Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

I’m not recognised as a Muslim in Pakistan

(c) Robert Oosterbroek

“Hallo, is it still safe to hold the interview today? I heard that bus drivers would be protesting in the city”, says Rana Bilal on the phone. He’s only been in Utrecht for a month. Coming from Pakistan, he has a different understanding of a protest. In the Netherlands, a bus strike means that it´s quieter on the streets not more dangerous. Rana Bilal arrives by foot. He explains that his new bike has been stolen. But he can put this into perspective because he´s happy to be in Utrecht, happy to have been granted asylum indefinitely and happy that his wife and daughter will be joining him next month.

Rana Bilals´ first impression of the Netherlands couldn´t be more positive. He had a friendly welcome at Schiphol, including from the security staff. And everyone he´s met since has been kind. “VluchtelingenWerk (refuge organisation) does such a lot for people like me arriving in the Netherlands. They understand what you’re going through and offer the right help. They explain what is happening and what will happen next, which is quite calming.” Rana Bilal thinks that the Netherlands is basically a friendly country. His neighbours in Overvecht look him in the eyes and greet him when passing.

Upwards and onwards

This isn’t the case in Pakistan. Rana Bilal is a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, one of over seventy religious movements within Islam. In Pakistan, the group is not recognised as Muslim. In fact since 1974, there is a rule stating that Ahmadi-Muslims may not live as practising Muslims. Doing so can lead to a prison sentence. “We are discriminated against in Pakistan”, explains Rana Bilal. “People are killed, we’re not allowed to vote or hold public office. The law states that we are officially a minority.” It’s almost impossible to find work as an Ahmadi-Muslim, he continues. That, and the fact that he is banned from practising his faith, put an end to his future in Pakistan. As soon as he had saved the fare, he flew to the Netherlands via Oman.

He learned a bit of Dutch during his time in the asylum-seekers’ centre and doesn’t want to waste any time. He’s already arranged an interview at the Babel language institute. In Pakistan, Rana Bilal was a biology and chemistry teacher. He’s keen to do a Master’s degree at Utrecht University so that he can eventually become a university lecturer. Rana Bilal misses his Pakistani family and the food, but is not inclined to return. “Pakistan is a fantastic place to live, but rules have turned the country sour. Here, everyone is free to choose how and where they want to live. Why would I want to go back?”

Name: Rana Bilal Siddique
Place of birth: Sahiwal, Pakistan
Date of birth: 10 November 1986
Motto: ‘Love everyone and hate no-one’

Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.

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