Welcome and thank you for visiting my site.
I have to go back with you to the 1980s to explain what this website is about, even before climate change, when it just kept raining in Belgium in the summer. I was about eleven years old and had read all about the Indians in the municipal library in the meantime. On another rack another continent. That was the Arab world. That is how trivial it started out.
When I was seventeen, at the beginning of the 90s, I bought a booklet in Arabic for beginners on a school trip. And at school things were suddenly about war, because the first Gulf War had started with live satellite images: that was completely new at the time. I also noticed that my village was rapidly secularizing but that a new religion was emerging in the cities. A few years later, Islam also became visible in the countryside near us in West Flanders. I felt the difference between secularism and confession at home as well: my father's relatives took a Catholic structure for granted, but my mother came from a red nest in Ghent. In our working-class family our conversations weren't about that, but as a child I did look for words, and as an adolescent I read books about the how and why of things (which I didn't understand anything about). You may rightly think that I became an activist, but it took on a special form. I wanted to study theology first and then improve the world. In that program there was also an introduction to Islam. I switched to Arab and Islamic studies at Leuven University, went travelling in Morocco and the Levant so, the exotic hobby of childhood became a real study of the languages and cultures of the Middle East. In the course of that trail I reoriented my interest in religion. It was no longer the ideology or the ethical system but the phenomenon of language that fascinated me. It was a crazy choice for the power of imagination in that sloppy, ideology-less time of the 1990s where nothing mattered anymore. After the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001, social attitudes changed and I noticed that my interest in the Arab world and religion were part of the spirit of the times. That is how I became involved in journalism, cultural training and language teaching. There are students who want to learn Arabic, which came as a surprise to me, and I enjoy sharing some expertise with them and acquiring it together. The profile of those classes is diverse: someone from a mixed couple, social workers, young people who hear their parents speak Arabic at home, the care sector, language enthusiasts, policemen, someone who is interested in other cultures, teachers or who knows perhaps yourself. I started in some Adult Education Centers, now I teach at the Language Centre of Ghent University.
I also noticed that a number of students had registered for the language lesson for cultural reasons. That is why, in the period 2005-2015, I developed cultural education programmes on various themes of the Arab world with various themes: architecture, religious history, medical ethics, history of the arts, tourist places, customs and festivals.
My research has resulted in several publications. In "About the Koran" (2008 - in Dutch) and "What the Koran really says" (2016 - in Dutch), I summarized the ongoing academic debate on the content, structure and history of Koranic texts. Part of the discussion is about the extent to which the origins and writing of Quranic texts are part of the so-called 'late antiquity', i.e. the religious frameworks that already existed before in Arabian culture and in the imperia neighboring the periphery of the Arab peninsula. Such research turns the eyes away from the society of Mecca and Medina (traditionally presented as the cradle of Islam). This is how I came across the publications of Jacqueline Chabbi, a French professor emeritus who refutes, as she says, this "externalisation" and asserts that the symbols and customs of the Bedouin world are underestimated in the literary context. I am currently working on subtitling her videos "The Words of the Koran" (which can be found in French on Facebook) to Dutch for the "jihadanders" website. This is a project in cooperation with the University of Leuven and Flemish government for teachers and students, which offers a counter-discourse against a Salafist approach to Quranic texts. It aims teachers, students, interested (non-)believers. Editing Chabbi's videos to a book written in Dutch language is a project now on the shelf.
A few decades ago, almost nobody was interested in Islam as a phenomenon, but now "Islam" in Flanders is part of a social discourse. A critical position was first seen as a kind of racism, called islamophobia. Religious sciences in general were also discarded by our secularized Flemish culture as being irrelevant and indecent. But that is precisely why the subject became unknown, stereotyped, taboo. In this context, I took part in editing the "Vademecum of Islam" (2016), a project that refused to limit themes to an atmosphere of "don't ask, don't tell".
In the meantime, the pendulum goes the other way. It now seems that citizens of Flanders experience their nationalism as an identity in opposition to any Islamic conviction. In this creed, Islam is a non-religion: a foreign movement of crypto citizens.
So, there is an on-going Islamic debate, as you have already noticed. I do not want to follow a specific ideology in it but enjoy my personal freedom in an old-fashioned approach, and that means working in a descriptive way. In the meantime, I have developed two manuals in Dutch for spoken Arabic (2009, 2012), which fit into the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL). I found that Arabic was too often taught in a conventional and impractical way. The textbooks presented this non-Indo-European language as a kind of classical Latin and imprisoned novice students in a medieval grammar jail. I developed other teaching instruments adapted to a practice-oriented approach, with an emphasis on communicative competence and language skills. Fortunately, the pedagogical situation has changed thanks to migration and local initiatives in Arab countries on the Internet.
Despite climate change, we still have a lot of rainy days . . . This allowed me to start translating Rifa al-Tahtawi's trip to Paris (1826-1831) into Dutch. Tahtawi writes for his Egyptian fellow countrymen who have never been to Europe about "the European", with often funny (and embarrassing!) stereotypes. An English edition has already been published ("An Imam in Paris").
In other circumstances, you can find me on my racing bike - which is the national sport in Belgium.