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Dutch Muslim Voices: Documentary

Westermoskee In Amsterdam

One of the latest additions to the Alchemiya library is De Staat van der Nederlandse Moslim 2020 (The State of the Dutch Muslim 2020). Featuring interviews and commentary from eighteen different people, this poetically moving and deeply insightful film examines what it means to be Dutch and Muslim at the present time.

The history of Islam in the Netherlands goes back to the 16th century. Ottoman merchants began to settle in Dutch port cities and the first mosques were established in Amsterdam in the early 17th century. A subsequent legacy of 19th century Dutch colonialism was, and remains, migration from Indonesia and Suriname, while 20th century economics resulted in labour recruitment from Turkey and Morocco throughout the 1960s and 70s.

Today Muslims constitute about 5% of the Dutch population and their multiple origins are encapsulated by the eighteen contributors to this film. The diversity of this community obviously accentuates their unity as Muslim but what this film most clearly demonstrates, and reinforces, is their shared identity as citizens of Holland. Each of their stories is a single thread, woven together by the film to create a deeply reflective and gently voiced portrait of life in contemporary Dutch society. 

Dutch Muslims

De Staat van der Nederlandse Moslim 2020 was filmed in late 2020 when pandemic restrictions had eased, but Covid is just one of many different but interlocking themes. As these eighteen members of the Dutch Muslim community talk about their society and life experiences, shared bonds of empathy, humour and persistence resonate strongly and deeply. Challenges are expressed as eloquently as hopes, and many observations have echoes for all who have minority status in their own country.

However, having to defend your right to be part of the nation you were born or raised in, became particularly intense for Muslims in the aftermath of 9-11. This trauma also left its mark on the contemporary politics of Holland and several other European states. Twenty years on, some of the film’s contributors reflect on where things stand now but this is just one part of a much wider context.

The enormous power of this film is its capacity to relate to the beauty of everyday experience and resilience, with each person it brings to the screen sharing their own particular wisdom. To fully appreciate the clarity of perception of each contribution and the fullness of the picture it presents, this is most definitely a film that must be watched more than once. 

Woman In White Wearing A Mask

The film was directed and produced by creative entrepreneur, investor, producer, and photographer Faisal Mirza. 15 years ago, he founded the Wij Blijven Hier (Here to Stay!) organisation, a content-makers platform that is open to all Dutch Muslims to share their stories and opinions and to be a central reference and network facility for the whole community. He also founded a Dutch Muslim Student Association, was founding Director of Art of Seeing, which provides international photography workshops and is the current Chairman of the Dutch Muslim Network.

We were lucky enough to be able to interview Faisal and ask him how this remarkable film was made.

When did you first have the idea of making this film and why? 

I wanted to do something special to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Wij Blijven Hier and I also really wanted to make a film about what was happening in our community. I particularly wanted to produce something that could be a historical record, so that anyone looking at this film in 10 years’ time would be able to get a clear and accurate portrait of the Dutch Muslim Community in 2020. 

When did you start and complete filming and where was it filmed?

We began the process in autumn 2020 and it took about three months in total. The first stage was talking to our eighteen contributors, developing the relationship, and preparing them for being in front of the camera. During this process, we discovered exactly what people wanted to say and then helped direct them to communicate what was most important to them. This collaborative approach created a lot of trust and confidence enabling some people to open up about things they had not talked about before, and inspiring others to bring us original creative material. We did the filming in November and then edited in December. We filmed in different locations throughout the Netherlands according to where our contributors were based.

How did you find the people who appear in the film?

We already had an idea of the people who we wanted to be part of the film. They were people whose stories and perspectives we knew through our work at Wij Blijven Hier and our work in the community and wider Dutch Muslim network. We worked closely together before filming to get a clear picture of what they wanted to say, and we were then able to distil their thoughts and observations into short segments, capturing the essence of who they are and what their experiences had been.

What were the biggest challenges of producing the film?

Working with many different people meant that one of the biggest challenges, apart from getting them all in front of the camera, was deciding which of the many different topics and themes to focus on and how much time to devote to those topics. The editing challenge was to ensure a careful balance in the film so that all the themes and observations could be clearly articulated without any one thing dominating. 

What’s next?

I would love to make another film focusing on people who I would call ‘icons’ of the Dutch Muslim community. They work under the radar and are certainly not famous or well known outside of the community but their contributions to it have been enormous. In their unique and special ways, they have really influenced or made a difference to our community, and I would really like to produce an in-depth look at their stories and their legacies. 

Making De Staat van der Nederlandse Moslim 2020 was a three-way collaborative process between myself as director and producer, cameraman, Joël van Dooren, and each of our contributors. Knowing the contributors, preparing them to tell their stories and involving each of them so closely in the process made a huge impact, not just on the content of the film but on its depth, its quality and its atmosphere. It was a beautiful experience for everybody when the film was completed, and each contributor was able to see everybody else’s contribution for the first time.

It is a wonderful way to make a film and I am really looking forward to continuing this process.

Woman Staring At The Camera

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