A Danish government minister has sparked backlash among Muslim communities, unions, and refugee advocates after calling fasting Muslims a “danger” to the society and urging them to take time off work during the month of Ramadan.
Denmark’s immigration minister, Inger Stojberg, said on Monday that fasting throughout the working day raised challenges for the society. She argued that Muslims doing certain jobs, such as bus drivers, may be unable to focus if they have not eaten.
“I want to call on Muslims to take leave from work during the month of Ramadan to avoid negative consequences for the rest of the Danish society,” Stojberg wrote in a tabloid newspaper.
During the month of Ramadan, millions of Muslims around the world fast everyday from dawn to dusk. The practice of fasting, which reminds Muslims of those less fortunate, is also meant to increase spiritual discipline.
Denmark’s Muslim Union reacted to the minister’s remarks by saying that Muslims were capable of functioning in the Danish society “even when we fast.”
The chairwoman of Finland’s Muslim Union, Pia Jardi, also called Stojberg’s comment about fasting Muslims “a completely absurd idea.”
“There’s no information or statistics to show that bus drivers or other Muslim workers would somehow behave dangerously while fasting,” she said. “In most Muslim countries, stores and businesses continue operating normally.”
Hammershoy Splittorff, a spokesman for Arriva — one of Denmark’s main bus operators — said there was no history of bus accidents during Ramadan, and “so de facto it’s not a problem for us.”
A Muslim integration consultant, Natasha al-Hariri, also accused Stojberg of “stirring up a debate based on no figures, no statistics, and no anecdotes.”
Members of the minister’s own anti-refugee center-right Liberal Party, which leads the current government, however, distanced themselves from her remarks.
“In Denmark, there’s room for everybody… as long as you mind your duties and take responsibility for your actions,” The New York Timesquoted Fatma Oktem, a party member and former member of the parliament as saying.
Earlier, she had said the “a significant proportion” of refugees “cheat, lie and abuse our trust.”
The minister also made headlines last year, when posted a picture of herself on Facebook with a cake celebrating the passing of the country’s 50th immigration restriction. “Today, the 50th restriction was passed on immigration. This must be celebrated!” she wrote.
That picture and comment caused anger on social media in the Nordic country, which received only 3,458 asylum applications in 2017. The country has become a far less welcoming place to refugees since the 2015 elections, which bolstered the Danish People’s Party, now the country’s second-largest political party.