Muslims not allowed in biggest Dutch nativity scene

Kerst Event Zwolle, 17 Dec 2016
Kerst Event Zwolle, 17 Dec 2016Photo: Kerst Event Zwolle / Facebook

The Kerst Event Zwolle - the biggest living nativity scene in the Netherlands - does not allow Muslims to play a part in their nativity scene. "You can hardly play the role of Joseph if you are not a Christian yourself", co-organizer Cees Scholten said. But that reasoning does not sit well with everyone, De Gelderlander reports.

According to the organization, the purpose of this event is to spread the love of Jesus, and Muslims can't play a role in this because they look at the figure of Jesus in a very different way. The organization's website states that people should only volunteer if they "support or want to support the Christian vision".

Zerin Arslan, Muslim candidate member for the PvdA in Zwolle feels that this type of exclusion should not be allowed. She wanted to volunteer for the event, but is now having second thoughts. "Everything you organize in the middle of the city has to be binding", she said to the newspaper. "Recently there was a Christmas parcel campaign from the Zwolle Konings church. With that I was allowed to help and I was not excluded."

Scholten acknowledges that the organization's wording could have been better, but he still believes that there is no place for Muslims in the nativity scene. "You have to be of the opinion that Jesus Christ is born and that we celebrate the feast of his birth at Christmas." He added that Muslims are welcome to volunteer for other parts of the event, like building sets or handing out coffee. But the actors in the actual nativity scene must be Christian, he said. "It is difficult for a Muslim, I think, to bring out our image of Christmas. For example, anyone who is not Christian can hardly take the role of, for example, Joseph. You have to be able to explain to the visitors the Christmas story."

According to Arslan, just because someone is not Christian does not necessarily mean they don't know the Christmas story. "I myself studied Dutch and had subjects in which the bible was leading. I know the Christian faith very well, perhaps better than many who belong to Christianity. Still strange that you can not participate in the nativity scene."

The municipality of Zwolle gives this event a small subsidy. The local SP wants the municipality to carefully consider whether to do so for the next edition. "I am for a Christmas event that's for everyone", Brammert Geerling (SP) said to De Stentor. 

The Kerst Event Zwolle's stance is also causing a commotion on social media. On Twitter many people point out that Joseph himself wasn't a Christian, at that point of the Christmas story, no one was. "Missed opportunity for Kerst Event Zwolle. If Muslims want to participate, isn't that just the opening to start a conversation? Jesus himself did not see it this black-and-white, I guess", another person tweeted. And another: "Insanity at its best! And of course tomorrow more complaints that Muslims don't want to 'integrate'."

The event since adjusted the text on their website.