First Muslim Mayor of Rotterdam

Some people, both inside and outside the Muslim community, question whether Muslims should become involved in politics at all. The portrayal of the intersection of politics and religion in most mainstream media coverage of Islam leads to questions of where a Muslim politician’s loyalties might lie and whether personal faith might interfere with the job performance of an official who is supposed to act in the best interest of a broader population. It would seem that these questions should be asked of anyone of any faith who chooses to enter public office, but it seems that Muslims are singled out for special scrutiny.

These concerns are increasingly important as the number of Muslim politicians in the Western world increases. In the United States, for example, Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) became a highly visible example, especially when he asked to be sworn in on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Qur’an. Of course the increased involvement of Muslims in Western politics is not limited to the United States. In fact, the rapidly growing Muslim presence in Europe makes it only natural that Muslim Europeans would want to go into politics to give voice to some of the concerns of not only Muslim but also non-Muslim constituents. One such example is the mayor of Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Ahmed Aboutaleb became the first Muslim immigrant to become mayor of a major Dutch city this past January. The appointment of Aboutaleb, a Moroccan-born immigrant, has created controversy in Rotterdam, which has witnessed serious clashes over the issue of immigration. Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing Dutch Party for Freedom, is among the most vocal of those that have questioned Aboutaleb’s loyalties. Wilders has demanded that Aboutaleb give up his Moroccan passport as a gesture of his loyalty to the Netherlands. Muslims, on the other hand, are excited and hope he can begin to build the necessary bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims there. There are also non-Muslims who support Aboutaleb as mayor, but even they seem to believe it is important that he prioritize the issue of integrating Muslims into Europe over other topics.

The competing demands will not be easy to balance. Aboutaleb has already received criticism from some Muslims for expressing support over the firing of Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Islamic scholar, and from non-Muslims who question an official trip he made to Morocco in June. Whatever the concerns of both sides, however, Aboutaleb’s appointment represents an important step for Muslims in Europe and other Western nations. It is not just a question of integration, but also one of participation in the larger society.

What do you think of Muslim participation in politics? Should someone’s faith play a role in whether they are involved in politics or not? What does integration mean for Muslims in Europe? Please leave your comments.

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