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A multicultural society

Roman Catholicism is the largest religion in the Netherlands: 26,3% of the population is registered as Roman Catholic. However, only 1.2% attend mass on Sundays. Most Catholics live in the southern provinces of Noord-Brabant and Limburg where they constitute the majority of the population.
The Protestant Church of the Netherlands (PKN) is the largest Protestant denomination: 11,4% of the total population. It was established in 2004 after a merger between the Dutch Reformed Church, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Many orthodox Calvinist denominations (6% of the population) remained outside the PKN.
After the independence of the Dutch East Indies (1949) and Suriname, a large number of immigrants came to the Netherlands. However, the largest groups of Muslims are migrants from Turkey and Morocco who were recruited as labourers during the 1960s and 70s, and their descendants. A large number of those from Turkey are Kurds. Other important Muslim groups have arrived later from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Somalia. Most of them are asylum seekers who were persecuted in their home country and / or fled because of violence there. A small group of asylum seekers fled to the Netherlands because of their political-religious activities in countries such as Egypt and Syria; five of them continue their activities in the Netherlands and are considered to be ‘radical’ imams.
Earlier assessments by Statistics Netherlands were estimates based on ethnic origins, but in 2005 and 2006 a new methodology was introduced, based upon self identification. This has led to a new assessment of the number of Muslims in the Netherlands. According to the 2007 figures, there are 857,000 Muslims, 318,000 of whom are Turkish-Dutch, 297,000 are Moroccan-Dutch, and 12,000 native Dutch converts.
Besides Sunni Muslims, there are also Shi’is, Alevis and Ahmadis in the Netherlands. The Shi’i Muslims are mainly part of the Iranian diaspora; they often have a secular outlook with little sympathy for the Islamic regime in Iran. The Alevi Muslims form an important section of the Turkish-Kurdish community. Among the Surinamese Muslims, the Ahmadi-Lahore community is well represented and very active, with its own mosques and national organisation and very sympathetic press reviews which present them as ‘liberal’ Muslims. Turkish migrants are also divided: the Millî Görüs movement, the Nurçu and the Suleymançis all have strong networks in Dutch society.
Most Muslims live in the west of the Netherlands, in the migrant-areas of the so-called Randstad area: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Several smaller cities in the east and the south also have relatively large Muslim populations (usually with either Moroccan-Dutch or Turkish-Dutch Muslims), because of the labour intensive industries that used to operate there.
For a large part of history the Netherlands formed a safe haven for Jews persecuted elsewhere. Prominent Dutch Jews are philosopher Spinoza and 19th century feminist Aletta Jacobs. During the Second World War the majority of Jews was deported and murdered. Today around 35.900 Jews are left (0,2%).
Hindus (mainly from Suriname but also from India and Sri Lanka) make up for about 1.3% of the population (215.000) and the fast growing group of Buddhists for about 1% (169.000). Close to half (42,7%) of the population consists of people with no religious affiliation.

 Knippenberg, Hans, The Changing Religious Landscape of Europe, Het Spinhuis, Amsterdam, 2005.
 The Catholic University of Nijmegen Institute for ecclestical statistics (KASKI) in their 2007 annual statistical update of the Dutch catholic province (in Dutch).
 Website Bevolking; Islamieten en hindoes in Nederland (CBS StatLine).
 Religious developments in Dutch society by Agnieszka Szumigalska (May 2016).

D 28 September 2012    AMartijn de Koning

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