For years I was part of a group of Venlo women that got together monthly to study the Qur’an and talk about life. We gathered in someone’s living room for an enjoyable evening of study, animated discussion and pleasant company. It was a colourful group in many respects: of different ages; some conservatively dressed, others dressed according to the latest fashion; headscarves in different colours and styles, while others wore no veils at all. Personalities, too, differed, as well as ethnic origins: Dutch converts and others from Turkish, Moroccan, Egyptian, Somali and Surinam backgrounds. Being Muslim was the cohesive factor that brought them together, but in the process they also learned about their differences, like when a guest was invited to speak about her work assisting in the ritual cleansing of the dead. By sharing her experience it opened up the other women to talk about the often problematic subject of death. The women discovered small differences between their traditions that triggered a discussion on ‘real Islam’, ‘correct’ performance of rites and what meaning to ascribe to them. The gatherings showed the unity of Islam, but at the same vividly illustrated the diverse perceptions of Islam and the way it is lived by various Muslims. It made everyone realise that there was less of a clear-cut tradition to fall back on than most of them expected. For many it was an eye-opening discovery that made them wonder how Venlo Muslims actually ought to practice their death rites in their particular context of people from divergent backgrounds.
Interested? The full research is available at Lit Verlag: Muslims Ritualising Death in the Netherlands. Death rites in a small town context.