It is a normal Monday afternoon. I am helping my son move in Delfshaven, Rotterdam. He lives with a number of students just behind the Anton Pieck-like harbour, with the famous Pilgrim Fathers Church. He and his fellow residents are active in the Christian student association The Navigators. Fitting and measuring we manage to squeeze a large chair through the too narrow door, through the narrow staircase to his small kingdom. The Moroccan-Dutch neighbour is watching critically.
The front door had once already been kicked by this neighbor because of the noise of his student neighbors. For more than 20 years, he’s been annoyed by that student noise. The students, at their turn, had made many complaints to the police about the aggression of that same neighbour. One student even wrote a letter to Rotterdam mayor Aboutaleb. He is known for really giving attention to such matters.
Today there are a police officer, his colleague and a social worker on the sidewalk. At first they investigate the situation at the angry neighbor. Then they walk through te studenthouse. They walk noisily through the house, and slam the doors in order to check the nuisance. My son said twice that he was nervous about it. The stairs to the top floor could indeed use a carpet to minimize sounds to the neighbor.The owner of the building will be approached for this. At the request of the students, the owner had already agreed to install cameras because in the meanwhile they feel unsafe there.
The students who threatened to lose their ‘faith in the system’ feel they are being taken seriously for a while. The neighbor was able to tell his story back to the police and social services. After a while, Aboutaleb’s team cycles out of the seriously polluted street towards the Mc-Donalds. We follow them for a Surinamese lunch and a Dutch herring sandwich, cleaned by people from the Middle East.
Right in front of the Mc, some young people with beards and jelabba’s appeal to us. A wooden sign reads: ‘What is Islam?’ Under my daughter’s watchful eye, one of the young people asks if I believe in Jesus. “Yes,” I, say, “I have given lectures on Jesus in the Bible and Koran.” Whether I believe He is the Son of God and what evidence I have for that. We really got hungry from the physical efforts of this morning, and less in the mood for such a theological discussion about something that Christians and Muslims have been unable to agree on for more than 1,400 years. I remember the street debates in Nairobi, where I had such a ‘dialogue’ more than once – and to full dissatisfaction – among large groups of Somali Muslims.
“Is it not more sensible,” I suggested, “to make an effort as Christians and Muslims to encourage each other as believers to do good deeds in a society that is far from God?” Indeed, in the fifth chapter of the Qur’an there is such a thing that people of the Book should compete with each other in doing good works. Isn’t that what makes more sense than that eternal war of words about trinity and about the prophet Mohammed as the Light? That fits better in the city of Rotterdam, called the city of ‘not words, but deeds’. But we didn’t get that far. My daughter wants her herring sandwich. With a leaflet published by Salafi Publications (Birmingham) about ‘Jesus the Messiah in Islam, in Christianity, in reality’ in hand, we say goodbye at Covid-19 distance. I wish these young people of the Sunnah Center a Ramadhaan Kariem, a blessed fast.
Willem Jansen is coordinator of programs for the international organisation Initiatives of Change and student minister in The Hague. In 2018 he obtained his PhD based on a case study in Nairobi, Kenya: ‘Human Dignity and Diapraxis in ‘Little Mogadishu’, Human Rights Culture in the Interreligious Context of Kenya’. He is married and a father of three.