Recognition of Muslim Executive officially revoked for mismanagement

Recognition of Muslim Executive officially revoked for mismanagement
Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne during a plenary session of the Chamber at the Federal Parliament in Brussels. Credit: Belga/ James Arthur Gekiere

After initiating proceedings to do so earlier this year, Belgium has withdrawn the recognition of the Executive of the Muslims of Belgium (EMB) – the official representation of Islam in Belgium — over a lack of transparency and mismanagement.

The EMB, also known as the Muslim Executive, received every year approximately €600,000 in subsidies. In October last year, Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne ordered the civilian intelligence service to investigate its affairs following complaints of a lack of professionalism and transparency, and reports of foreign influence from Morocco and Turkey.

"I have never experienced such amateurism. And that for a body that fulfils a crucial role for the Muslim community in our country. They deserve better, which is why I have decided to withdraw the recognition," Van Quickenborne noted.

"With this decision, we want to pave the way for a truly representative, transparent and professional Muslim Executive. As long as there is no new EMB, there will also be no more subsidies paid out, as was already the case for the funds earmarked for 2022."

Several requests were made to the body in a bid to make it more independent, representative and transparent, but these efforts came to nothing, resulting in Van Quickenborne starting the process to withdraw the recognition, for which the Belgian state was condemned in August of this year.

Troubled history

The EMB officially became a point of contact between the government and the Muslim community in Belgium around 26 years ago, and was tasked with applying for recognition of mosques, organising Islamic religious education and appointing and training imams.

However, in recent years, its name became tarnished. In autumn 2020, State Security services determined that there had been foreign interference within the organisation and it had an issue with transparency. It found the board was de facto in the hands of a few individuals, despite being made up of 17 elected members to represent the various strands of the Muslim community.

The board itself had not met since October 2019. Its own evaluation report two years ago listed several internal shortcomings such as lack of female representation and infiltration by extremists.

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Several consultations between Van Quickenborne's cabinet and the EMB were organised, but despite the many promises that improvement was on the way, no changes were made. The official letter announcing the withdrawal of the EMB's recognition was sent to members on Wednesday.

"As a result, the Muslim community in our country does not have the representation it is entitled to. This hinders the integration of Muslims in our country," he added.

Van Quickenborne stated a new body for Muslim representation is still needed, but that it must be organised in a transparent, independent and pluralistic manner, based on religious freedom and the democratic and free nature of our society.

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