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Dutch Exhibit Explores New Muslims’ Life

The exhibition ‘Converted. Becoming Muslim – being Muslim’ puts the spotlight on the process of conversion

Source : OnIslam / 24 Jul 2014

Offering a deep insight into the lives of Dutch reverts to Islam, a new exhibition is held in the Amsterdam Museum which puts a spotlight on increasing number of reversions and elaborates upon the spiritual process as well as the practical aspects of this change.

“From the start of my research, I was interested in finding ways to communicate my results to a broader audience than solely other academics,” anthropologist Vanessa Vroon-Najem, who planned the exhibition, told

“I have been employed at the Amsterdam Museum since 1999 and the timing for an exhibition on conversion to Islam was perfect,” she added.

The idea of the exhibition, held in the Amsterdam Museum from April 11 to June 29, is based on the Ph.D. research of Vroon-Najem who reverted to Islam in 1996.

The exhibition ‘Converted. Becoming Muslim – being Muslim’ was also suggested to offer people better information about the rising religion in the Netherlands, where the number of reverts has exceeded 15,000.

Along with Vroon-Najem research, the exhibit could not see light without the work of Photographer Saskia Aukema.

“My proposal was well received, also because of the beautiful photographs made by Saskia Aukema of reverts to Islam,” Vroon-Najem said.

Photographer Aukema already had plans to do a project on reverts to Islam.

“A project like this could show the normative, regular face of Muslims in the Netherlands instead of religious radicals and violence we see in the media,” she explained to

“A lot of people think in terms of ‘us’ against ‘them’ when they talk about Islam. Converts cross those imaginary boundaries and connect them both.”

“I was already preparing my side of the project for over six months when I met Vroon-Najem, who had already been doing research for quite some years,” Aukema added.

According to Vroon-Najem, this joint approach has pushed the project forward.

Alongside the exhibition, a book entitled ‘Converted’, a collaboration with photographer Saskia Aukema, will also be published.

“Aukema convinced me that we should also try to make a book for a broad audience at the same time,” she said.

“To write an accessible book about the subject of conversion to Islam had been my goal for some time, but she pushed me to have it published at the same time that I would defend my dissertation, coinciding with the opening of the exhibition.”

Reverts’ Life

The Amsterdam exhibition aims to expand knowledge about this social development, tackle preconceptions and challenge the visitor to put aside their stereotypes regarding images of Muslims and converts.

“The project crossed my path while working as a volunteer for the annual National Converts Day in 2013,” Noureddine Steenvoorden, a Dutch who reverted to Islam over 10 years ago, told

Steenvoorden, an active member of the National Platform for New Muslims (‘LPNM’), has become one of the faces advertising the event.

“I agreed and Aukema, the photographer, afterwards followed me around on a Friday afternoon as I went about my daily business of visiting the mosque and going to the skatepark,” he said.

“She wanted to give an unbiased view of new Muslims and how they incorporate worship into their daily lives.”

Working on the project also changed the view photographer Aukema herself had of reverts.

“In the beginning of the project I wondered whether some of the younger people would be compelled to consider Islam as a form or rebellion against their parents, because the religion is still very controversial in our country,” she said.

“But during my first visits to gatherings of convert women, I soon proved to be wrong. The challenge to improve the relationship with their parents was a topic at almost every meeting. I tried to capture that in my photo’s, showing convert woman lovingly together with their mothers.”

Vroon-Najem believes there was a direct need for more insight in the life of Muslim reverts.

“Muslim women in the Netherlands are regularly perceived as being oppressed. As a consequence, women’s conversion to Islam is mired in stereotypes, for instance the persistent image that conversion occurs because of marriage, disregarding women’s agency,” she said.

“Muslims and Islam have also been at the center of a heated public debate in the Netherlands and during the past few decades, politicians from several political parties have voiced their doubt about the feasibility of being Muslim-Dutch.

“I felt it was important to challenge these doubts and stereotypes through academic research and through offering participants a platform to tell the story of their conversion themselves.”

Muslims make up one million of the Netherlands’s 16 million population, mostly from Turkish and Moroccan origin.



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