Belgian security services seriously underestimate the number of radical muslims in the country, according to VUB researcher Bilal Benyaich in a new book published next Wednesday. In his opinion 10% of all the practicing sunni muslims can be considered as salafists. For the capital city of Brussels alone, that means 9,600 à 13,500 salafists — as I reported today in the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. While other radical currents of islam, the Muslim Brotherhood for example, aren’t included in that count.
In his new book ‘Islam en radicalisme bij Marokkanen in Brussel‘, political scientist Benyaich describes the radicalization within Brussels’ islamic community from it’s start in the eighties. Muslims of Moroccan descent, by far the largest group, before weren’t that religious at all. “They were certainly traditional, but not too much concerned with religion. And those who were, did follow the moderate Moroccan islam.” That was changed by the active proselytism coming from Saudi Arabia, where salafism/wahhabism is the state religion.
Belgian authorities lent a helping hand to the promotion of the radical Saudi islam in their country, giving the Saudi run ‘Grande mosquée de Bruxelles’ far-reaching powers in the appointment of imams and islam teachers. As a result, salafism — a form of islam that goes back to the 7th century and according to Benyaich can be characterized by it’s intolerance towards other beliefs — in Brussels defeated the moderate Moroccan islam.
Asked how many salafists there are nowadays in the city, Benyaich states: “Certainly more than the State Security Service’s head Alain Winants mentioned a few times in the press.” According to Winants, there are about 1,000 salafists in Belgium, of which about one hundred can be considered militant, and about ten jihadist. But the 10% rule of Benyaich means in Brussels alone they number several thousands.
Benyaich does not mention an exact figure, but earlier on in the book he estimated the number of practicing muslims in Brussels at 120,000 à 150,000. Given the fact that 80 à 90% of them must be sunni, salafists are in between of 9,600 and 13,500. Several hundreds of them are militant salafists, Benyaich writes. “They aren’t necessarily terrorists, but all are extremists who can prevent people from different backgrounds living together harmoniously. An estimate of jihadists in Brussels the book does not contain. Important though, is that other radical currents within islam also present in Brussels — such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Tablighi movement — are not included yet in the figure above.