woensdag 28 december 2016

Johan Hendrik Meuleman, 4 May 1954- 20 January 2016

Only yesterday I received  information that Johan Meuleman had died earlier this year.
Johan was the son of a quite conservative, orthodox philosopher at the Free University of Amsterdam. He studied also philosophy, besides history. In the 1980s he went to Algeria for a doctoral research about the economy of Algeria in the full colonial period, 1920-1940. It was most about prices of grain. He fell in love with an Algerian lady, Saïda Belghoul. She was a student of physics and also working on a doctoral dissertation (at McGill University of Montreal if I am not mistaken). They celebrated twice the marriage: once in a Muslim way in Algeria, once in a somewhat 'ecumenical' way in Amsterdam. The father of Johan was not really happy (to say it mildly) with the conversion to Islam of his son. In fact it was the conversion to the rational and open Islam of Muhammad Arkoun. His Lectures du Coran were later translated by Johan into Indonesian. I played a fragment from Mozart's sonata in A at the occasion, because the musician did not come.
I met Meuleman for the first time in 1989, when we were both part of the INIS team, the Indonesian Netherlands Cooperation in Islamic Studies. Johan became between 1993-1998 (or so) a lecturer at the Jakarta IAIN. After the INIS project finished he had problems in finding a good place in the academic world. He worked for some time at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. After 2007 he was a lecturer at the Islamic section in Hogeschool INHolland. He was also a very dedicated lecturer and administrator at the Islamic University of Europe. The IUE was established after the Islamic University of Rotterdam experienced a leadership-crisis around 2000, which ended with Ahmed Akgündüz as its strong rector. A number of people who were not happy with this outspoken follower of Said Nursi came together in the IUE. Like many institutions of Muslims in the Dutch Society it proved to be a complicated affair of people seeking authority and influence in a still fragile organization. Meuleman had no ethnic or organizational backing and was somewhat naive in social contacts. He remained loyal and hoped that here his dream of a modern and moderate European style of Islam could be established. He lived not long enough to see this dream to become reality and died at the still rather young age of 61 years only.
Of his publications some are compilations under INIS initiatives like the collection of articles on Muslim women in Indonesia (1993) and the Survey on Indonesian Islam, 1988-1993. His interest was not the social and definitely not the political expression of Islam but the spiritual meaning and in the academic world the philosophical translation of this spirituality. He was a man who continued to live in the Western (post-) Christian world and at the same time in the various Muslim regions of Europe, Indonesia and North Africa. May he rest in piece and his wife and daughter find their way too.

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