Science - April 2, 2009

DUTCH MOSQUES SAVE SOCIETY MILLIONS OF EUROS

Dutch mosques save Dutch society about 150 million euros a year on social services. And that’s a conservative estimate, says Wageningen alumnus Jaap van der Sar. On Friday 20 March, Van der Sar and his colleagues at Oikos presented the Dutch Ministry of Home Affairs with their analysis of the social services provided by sixteen of the 475 mosques in the Netherlands.

<em>Gezellig</em>, a meal at the mosque in The Hague.
The research team from Oikos (an ecumenical foundation that promotes social justice and sustainable development worldwide) used a ‘social return on investment monitor’ developed by Van der Sar to highlight what volunteers contribute to society by quantifying it in money terms. ‘Although money is only the crudest way of measuring this: the real value is much greater. I don't love my wife by the kilo’, says Van der Sar.

In 2007, Van der Sar and his team visited sixteen Dutch mosques and interviewed imams and volunteers about the activities organized in their communities. To calculate the return on investment, they counted only social services and activities of kinds that are also offered by other social services providers, and they ‘priced’ the hours spent by volunteers at the going rate paid by organizations such as the thuiszorg (home care services).

The sixteen mosques proved to be busy hubs of their communities, organizing a wide range of activities including festivals, courses on Dutch language and on the political system, childcare classes, skating excursions, swimming lessons for women, career guidance for young people, visits to the elderly, and collections for local food banks. Organizing all this took up just over 270 thousand hours of volunteers’ time – which would cost 5.2 million euros if it had to be paid for at going rates.

Oikos has done similar studies on several churches and, most recently, Youth for Christ. The report Valuing Mosques was commissioned by the Ministry of Home Affairs in order to get a better idea of what actually goes on at mosques. ‘We’ve had some strongly negative reactions’, says Van der Sar. ‘But perhaps the most worrying thing is that I was prepared for that. Hardly any objections are raised when you point out how much Youth for Christ does for society, but you get a flood of negative reactions when you dare to say something positive about the mosques.’

Meanwhile in Wageningen, the Muslim community has asked the municipal council for moral support for establishing a mosque of its own. The Schimmelpenninck building, where the community has been temporarily housed, has been sold off by the Council and must soon be vacated. The community includes many Wageningen UR students and – unusually – conducts activities in English. ‘We want an integrated mosque where foreign students can meet local people’, explains Mateen Ahmad, chairperson of the International Islamic Centre Wageningen. ‘We believe that our activities are of social value too. We run courses and we promote integration by organizing intercultural encounters.’

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