The good thing about living in the precinct of Amsterdam that has the most Muslims of all is that I often get the chance to actually talk to one, unlike most Dutch who seem to be content with regurgitating prefabricated leftist ('it's all a matter of perspective') or right-wing ('Islam is incompatible with democracy') views.
Yesterday I had an extensive conversation with a Muslim in the sauna at my local gym. Our little talk struck me all the more since our stories seemed so similar. I've been raised an orthodox Christian: purchasing anything on a Sunday was a sin, sex before marriage as well, and living your life by the rule of the Good Book might not save you from an eternal stay in pits full of brimstone. There was praedestination (thank Calvin) to make sure you were kept on your toes.
I broke with Christianity at the age of 19. It was a long and very painful process, which kept me awake many a night during the year that the exorcism of orthodoxy took. Unlike many former Christians I know, I feel no need to make fun of my former beliefs. I remember how it felt when I believed, and how much it comforted it me to have a personal connection with God (which my former brand of Protestantism calls 'bevindelijkheid'. I'm not sure if there's an English word for that).
At age 19, I decided I would still consider myself a spiritual person, but I couldn't uphold the orthodox doctrines of my branch of Christianity any longer. I left my church, and up until this day I stand by my decision.
When I got my first serious girlfriend, she moved in with me very soon. Needless to say we didn't just hold hands, and equally needless to say, this was much to the dismay of my father. He used to be an elder in my former church, and still is a devout member.
Image my surprise when I heard the Islamic guy in the sauna tell very much the same story. If I can believe him, at this very moment, the same conflict me and my family went through is currently an issue in a lot of Muslim families.
Although I know how painful the process of secularization can be, this has made me hopeful. Deo volente or insha'allah, a more moderate form of Islam will rise, and perhaps even a new branch of humanism, to help rid the earth of the scourge of fascist thugs who abuse religions for their own political goals.