Federal Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne has decided to withdraw the recognition of the Muslim Executive – the official representation of Islam in Belgium – after the organisation has been under sustained criticism.
The Muslim Executive receives approximately €600,000 in subsidies per year but is suspected of foreign influence from Turkey and Morocco, as well as malfunctioning and radicalism.
“I have started the procedure to withdraw the recognition of the Muslim Executive,” Van Quickenborne announced on Flemish radio on Friday morning. “That means that we will no longer provide subsidies and that their role will then disappear.”
He added that the body is not representative of all Muslims in Belgium. “There is an older generation, which has lost all contact with young Muslims, that is in charge here. This is detrimental to modern Islam. This executive can no longer be a discussion partner.”
In November last year, the Muslim Executive explained in an open letter to the Minister that it would be starting a renewal operation, but Van Quickenborne believes that the reform would be “a step backwards,” making the organisation only less accessible – either by external experts or young people.
“That whole operation starts from a mosque logic: one can only be elected to the Executive from a mosque. That means that people who do not depend on a mosque have no chance of being elected,” Van Quickenborne explained.
Mosques can still be recognised
Additionally, ethnicity is still the starting point, as only those belonging to, for example, the Moroccan or Turkish pillar can be elected, said Van Quickenborne. “It is strange that Muslims who have been here for three or four generations are still dependent on their origin to be able to function in the Executive.”
However, the fact that the Executive would lose its recognition does not mean that no more Muslim teachers could be appointed, or that no more mosques could be recognised, he stressed.
“This does not stop everything, but we find that this organisation is not representative, not transparent and not professional,” he said. “So, we cannot continue to spend tax money on it. I hope that with this decision we give other Muslims, who do think modernly, an opportunity to escape the austerity of the Executive. They can then form a new organisation in due course.”
‘Surprised and disappointed’
In a reaction given to Belga News Agency, the chairman of the Executive Mehmet Üstün called the decision to withdraw the recognition “unacceptable,” adding that he is “surprised and disappointed.”
According to Üstün, it is not up to the minister, but to the Muslim community to judge the Executive. Üstün said he would go into more detail on the issue in a press release later on Friday.
On its website, the Muslim Executive describes itself as “the body representing the Islamic worship of Belgium” and as “the official interlocutor of the Islamic community of Belgium with the Belgian government.”
The Executive also offers services, such as coaching people in their training to become Islamic teachers and providing Islam lessons at school. It helps mosques to apply for recognition and also supervises the administrative management of recognised local Islamic communities.
The organisation also ensures that there are cemeteries for Muslims, and the organisation speaks out in the name of the Muslim community in discussions such as ritual slaughter.
In 1999, the body was officially recognised as the organisation to represent all Muslims in Belgium.