In memoriam - Rev. Dr. Jan Slomp: a life of interreligious dialogue is liberating

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Thu, 2022-12-29
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Our longtime friend, Rev. Dr. Jan Slomp sadly passed away on December 25th after a bacterial infection, only weeks after he celebrated his 90th birthday.


Rev. Slomp was formed by his experiences in the Second World War as the son of Rev. Fredrik or Frits Slomp (1898-1978), better known under his pseudonym of Frits de Zwerver, a major Reformed leader who already in the 1930s denounced Nazism as a pernicious ideology and continued during the Second World War, calling Christian believers to resistance. Many leaders of the resistance did not survive the war, but Frits de Zwerver did. His pseudonym ‘de Zwerver’ means in English the wanderer. During the war he was continuously hiding and fleeing. It marked the life of Rev. Jan Slomp who studied Reformed theology and Islam and became pastor in 1962. The Reformed Church sent him in 1964 to Pakistan to work as a specialist in Islam in the service of the Pakistani church. Rev. Slomp returned to the Netherlands in 1977 and became involved in dialogue between Christians and Muslims in the Netherlands and Europe. Upon his retirement in 1994 he received an honorary PhD from the Protestant Theological University in the Netherlands. While in Pakistan, he served as the main editor of an English-Urdu theological dictionary. One of his more influential articles was a study of John Calvin’s approach to Islam and Muslims published in 1995. He discussed his journey in Christian-Muslim relations in his chapter, “A Life between Church and Islam: Seeking True Discernment,” which was published in Christian Troll and C.T.R. Hewer, eds., Christian Lives Given to the Study of Islam (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012).

Rev. Dr. Jan Slomp (1932-2022)


Rev. Slomp always could be asked for lectures about the Second World War. A few years ago, he took me to Nazi concentration camp, Amersfoort. Peace and freedom are vulnerable and we need to be resilient to oppressive ideologies such as those now operative in Russia in the war against Ukraine, he told Aalten Vooruit in preparation for his lecture on the commemoration of his last Dutch liberation day, May 5, 2022.


After the war, churches gave much attention to the dialogue between Judaism and Christianity. Jan Slomp supported this development but also found that churches would need to take Islam more seriously.


Rev. Slomp welcomed more open attitudes to believers of other religions, favored dialogue and welcomed the establishment of Dialogue Across Borders and was always ready to provide his insights when asked.  


For this newsletter, I consulted two articles Jan Slomp wrote that are characteristic of how his thinking developed.


Rev. Slomp did not welcome secularization in the West and saw this as a loss, leading to a disappearance of Christian societal virtue. We need to live in line with the words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew when he stated that what we do for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, poor and prisoner we do in fact for Jesus (Matthew 25: 35-36). Christian commitments should lead to wide social engagement. The same we find with modern Muslim fighters for human rights but also in the history of for example Andalusia, he wrote. General moral principles are, of course, attested to in the Bible and Qur’an (Trouw, April 20, 1996).


Rev. Jan Slomp did not hide his dislike with much critique of Islam. In 1999 he responded to the claim that Muslims cannot be liberal, a claim that has sadly been repeated regularly since liberalism became a catchword in the West. History, he wrote, shows that such critique is inaccurate. We should have attention for the great diversity in Islam, liberal, mainstream and radical, yet critique is often highlighting radical statements that are then attributed to Islam in general which results in exclusion and discrimination. The temptation is then large to search for texts in your own holy book that make your group more resilient. Of course, holy texts can be misused by people with distorted mindsets or people who have become fully emerged in distorted ways of thinking. Fundamentalism, Slomp wrote in 1999, seems to be on the increase in both the world of Islam and Israel which results in a lack of balance which will remain as long Western powers support particular parties out of political or strategic motivations such they have done in Afghanistan (Trouw, February 24, 1999). Rev. Slomp referred to Americans supporting the foundation of al-Qaida to drive the Soviets out of the country. Another example is disbanding the Iraqi army after the US occupation of Iraq in 2003 which became a major stimulus for the establishment of the so-called Islamic state.  History demonstrates that efforts to use religion to serve political goals often backfired.


Rev. Slomp’s last activity in life, his widow Iny said, was reading my draft essay for a special issue on "Interreligious Dialogue: Future Perspectives and New Social Actors" for  Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). Iny called a life of interreligious dialogue liberating. Jan Slomp welcomed my examples from practical experiences, which he said was “very different from the scholars who read and even write about dialogue sitting behind their desk. A lot of it is familiar to me because I have tried to demonstrate to the Dutch church and to European churches from Moscow to Uzbekistan, Edinburgh to Cordoba, and Cyprus to Sweden, that the time of missionary and apologetic work among Muslims has passed. Our churches are willing to draw this conclusion with respect to Judaism but not yet with respect to Islam.” He also wrote: “I recognize in you a strong ally.” (email Rev. Dr. Jan Slomp, December 21, 2022). Naturally, Rev. Dr. Slomp lived for many years in Pakistan while I spent much of my life in Egypt. These contexts are very different and suggest the vast differences between even Muslim-majority countries. But the experience with Muslims in a majority Muslim society is very different from reading about Muslims in books and newspapers.


Dialogue Across Borders offers its condolences to Iny Slomp and their family. Dialogue Across Borders is extremely grateful for the years Jan and Iny Slomp have given to support our work.



December 29, 2022


Cornelis Hulsman

Senior Advisor

Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation (CIDT)