicit anti-Islam organizations and political voices, such as the PVV (of Geert Wilders, my former party). And they have grown rapidly over the last 15 years due to terrorist attacks and media bias.
What are your career goals?
At the moment I am actively involved in setting up an Islamic interest group. This does not yet exist in the Netherlands but is very much needed. I hope to serve the ummah and the faith with this.
Do you have any advice for new reverts?
Try to take your family with you on your journey so the shock isn’t too big. Stay close to them (keep the relations good) and take it slow.
Has your reversion changed your political activity?
My views on social, ethical, and economic problems are still conservative, but I am now a Muslim so my reasoning and arguments for the way I see things have changed.
What do you think the best approach to combatting Islamophobia is?
Try to live as real Muslims. The best example is the sunnah. That is the perfect way to show non-Muslims what Islam is.
Besides that, we have to educate people and inform them. Take away misconceptions. And of course, we have to make sure there are strong and constructive Islamic institutions that can act when our rights are violated.
We hear a lot about negative experiences in the field of inter-faith relations. Do you have any positive stories to share with us?
Yes. In the Netherlands, there are positive inter-faith initiatives.
Recently, as Islamic organizations together with some Christian churches, we have organized homeless shelters and distributed soup and coffee to vagrants on the streets because of the cold.
Furthermore, in the recent past, the Muslim community together with the Jewish community has ensured that ritual slaughter is not forbidden.
Finally, contacts between Muslim organizations, Christian organizations, and Jewish organizations are generally good in the Netherlands.
Can you outline some of the challenges you face when working in the field of inter-faith relations?
Misconceptions, fear, and a lack of empathy towards the other are the biggest challenges. For all parties. But Alhamdulillah, we have the greatest teacher that showed us in his sunnah how to be the best we can be in our attitude and character.
Do you have any advice for Muslims seeking to enter politics?
Be prepared (politics is not always a good place to be) and hang on to your beliefs.
What type of society do you try to build in your political and advisory roles?
A country where people can continue to live in prosperity, security, and peace. Greater understanding between different population groups is crucial in this respect. Our Islamic community must work hard to set up professional and sustainable institutions in the fields of politics, media, education, and advocacy.
Would you say the roots of Islamophobia lie in ignorance of Islam or racism?
In the West, there are a number of things at play: first of all the historical component. Especially in Eastern Europe. Ancient Turkey, the Ottoman Empire, had colonies just like many Western countries, among others like Romania, Greece, Hungary, etc. These countries therefore historically fear, in their eyes, imperialism from the East. They identify this (wrongly) with Islam. Furthermore, over the past centuries, there have of course been several clashes between Christian Europe and the Islamic world around it. This plays a role for many people – consciously but also unconsciously.
In addition, ignorance certainly also plays a major role. In the West, most people do not know much about Islam. All they see is the behavior of Muslims and what they see on the internet and television. If they see Muslims behaving badly, their image will be negative. This is reinforced by terrorist attacks. And then it is the media that repeat this endlessly. This combination is very important when it comes to the negative image/fear that exists for Islam.
And of course, some people also have a racist component – people who hate foreigners or their children and grandchildren (who actually have become Dutch by now).
Finally, when you first started exploring the Quran, was there any story that particularly touched your heart?
The story of Hind. It changed my view on the character of the Prophet (pbuh) completely. “What a great man and special man”, was what I thought after finishing the story.
My full review of Joram’s book is available here:
Apostate by Joram van Klaveren: A Tale of Hope, Humility, and Guidance (Book Review)
Joram’s book, titled ‘Apostate’ is also available to buy on Amazon here.