Amsterdam conjures up few things. Canals, bicycles, coffee shops, red light district, AFC Ajax. But I remember that in a TV program I saw something that really intrigued me. In central Amsterdam there is a Catholic Church which is invisible to the outside world. The Church is called ‘Our Lord in the Attic’, because it is. It is a church built in an attic.
In 1581 the northern part of the Netherlands was a Republic, where the ruling class was made up of an aristocracy of city-merchants. The main religion was Calvinism, On the 20th of December of that year, the Dutch Republlic officially prohibited the overt practice of the Catholic religion. So Dutch Catholics had to clandestinely practice their faith establishing private churches. They celebrated mass in their living rooms, places of work and warehouses. The authorities closed an eye as long as these churches remained unrecognizable from the outside.
One of these churches that remain is the Church of our Lord in the Attic (Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder). It is built in the attic of this bourgeois house hidden away originally built in 1663, it is now mainly a Museum, but it is still consecrated and it is used as a Church for some occasions. I went to see it the first time I visited Amsterdam and it is amazing to see the ingenuity of how little space was used so effectively. Ikea eat you heart out.
I was thinking about this church when I saw the islamophobes protesting about the proposal of building a mosque in the Gold Coast.
This sort of thing doesn’t happen only in Queensland. Same thing happened when a mosque was proposed in Ballarat earlier this year. It seems that no matter where Australians of the Muslim faith want to build a place of worship they will be met with ferocious protest. Whether from locals, or from outsiders who will spread misinformation and hate. There may be legitimate causes to oppose a mosque (noise, parking etc.) but there is no denying that there is always an element of Islamophobia in these objections.
Of course Muslims wanting to practice their faith are asserting their rights, and so they should. And any other Australians who are against racism and discrimination should support them. But I would not blame Australian Muslim to put this in the too hard basket and practice their faith hidden away.
It would be like the situation of religious intolerance of Europe in the 17th Century. You know when the Islamophobes/Xenophobes say that Islam hate the west and what it stands for, or they don’t accept other religions etc. when they are the ones that are intolerant, and are denying Australian Muslims having a place to worship.
I don’t want an Australia where anyone practicing their religion has to do it in a clandestine fashion. We don’t want ‘Mosques in the Attic’. We want a multicultural Australia. Where everyone is free to practice (or not to practice) their religion.