Danish minister says fasting Muslims ‘dangerous’ for society

The hostile environment fostered by Stoejberg’s ministry has led to fewer Muslims seeking to acquire Danish citizenship.
Saturday 26/05/2018
No kind words. Danish Minister of Integration from the Liberal Party Inger Stoejberg attends a parliament session in Copenhagen. (AP)
No kind words. Danish Minister of Integration from the Liberal Party Inger Stoejberg attends a parliament session in Copenhagen. (AP)

LONDON - Danish Immigration Minister Inger Stoejberg suggested that fasting Muslims should take time off work during Ramadan because of safety risks to the rest of society.

Stoejberg, who is known as an immigration hardliner in Denmark’s centre-right government, wrote in a blog post for Danish newspaper BT that the month-long daylight fast during Ramadan posed safety hazards in some professions.

She specifically cited bus drivers and hospital workers, saying that fasting was “dangerous for us all” and not compatible with the demands of the modern labour market.

She urged Muslims to take leave from work during Ramadan “to avoid negative consequences for the rest of Danish society.”

Denmark’s largest bus company, Arriva, asserted that it had not received any complaints related to fasting. “In most Muslim countries, stores and businesses continue operating as normally,” Pia Hammershoy Splittorff, a spokeswoman for Arriva, told BT.

The United Federation of Danish Workers, the country’s largest trade union, criticised Stoejberg’s remarks, saying in a statement: “We have never heard of a single case where fasting has been a problem.”

Denmark’s Muslim Union issued a statement thanking Stoejberg for her concern but assured her that Muslims are more than capable of functioning in Danish society “even when we fast.”

Muslim Associations across Scandinavia criticised the Danish immigration minister’s statement amid fears that Islamophobic views have become increasingly mainstream.

Pia Jardi, chairwoman of Finland’s Muslim Union, called Stoejberg’s suggestions that Muslims stay home from work during Ramadan “completely absurd.” “There’s no information or statistics to show that bus drivers or other Muslim workers would somehow behave dangerously while fasting,” she said.

Stoejberg, a member of Denmark’s conservative Liberal Party, has overseen amendments to Danish immigration law that make it more difficult for immigrants and asylum seekers to enter the country and restrict services that immigrants and asylum seekers receive.

Her celebration of the 50th tightening of Denmark’s immigration laws last year with a cake was pounced on by critics who say the current centre-right ruling coalition has fostered a toxic atmosphere regarding immigration.

One of the strongest measures, which went into effect in 2016, gave police the authority to seize valuables from refugees. Critics likened the plan to Nazis confiscating gold and jewellery from Jews during the second world war.

Some Danish government officials distanced themselves from Stoejberg’s comments, but few outright criticised the minister’s views. Government spokeswoman Keren Ellmann said Stoejberg’s comments did not reflect the opinion of the government but stressed that she “had the right to start this debate.”

The hostile environment fostered by Stoejberg’s ministry has led to fewer Muslims seeking to acquire Danish citizenship. Danish newspaper Politiken reported that 70% of new Danish citizenships in 2014 were people from majority-Muslim countries but that figure had fallen to 21% in 2018.

“There is no doubt that this is because the demands have been increased. For example, the language requirement, being able to provide for oneself, staying away from criminality and passing certain tests,” Stoejberg said in May. “In my view, there is no doubt at all that it is much easier to integrate a Christian American than a Muslim Somali.”

Approximately 250,000 Muslims live in Denmark, which has a population of 5.7 million.