Being religious in Groningen is that possible?

Being religious in Groningen… is that possible? You bet it is. As international students Arianna and Patrick show, when it comes to religion Hanze is pretty diverse.

Being religious at Hanze UAS… of course that’s possible! Why shouldn’t it be? Cultural and religious diversity is considerable in this international environment. You may even run into people who hold surprising convictions: Arianna from Malaysia, for instance. This 18-year-old first year student was raised in a Muslim family. However, she herself is not religious.

There are some rules: we do not eat pork and alcohol consumption is a no go

‘My dad wanted to marry my mother and since my mother was a Muslim, he decided to convert’, Arianna says. Islam was never forced onto her. Nevertheless, studying the Quran and going to the mosque were part of her everyday life. She grew up in this atmosphere.
‘My family is flexible about religion when it comes to their children. However, there are rules: we do not eat pork and alcohol consumption is a no go.’

When her family moved to the Netherlands, things got a little more complicated.
For Arianna and her brother, who is not a Muslim either, the situation didn’t change much. Arianna’s mom, however, altered her appearance.
‘In Islam, wives tend to listen to their husbands. So, when my dad suggested to my mom that she shouldn’t wear her hijab due to fears of islamophobia, my mom took her hijab off.’
Arianna doesn’t think that islamophobia is present in the Netherlands, but she realizes it can be a sensitive topic in Europe.

Removing the hijab was just a way for her mother to feel safer  

8.1 percent of the 28 thousand students at Hanze UAS are not Dutch. Most of the religious students live out their religion intimately and privately, but Hanze UAS offers them opportunities to practice their faith in a more open way.

The Silent Room is a good example: this introspection space is located on the second floor of the Van OlstToren building. The room has all the necessary materials for prayer and meditation, from prayer mats to bibles in different languages.

Being religious in Groningen...
Meditation room at Hanze UAS

First-year student Patrick does not attend the Silent Room.
‘Going to church on Sundays has been a tradition my entire life.’
Patrick, who doesn’t want to be referred to by his real name, grew up in a very religious part of Ireland and has been a Roman Catholic his entire life.
‘I didn’t stop going to church in Groningen’, he says, ‘but I don’t go to church on Sundays because at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, they only hold masses in English on Saturday evenings.’     

The Saturday evening mass helped him to stay in touch with his religion

‘University and student life didn’t change my perception of religion’, he states. ‘I believe in God, but I don’t live by strict rules. Going out on weekends and drinking every once in a while is normal for me.’

HOST-IFES Groningen is one of the non-Hanze student associations that offer various activities. It’s a multi-religious organization; diversity is key. There is no distinction between religious and non-religious students. All students are free to take part in the HOST-activities: atheists are welcome to participate as well. 

‘We hope to create an environment where deeper conversations about life, faith and meaning are possible’, says HOST-organizer and pastor Tirtsa Liefting.

The activities vary from art workshops to movie nights to sharing a meal

‘We also try to facilitate smaller groups if people are interested, whether it’s Bible group or an Alpha course, which is an introduction to Christian faith.’

When in crisis about one’s faith, Tirtsa Liefting can be approached for guidance and help. It’s easy to reach her or any of her colleagues, whether that be during HOST meetings or through Facebook.

To attend an international Catholic mass in St. Joseph’s, please have a look at the ESN webpage. The mass conducted in English begins at 5.00 PM every Saturday.

Muslim students can go to one of the Groningen mosques. There is also a Muslim student association in Groningen, sv Deen.

Photo (fragment): Rodolfo Clix