The fascinating evolution of far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders' right-hand man Joram Van Klaveren, who recently shared his story of conversion with us.
Not so long ago, Joram van Klaveren was one of the close political aides of Geert Wilders, who's known as the "godfather of Dutch far-right extremism". While writing an anti-Islam book, Klaveren's perspective on Muslims began to change. The process of understanding Islam cleared his doubts and apprehensions, leading him to accept Islam and become a devout Muslim in 2019.
As Europe is plagued by rising anti-Islam sentiment and vile acts of the Quran burning are becoming a norm, TRT World spoke to Klaveren about his fascinating evolution.
TRT WORLD: You have an interesting story of conversion to Islam. Can you briefly talk about your pre-Islamic period before moving on to this?
JVK: For years, I gave everything I had to fight Islam as a politician. I tried to pass legislation to shut down all Islamic schools in the Netherlands. I attempted to close every mosque in my country, and I even tried to ban the Quran, the divine book I used to call poison.
As a very active member of parliament, I did what I could to warn people of the dangers of Islam. As an anti-Islam politician, I didn’t even consider Islam a real religion. I used to call it the most deadly political ideology in the world.
I was convinced that Islam was violent, anti-women, anti-Christian, and, of course, promoted terrorism.
Many of these ideas were influenced by conservative protestant theology, which influenced by upbringing and regarded other religions, and particularly islam, as wayward.
The rejection of the trinity, the rejection of the divinity of Christ, and the rejection of original sin are reasons for some Christian preachers to see Islam as an evil-cult. Especially preachers from the denomination I was raised in.
These ideas were confirmed the first day I went to college: September 11, 2001. After that, there was also a famous filmmaker in the Netherlands who was killed, not too far from my old house in Amsterdam. His name was Theo van Gogh. That was the last drop. I decided I had to protect the country against this evil religion and fight Islam until the day I died. But Allah is the best of planners. And as we now know, things worked out a little differently.
How exactly did your conversion to Islam take place?
JVK: I was, of course, writing an anti-Islam book after I left politics. That was a long-held desire. I wanted to give all I said in politics against Islam a theoretical grounding. But during my search for information, I was confronted with so many facts that were at odds with the things I used to think about Islam that I started to have new questions. Because I wanted it to be a factual and correct book, I also reached out to Muslim scholars to ask questions. One of these scholars was Professor Abdal Hakim Murad [formerly known as Timothy Winter]. I thought he would never answer because I was part of an anti-Muslim group. But he did answer. and he gave me a very extensive reaction. He answered the question himself, pointed out books to read, and gave the names of other scholars whom I could ask for information.
Because I already had some doubts about certain Christian dogmas (the trinity, the sacrifice of Christ, and original sin), my search started changing into a search for God. And on the way, I got Islamic answers to my Christian questions.
In my book, I write about my different obstacles on the way to Islam. The last one was about the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh). After I studied his life and character (which took me months), I was absolutely convinced he was truly the messenger of Allah.
And because I already believed in one God, my acceptance of the messenger made me, de facto, a Muslim. But the night I realised that, there was still a feeling of aversion. And this sounds a little bit like a fairytale, but it really happened: after I finished writing and realised Islam is true, I still couldn’t accept it. I didn’t want to become a Muslim. But while putting all my books away, some fell off the shelf. And one of these books was the Quran. When I picked it up, my thumb was on Verse 22:46, which says, “It’s not the eyes that are blind, but the hearts." And that was exactly my problem. I could literally read what the truth is; nobody forced me to write that book, and all the facts were clear. So it wasn't a problem with my eyes or intellect, but with my heart and emotions. I did a little prayer where I asked the Lord to give me a sign. Of course, there was no rainbow or golden stars falling, but after I woke up the next day, my feelings of aversion and anxiety were completely gone. I felt very strong and happy in my heart.
That day, I told my wife and my mother that I had become a Muslim.
What kind of reactions did you receive after you announced your decision to convert to Islam? What was the biggest reaction or threat you received?
JVK: There were many death threats—people wanted to kill my children, rape my wife, etc. Very extreme. But of course, in a way, it was my own fault. I spread extremism in the past, and I received that extremism back from my old friends. What goes around eventually comes around. We read it in the Qur'an: Verse 30:41. But Alhamdulillah, it gets easier.
How is the attitude toward Muslims in the Netherlands?
JVK: It varies. On the one hand, people can be open and interested, and the social and political infrastructure offers many opportunities and possibilities. For example, there are dozens of Islamic schools, hundreds of mosques, and a number of larger companies and the government take into account Islamic precepts regarding prayer, food, and clothing, among other things.
At the same time, there is also a very anti-Islamic movement. And it is growing. This expresses itself in violence against Muslim women, against mosques, and also against the Quran (think of the backward group Pegida, which desecrated the Holy Book). But now there is also such a thing as state Islamophobia: the government that sees people who give donations to mosques as potential fraudsters, wants to prevent foreign funding of mosques (while churches and synagogues are allowed to do so), wants to ban halal slaughter but also political parties like the PVV that want to ban Islam from the Netherlands and attempt to legally discriminate against Muslims.
You know Geert Wilders very well. What are your thoughts on Wilders?
JVK: Insha Allah, he will get hidaya and will be Muslim one day.
We observe that Islamophobia is on the rise in Europe. What do you think is the reason for this? What fuels anti-Islamism and racism? What is the role of the media?
JVK: It has to do with several aspects.
First of all, there is a lack of knowledge. This plays a major role. In the West, most people do not know much about Islam. All they see is the behavior of Muslims and what they see on the internet and television. If they see Muslims behaving badly, their image will be negative. This is reinforced by terrorist attacks. And then it is the media that repeats this endlessly. This combination is critical when it comes to the negative image/fear exists for Islam.
And some political parties know this and abuse this ignorance.
Of course, and that is another reason, some people also have, like in all societies, a racist attitude.
There is also the historical component. Especially in Eastern Europe. Ancient Türkiye, the Ottoman Empire conquered many countries. Among others Romania, Greece, Hungary, etc. These countries therefore historically fear, in their eyes, imperialism from the East. They identify this (wrongly) with Islam. Furthermore, over the past centuries there have of course been several clashes between Christian Europe and the Islamic world around it. Think of the crusades, the many theological polemics, and the idea that Islam is the enemy.
This plays a role for many people. Both consciously and unconsciously.
The media also play a big role. The constant repetition of fear images, misinformation, and one-sided, negative views has a great impact on people in the country.
Finally, and this is far too little discussed, the extreme secularization in the West also plays a big role. People are literally detached from God. The moral compass is getting more and more out of sight and this leads to a lack of understanding of and for religion. People are no longer raised religiously and therefore really do not understand the concerns of believers. People often find it strange or even scary. Consequently, there is an anti-religious sentiment in general, but certainly toward Muslims. After all, Muslims still truly practice the faith, whereas many Christians have actually fallen from their faith as well. Secular liberalism is slowly destroying both society and the individual.
We as Muslims should therefore practice dawah much more and offer Islam to all those wandering souls in the West who are waiting for the Truth and spiritual fulfillment that only Islam can give to the empty heart. This is also our duty according to the Quran (Verse 16:125).
Are politicians in Europe fighting Islamophobia and racism enough?
JVK: Only a few. Many underestimate it or don't actually see the problem. I mentioned the reasons for this in the previous question.
Why do European young people turn to the extreme right or left?
JVK: Because they have lost God and religion. They want to fill the hole in their hearts. Mostly unconsciously. They try it with drugs and partying, with extreme nationalism, with ideology, and with many other ideas.
Are you planning to go back into politics?
JVK: No, but Allahu alem (Allah knows the best).
What do you think is the attitude of politicians in Europe toward Türkiye? How does the fact that Türkiye is a Muslim country affect relations with Europe?
JVK: Europe is very biased when it comes to Türkiye. And the core of the EU today is very anti-God. This plays a big role in the attitude of many politicians here.
Some years ago, a Dutch EU commissioner (Frits Bolkestein) said that Türkiye should never become a member of the EU. He said that if Türkiye became a member, the battle of Vienna (in 1683) where the Europeans stopped the Ottoman Empire would all have been for nothing. A very twisted way of thinking. But it shows the sentiment.
If I were Turkish, I personally would no longer want to become a member of the EU. Because of their attitude, but more so because the whole project is becoming more and more anti-religious. Especially anti-Islam.
Have you ever been to Istanbul? Is there a memory of the city you can't forget?
JVK: Many times. The last time was a few weeks ago. I was invited to the TRT World Forum.
The first time I saw the Sultan Ahmet Mosque/Blue Mosque at night, I fell in love with the city. And I was still a member of the Freedom Party then. See how powerful the atmosphere of Islam is in Istanbul.
Have you been on a pilgrimage? If you went, what was the event that impressed you the most?
JVK: Not yet. Insha Allah soon. I was invited by many people right after I took shahada (the Islamic oath), but I thanked them and said I needed to learn more about the religion and its practice first. I didn't even know how to pray at that time. I wanted to learn the basics first.
Finally, is there any message you want to share with the world?
JVK: I hope that we as Muslims in the West realize that most non-Muslims are not reading the Quran or the hadith (Prophet Muhammad's teachings). They are reading us. They read our akhlaaq (deeds). We are often the only source they have. So let's try to live like real Muslims. The best example is the Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad's way of life). That is the perfect way to show non-Muslims what Islam is.