“Not a house of prayer”: Petting zoo owner defends ejecting Muslim family

Women wearing burqas (Photo: Christopher John SSF/Wikimedia Commons)Women wearing burqas (Photo: Christopher John SSF/Wikimedia Commons)

Huub van Leijsen, the owner of petting zoo Pukkemuk in Dongen, released a statement defending his decision to ask a Muslim family to leave the zoo on Monday. In the statement he says that he feels like a victim, not a perpetrator and that the decision was not based on discrimination in any way, Omroep Brabant reports.

According to Van Leijsen, he noticed kids getting anxious in the petting zoo about an hour after the Muslim family arrived and realized that the family started praying. "I tried to explain that Pukkemuk is not a house of prayer, but a playground for children. Children have the leading role and I do everything I can to make things go their way as much as possible." he said in the statement.

The family, Bilal Salam, his three sisters-in-law, two other men and eleven children, accused him of being a Muslim hater. "I said that I do not hate Muslims. Praying in burqas in a petting zoo in the middle of playing children was an unpleasant experience for some of my guests."

Van Leijsen also denies that he simply kicked the family out. "I did not put them out. I asked them to 'not stay too long'. This because of the reactions of my other guests." He is not happy with the video of the incident circulating on the internet. "I was filmed against my will and without my consent. An image was created of me and my business that does not match reality."

The Salam family pressed charges of discrimination against Van Leijsen. The police and judiciary will look into whether the petting zoo will be prosecuted, likely in January.