Love Thy Neighbour

Grassroot initiatives of inter-worldview dialogue in education and society

Duncan Wielzen
Ina ter Avest

The online webinar ‘Good Practices of Improving Interreligious Learning  and Dialogue in Religious Education and Society” on 29 April 2024 was prepared by members of the NICMCR pokja Inclusive Religious Education: Drs. Alper Alasag, dr. Andrea Damacena-Martins, dr. Jan Eijken, dr. Ina ter Avest and dr. Duncan Wielzen. The webinar is moderated by dr. Duncan Wielzen and dr. Ina ter Avest,

Examples of good practice – Food for thought

It is always with pride that the NICMCR presents itself in a webinar as a space to learn from and with each other on thought-provoking topics in both countries. This webinar focusses specifically on grassroots initiatives and examples of good practices of interfaith cooperation in the Netherlands. Indonesian colleagues are invited to comment on these examples and reflect on their applicability in the Indonesian context.

Houses of Worship

Mrs. Marianne Vorthoren is the chair of the Rotterdam Multicoloured Religions Foundation. This foundation organises visits to various houses of worship in Rotterdam to promote interfaith understanding and peace. It focuses primarily on educating pupils, students and other groups about religious diversity, commonalities, and differences. It is currently developing an online Educational Centre to support teachers in preparing for visits and discussions. While these visits nurture a sense of belonging and pride regarding the own religion, they also enable pupils, students and other interested individuals to surpass their own inner boundaries.

In her reflection on the activities of this Rotterdam-based organisation, Rev Elga Sarapung, director of the Institute for Interreligious Dialogue in Indonesia (INTERFIDEI), refers to the Indonesian government’s policy which emphasises that everyone must have a recognised religion. This policy limits the broader interfaith dialogue that includes people who do not adhere to a recognised religion. Unlike in the case of Rotterdam, where non-officially recognized worldviews are included in the dialogue, the Indonesian context shows limitations to those parties involved. This means that this policy prevents the larger society to interact with these minority religions or worldviews.


The second presentation comes from dr. Ad van der Helm, Roman Catholic priest and canon lawyer. Dr. van der Helm is professor in Canon Law at the souvain Catholic University (Belgium). Picking up from Rev. Saparung’s critical remarks, he differentiates between religions and philosophies of life – including humanism and atheism. The latter worldviews are included in the preparation of the Dutch Prinsjesdag’ celebration. This celebration occurs every third Tuesday of September, with the opening of the parliamentary year. From a policy perspective much attention is given to ‘interfaith’ dialogue, on the premise that, firstly, religions and philosophies of life are not contradictory but seen as complementary, and secondly, that truth transcends us all. Nevertheless, the dialogue remains delicate. Therefore, prof. Van der Helm states, it is necessary to avoid the extremes: either emphasising the uniqueness of one particular religion over another, or saying that difference does not matter since everything boils down to the same thing. However, his advice does not mention practical guidance on how to take the middle road.

Disentanglement of worldview, religion and politics

In response to Prof Van der Helm, emeritus professor Siebren Miedema advocates for an inter-worldview dialogue rather than an inter-religious dialogue. In this way, politicians can be called upon to speak out from their own worldview perspective, and thus they can no longer hide behind the paradigm of ‘separation of state and religion’. This, since every person does adhere to a particular worldview. According to Professor Miedema, the interrelationship between worldview, religion and politics cannot be ignored. He pleads for the disentanglement of the interrelation for the sake of clarity and this, according to him, should also be the basis for an inclusive pedagogy.

The Dutch ‘Schilderswijk’ – empowering students

The third presentation was in duo-form by dr. Jan Eijken, a Roman Catholic theologian and community builder, and Mr. Yassine Abarkane, a Muslim social worker in the neighbourhood ‘Schilderswijk’ in The Hague. Mr. Abarkane pre-recorded his part of the presentation.

As a result of sustained cooperation between Muslims and Christians in the ‘Schilderswijk’ there is now more peace in the neighbourhood. In the past, the police often had to rely on rants and religious backgrounds, and would otherwise hardly be able to intervene. But now police officers work alongside social workers. The Stagehuis (Internship House) is a good example of empowering students by offering them various work-learning opportunities. According to Dr Eijken, society needs grassroots projects like this.

Interfaith friendship – a fertile soil for peace

In his video presentation social worker Mr. Yassine Abarkane acknowledges the importance of cooperation across religious affiliations. He sees ‘interfaith friendship’ as a fundamental aspect of such cooperation. His friendship with dr. Eijken made it possible to enhance communal life in a neighbourhood that faces many challenges. Moreover, the good cooperation between several partners within the neighbourhood, including the police, improved the relationship between youngsters and the very police they initially mistrusted. Mutual friendship across religion or worldview seem to be fertile soil for small scale peaceful relations, and would hopefully reach out to the larger super-diverse Dutch society.

Shared values instead of doctrinal differences

In response to these presentation Mr. Atik Tapipin gave the following suggestions:

  • Focus on cooperation with people from different religious and philosophical backgrounds.
  • Any multicultural society fares well when adhering positively to the challenges of migrant community presence.
  • Focus on shared values rather than doctrinal differences.
  • Visibility of interreligious cooperation has a positive impact on social life.
  • Statement: “Difference is Gods will.”

Education in line with family and religious values

In the final presentation, Mr. Bart ten Broek, an interfaith pioneer in the Netherlands who founded the first Christian-Islamic primary school in the 1980’s, describes how a Protestant-Christian school developed into a Christian-Islamic cooperation school. The team, headed by Mr. ten Broek, opted for inclusive education. This was an attempt to honour the religious backgrounds and needs of every child in school. The vision was based on the conviction that ‘every child matters’ and therefore its education should be in line with its family and religious values. The Board of this first interreligious school consisted of both Muslim and Christians parents. Mr. ten Broek argued that the results of this pioneering project are still valid today and thus deserves attention. His initiative was subject of international educational research. A forthcoming publication entitled “Gast” (Being and hosting a guest) offers insight into the evolution during Mr. ten Broek’s headmastership. It also offers reflection and stimulating questions for teams currently facing the challenges of interreligious learning – see

Integrated education

In response, Mrs. Marijke Blijleven – unable to attend, but having dr. Ina ter Avest reading her paper – underscored the vision of integrated schools. As a principal she headed a school in the multicultural Bijlmer district. She took religious education beyond Christianity by teaching about Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Where teachers lacked the ability to teach a particular religion, parents who were rooted in that religion were allowed to give guest lessons.

‘My religion is taught at school!’

Building on the concept of “every child matters”, coined decades earlier by Bart ten Broek, paid off. A testimony thereof came from a former pupil who, later during his internship at his former school, emotionally expressed how recognized he felt when Hinduism, his religion, was taught in class, and he was allowed to tell his classmate about it. Despite their differences, three schools (public, Christian and Islamic) managed to inhabit one new school building. Built on the vision of ‘it needs a village to raise a child’, efforts were made to further integrate these schools. Unfortunately, with the change of school management, the efforts were not continued. From this we learn the indispensable need for sustainable school management, led by a vision-driven principal.

Concluding remarks

In general we can conclude that grassroots initiatives flourish when they are rooted in human relations of friendship. Grassroots projects can be sustainable if and only if they are embedded in inspired and motivated management based on values that go without saying for everyone.  ‘Shared leadership’, which means commitment of all involved in education (parents and teachers alike) is a condition sine qua non. For the sake of clarity in the conversation the preconditions for dialogue must be fulfilled, like for example a respectful attitude, and observing rules of politeness. This is also important when visiting each other’s Houses of Worship that are in peoples’ neighbourhood. Moreover, including minority or marginalized voices in mainstream interfaith dialogue practice can render inclusive religious education vital tools for inter-worldview learning, both at the theoretical and practical level. An open attitude and ‘love thy neighbour’ is all you need!