Islam in Europe now has strong local leadership

There are major changes underway for Muslims in Europe. They go beyond threats to ban the burqa in France or plans to build the largest mosque on the continent in Marseille. They go beyond the Dutch elections last month, which doubled the number of parliamentarians from the anti-Islam Freedom Party. What is more momentous is the birth of a homegrown form of Islam, an indigenous approach to practising the religion in today's Europe.
And a Dutch imam is leading the way. Himself a product of a cultural melange, Mohammed Cheppih was raised in a family of Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands. Having learnt his faith at the knee of community elders, Imam Cheppih, 33, now believes that it is time for a homegrown form of Islam that is true to the cultural mores of the country that he and many other young Muslims consider their home.
"I personally got fed up with religion promoted by others," he told me over coffee in downtown Beirut during a recent trip to the region. "Culturally, it is not what I believe." He is no stranger to challenging conventional thinking. During his religious training at university in Saudi Arabia, his ideas about Islam's role in the West rattled more than a few cages. "I was always under threat for being kicked out of school for questioning and debating everything," he said.
Similarly the religious texts that are available in the Netherlands are usually translated from abroad, with little relevance to everyday life in his home country. It is a deficit that many critics have identified. Muslim communities in Europe often lack well-trained imams with a local connection who can truly engage both the Muslim and European aspects of a community, especially the youth. Too often imams are the product of a foreign-funded mosque or, as one worshipper once told me, "just about anyone available to lead prayer". Often the imam represents only the views of a few elders in an immigrant community, someone whose preaching might either alienate or radicalise the young.
That state of affairs motivated Imam Cheppih to found Academica Islamica, a training centre for educators and community leaders in the Netherlands, as well as the Polder Mosque, which will begin to broadcast sermons and educational programmes on the radio, television and internet starting this September. "We have a shortage of grassroot scholarship and leadership," he said. Located in the Dutch city of Amsterdam, the mosque breaks with traditional expectations. Men and women pray side by side, and non-Muslims often attend the Friday sermon, then sit on the sidelines during group prayer. Women are not required to wear a hijab.
These practices can draw fire from more conservative clergy, but Imam Cheppih can cite plenty of precedents. There are nearly one million Muslims in the Netherlands who, by and large, lead non-segregated lives. Most women do not wear the hijab. Why should they change their behaviour when they pray? "It's very strange to put conditions on people entering a mosque," Imam Cheppih said. "In old times, people entered from the street community."
The issues the imam addresses with his congregations are also controversial. Premarital sex, homosexuality, and drugs and alcohol consumption are discussed. "It's called jurisprudence of reality, or jurisprudence of the minority in cases when Muslims are a minority in a non-Muslim state." Although controversial, the Polder Mosque is not alone in this school of thought. One of the most prominent scholars today, and a major influence on Imam Cheppih, is the Swiss-born Tariq Ramadan, a professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University who emphasises the need for a "Western Islam".
The recently deceased Lebanese spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah is another example of Islamic scholarship applying "jurisprudence of the reality". Many of his mourners were Lebanese women whose lives were changed by his leadership, which helped them negotiate life in modern-day Lebanon while remaining faithrul to their religion. Imam Cheppih aims to do the same in the Netherlands, where Muslim youth are often first or second generation immigrants. Unlike their Dutch counterparts, when it comes to peer pressure and personal decisions they must also negotiate a cultural gap with their elders. Without proper guidance, this can lead to disastrous outcomes.
Controversial issues are not going away. Imam Cheppih likes to point out that his approach to teaching Islamic values goes beyond the "simplistic halal-haram" conversation that he says has come to characterise discussions of Islam today, even within scholarly circles. Talk about Islam in secular Europe also seems to be reduced to the burqa or what size a new mosque should be. The rise of an organic and indigenous European Islam may very well change the conversation entirely.
Rasha Elass is a former reporter for The National now based in Damascus. * This article was edited on July 21 2010 to correct the name of the Dutch city that is home to the Polder Mosque.


Norwich 0

Watford 2 (Deulofeu 2', Gray 52')

Red card: Christian Kabasele (WatforD)


West Asia Premiership

Jebel Ali Dragons 13-34 Dubai Exiles

Dubai Knights Eagles 16-27 Dubai Tigers

Most polluted cities in the Middle East

1. Baghdad, Iraq
2. Manama, Bahrain
3. Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
4. Kuwait City, Kuwait
5. Ras Al Khaimah, UAE
6. Ash Shihaniyah, Qatar
7. Abu Dhabi, UAE
8. Cairo, Egypt
9. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
10. Dubai, UAE

Source: 2022 World Air Quality Report


1. Chad
2. Iraq
3. Pakistan
4. Bahrain
5. Bangladesh
6. Burkina Faso
7. Kuwait
8. India
9. Egypt
10. Tajikistan

Source: 2022 World Air Quality Report


Barcelona 5 (Lenglet 2', Vidal 29', Messi 34', 75', Suarez 77')

Valladolid 1 (Kiko 15')

2020 Oscars winners: in numbers
  • Parasite – 4
  • 1917– 3
  • Ford v Ferrari – 2
  • Joker – 2
  • Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood – 2
  • American Factory – 1
  • Bombshell – 1
  • Hair Love – 1
  • Jojo Rabbit – 1
  • Judy – 1
  • Little Women – 1
  • Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl) – 1
  • Marriage Story – 1
  • Rocketman – 1
  • The Neighbors' Window – 1
  • Toy Story 4 – 1

Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside


World Cup qualifier

Thailand 2 (Dangda 26', Panya 51')

UAE 1 (Mabkhout 45+2')

Brave CF 27 fight card

Abdoul Abdouraguimov (champion, FRA) v Jarrah Al Selawe (JOR)

Anas Siraj Mounir (TUN) v Alex Martinez (CAN)

Mzwandile Hlongwa (RSA) v Khamzat Chimaev (SWE)

Tarek Suleiman (SYR) v Rustam Chsiev (RUS)
Mohammad Fakhreddine (LEB) v Christofer Silva (BRA)

Super lightweight:
Alex Nacfur (BRA) v Dwight Brooks (USA)

Jalal Al Daaja (JOR) v Tariq Ismail (CAN)
Chris Corton (PHI) v Zia Mashwani (PAK)

Sulaiman (KUW) v Abdullatip (RUS)

Super lightweight:
Flavio Serafin (BRA) v Mohammad Al Katib (JOR)

Porsche Taycan Turbo specs

Engine: Two permanent-magnet synchronous AC motors

Transmission: two-speed

Power: 671hp

Torque: 1050Nm

Range: 450km

Price: Dh601,800

On sale: now

The Roundup : No Way Out

Director: Lee Sang-yong
Stars: Don Lee, Lee Jun-hyuk, Munetaka Aoki
Rating: 3/5

Intercontinental Cup

Namibia v UAE Saturday Sep 16-Tuesday Sep 19

Table 1 Ireland, 89 points; 2 Afghanistan, 81; 3 Netherlands, 52; 4 Papua New Guinea, 40; 5 Hong Kong, 39; 6 Scotland, 37; 7 UAE, 27; 8 Namibia, 27

Company profile

Name: Tharb

Started: December 2016

Founder: Eisa Alsubousi

Based: Abu Dhabi

Sector: Luxury leather goods

Initial investment: Dh150,000 from personal savings



The flights

Etihad ( and flydubai ( fly direct to Baku three times a week from Dh1,250 return, including taxes. 

The stay

A seven-night “Fundamental Detox” programme at the Chenot Palace ( costs from €3,000 (Dh13,197) per person, including taxes, accommodation, 3 medical consultations, 2 nutritional consultations, a detox diet, a body composition analysis, a bio-energetic check-up, four Chenot bio-energetic treatments, six Chenot energetic massages, six hydro-aromatherapy treatments, six phyto-mud treatments, six hydro-jet treatments and access to the gym, indoor pool, sauna and steam room. Additional tests and treatments cost extra.



Rating: 4/5

Produced by: Poetic License Motion Pictures; RSVP Movies

Director: Ritesh Batra

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar, Deepak Chauhan, Vijay Raaz

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE.

Part three: an affection for classic cars lives on

Read part two: how climate change drove the race for an alternative 

Read part one: how cars came to the UAE

if you go

The flights
Emirates flies to Delhi with fares starting from around Dh760 return, while Etihad fares cost about Dh783 return. From Delhi, there are connecting flights to Lucknow. 
Where to stay
It is advisable to stay in Lucknow and make a day trip to Kannauj. A stay at the Lebua Lucknow hotel, a traditional Lucknowi mansion, is recommended. Prices start from Dh300 per night (excluding taxes). 


AiFlux – renewables, oil and gas

DevisionX – manufacturing

Event Gates – security and manufacturing

Farmdar – agriculture

Farmin – smart cities

Greener Crop – agriculture – space digitisation

Lune Technologies – fibre-optics

Monak – delivery

NutzenTech – environment

Nybl – machine learning

Occicor – shelf management

Olymon Solutions – smart automation

Pivony – user-generated data

PowerDev – energy big data

Sav – finance

Searover – renewables

Swftbox – delivery

Trade Capital Partners – FinTech

Valorafutbol – sports and entertainment

Workfam – employee engagement


Favourite Meal: Chicken Caesar salad

Hobbies: Travelling, going to the gym

Inspiration: Father, who was a captain in the UAE army

Favourite read: Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter

Favourite film: The Founder, about the establishment of McDonald's


Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

If you go

The flights
There are various ways of getting to the southern Serengeti in Tanzania from the UAE. The exact route and airstrip depends on your overall trip itinerary and which camp you’re staying at. 
Flydubai flies direct from Dubai to Kilimanjaro International Airport from Dh1,350 return, including taxes; this can be followed by a short flight from Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti with Coastal Aviation from about US$700 (Dh2,500) return, including taxes. Kenya Airways, Emirates and Etihad offer flights via Nairobi or Dar es Salaam.   

Afcon 2019


Senegal v Tunisia, 8pm

Algeria v Nigeria, 11pm

Matches are live on BeIN Sports

Company profile

Name: Maly Tech
Started: 2023
Founder: Mo Ibrahim
Based: Dubai International Financial Centre
Sector: FinTech
Funds raised: $1.6 million
Current number of staff: 15
Investment stage: Pre-seed, planning first seed round
Investors: GCC-based angel investors