by Hugh Fitzgerald
Still from a video posted by Amsterdam’s Blue Mosque showing what it says is the conversion to Islam of 87-year-old Sal van Coeverden on May 4, 2019 (Facebook)
A curious story about a supposed Dutch Jewish convert to Islam appeared in early May. For it was on May 4 that the imam at the Blue Mosque in Amsterdam claimed to have converted a Holocaust survivor to Islam. That survivor was identified by the cleric as an 87-year-old man, described as a “Jewish aristocrat,” one Sal van Coeverden. The idea of a “Jewish aristocrat” is already passing strange. Jews in Europe were not part of the aristocracy; aristocrats almost never converted to Judaism. One suspects this was the mosque’s way of enhancing what it clearly regards as a singular feat: being responsible for the conversion of an elderly Jew who, near the very end of his life, finally recognized the Truth of Islam, abandoned Judaism, recited — after the imam — the Shahada, and converted to the One True Faith.
In a video posted by the Blue Mosque on Facebook, Sal van Coeverden (if that is his real name) is seen, slumped in a wheelchair, as he repeats after the Imam Yassin Elforkani the Shahada in Arabic:
“Welcome, brother, welcome to Islam,” Elforkani told the man after the prayer, as another man dressed in a traditional Muslim gown carted away the octogenarian.
“Shahada of our 87-year-old brother! Mr. Sal van Coeverden, who was born 87 years ago to a Jewish noble family, recites today the Shahada. Takbir!” read the text, ending with an Arabic expression extolling Allah.
In the comment section of the post, a user named Saloua El Hadrati wrote proudly that her brother is the man pushing the wheelchair, explaining he was van Coeverden’s caretaker at an old age home.
But in a community whose numbers never recovered from the annihilation during the Holocaust — 75 percent of Holland’s pre-war Jewish population did not survive the war — local Jews reacted with suspicion over the veracity and legitimacy of the Blue Mosque’s jubilant announcement.
Esther Voet, an investigative journalist and editor-in-chief of the NIW Dutch Jewish weekly, said she has an uneasy feeling about the conversion case, which she is in the process of studying.
“If this person is no longer in full possession of all his faculties, or even just very lonely, there is the question of whether he was talked into converting by a caretaker who then brings him as some trophy to the mosque,” she said. “Because I think that’s what happened.”
But Voet and other journalists have so far been unable to track down the man who was filmed reciting the Arabic-language prayer. She learned that a Jewish senior citizen named Sal van Coeverden had lived in southern Amsterdam until seven years ago, but she has not yet been able to find out what happened to him.
The assertion on the Mosque’s Facebook page that he is both Jewish and descended from nobility seems unlikely, as these two populations very seldom intermarry.
In trying to track down van Coeverden, Voet this week spoke to many people carrying his relatively uncommon surname but “no one knows the man in the video,” she said.
She did learn that the Netherlands had a Jewish family named van Coeverden and a noble family of the same name, though the two families were not related.
“So far, we have no idea who’s in that video,” said Voet. Her paper, as well as the Joods news site and the De Dagelijkse Standard news site, are looking into the case and have asked anyone with information to help them identify the man.
The Blue Mosque, whose website features a contact form for prospective converts, was not reachable by telephone for questions on van Coeverden’s conversion to Islam.
It is, as Esther Voet says, most likely a case of the Muslim caregiver bringing his elderly Jewish ward to the mosque, knowing he was in no mental condition to understand what was going on, and having him recite, as he slumped in his wheelchair, the Shahada or Profession of Faith that he could hardly understand.
It was easy enough to find a family name that sounded impressive, and to endow this man with that identity: Sal van Coeverden. There have apparently been in the past both a Jewish van Coeverden family, and a non-Jewish, noble van Coeverden family, in Amsterdam. He may even have been Sal van Coeverden. His real identity is still to be determined and so far, no one has confirmed that name. The mosque was contacted through its website, but did not respond to requests for information.
The spectacle on the video is all that the Muslim clerics at the Blue Mosque could have wished for: a Jew, that is, someone from the group whose members are supposed to be the worst enemies of Muhammad and the Muslims, appears to decide at the very end of his life to choose Islam, and so he recites the Shahada, which is all that is needed for conversion. This is regarded by the mosque’s Muslims not just as a matter of one man’s individual choice, but as a symbolic triumph of Islam over Judaism. Muslim triumphalism expresses itself in various ways. “Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion” is one way. Another is to snare some trophy converts — like Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, or a sports star, or a well-known entertainer. They can be ranked as to perceived propaganda value. Lowest on the list would be prisoners, those who become Muslims in “convenience conversions.” They convert because then their lives behind bars are more secure, for they have joined the “biggest gang.” Highest on the list would be Jews, precisely because they are seen as historically the people most impervious to the message of Muhammad. And a “Jewish aristocrat”? Even better.
Like Esther Voet, I suspect that this is a matter of Facebook theater, produced and directed by the imam and other members of the Blue Mosque in Amsterdam. The fact that no one looking into this story can find any current record for a Sal van Coeverden raises one’s suspicions. But what is most suspect is that having shown on Facebook what appears to be the conversion of an elderly man whom the mosque claims is “a Jewish aristocrat,” one would have thought that the mosque would not have wanted the new convert to immediately be “carted away,” but making the most of this unusual conversion, would have made their new convert available for interviews, in which he could describe his reasons for making such a wise choice. Could it be that the Muslims at the mosque didn’t want journalists to discover that this “convert,” slumped over in his wheelchair, does not have all his faculties intact, had no idea what he was reciting in a strange language, and no doubt still has no idea that he “converted”?
Over the 1400-year history of Islam, tens of millions of people, unwilling to endure the onerous conditions of the dhimmi status, recited the Shahada and ‘“converted” to Islam. It didn’t matter that they had little or no idea of the ideology of Islam; they had become full-fledged Muslims simply by reciting a single line; their ignorance of the faith didn’t bother other Muslims; what mattered was that now these converts had been recruited to the Army of Islam, and once in, they could not get out. This 87-year-old man was wheeled into the mosque by his caregiver, and likely, in a mental daze, made to recite what for him was some incomprehensible gobbledygook in a foreign language, and then, after the briefest of welcomes, was wheeled quickly away, not to be seen or talked to or even contacted again by outsiders. For all we know, he may now be in a ward for those suffering from senile dementia. Clearly the mosque’s clerics are not eager for him to be interviewed.
Muslims may regard this putative conversion as a Triumph of Islam, another scalp — and what a scalp! — to add to the 1.6 billion they now have. Non-Muslims, however, more skeptical (having taken note of that slumped-over form, so quickly carted away), will see it as something else: a cynical example of taking advantage of an aged man who had no idea what he was doing, so as to be able to proclaim that a Jew, in the fullness of age and wisdom, had at long last seen the light of Islam, and Made The Right Choice. Takbir! Let’s exploit this story to the fullest!
I found the videotaped spectacle unconvincing and deeply unpleasant. And so, perhaps, did you.
First published in Jihad Watch.