Muslims across Europe are marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, which in 2018 was observed between May 17 and June 15, in accordance with the Islamic lunar calendar.
Ramadan, a major topic for public discussion in Europe this year, received considerable media coverage, a reflection of Islam’s rising influence.
Muslim leaders sought to leverage the media attention to showcase Ramadan — a time when Muslims abstain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset, to commemorate, according to Islamic tradition, the revelation of the Quran to Mohammed — as the peaceful nature of Islam in Europe.
European multiculturalists, normally strict enforcers of secularism when it comes to Christianity, made great efforts to draw up guidelines, issue instructions and carve out special privileges to ensure that Muslims were not offended by non-Muslims during the festival.
Breaking with the past, however, a growing number of European politicians publicly spoke out against Ramadan, especially regarding the adverse effects of prolonged fasting on school-aged children. The backlash, evidenced by the emergence of politically incorrect political parties in Europe, appears to reflect a growing wariness of runaway multiculturalism and the steady erosion of Western values.
Following is a brief summary of a few Ramadan-related occurrences in several European countries:
In Austria, the Secretary General of the Austrian People’s Party, Karl Nehammer, called for a ban on fasting for school-age children. He said that he had received “innumerable” reports from teachers about the welfare of children during Ramadan. “If religious rituals, regardless of religion, endanger the health of children, this is clearly going too far,” Nehammer said. “If religion is placed above the welfare of the child, that must stop.”
The Islamic Religious Community in Austria (Islamischen Glaubensgemeinschaft in Österreich, IGGiÖ) accused Nehammer of trying to “ban” Ramadan. IGGiÖ spokeswoman Carla Amina Baghajati described Nehammer’s comments as “offensive and humiliating” and, in a twist of logic, claimed that Nehammer was actually pushing Muslim children toward Islamic fundamentalism:
“This leads to a dangerous alienation in society. Children and adolescents especially feel this enemy policy. They are in danger of deliberately turning away from local society and becoming even more susceptible to radical ideas.”
Peter Kusstatscher, director of HTL Villach, the largest school in Austria, said that Ramadan itself was radicalizing some Muslim students: “You now notice how they radicalize themselves in the subject matter of Islam and radically live out their beliefs.” He described an incident where a Muslim student insulted a female classmate because she was wearing make-up during Ramadan. “Of course, we intervened because this was not about showing tolerance towards a religious community,” he said.
In Belgium, Saint John’s Catholic church in Brussels hosted an iftar dinner — a meal after sunset during the month of Ramadan. “What we are doing tonight is an extraordinary symbol of the power that comes from common initiatives like this,” said Catholic priest Jacques Hanon. “We want to show a strength that lies in responding to setbacks, fears, violence, hatred and discrimination together.”
The chairman of the Islamic communities in Brussels, Lahcen Hammouche, said:
“We have chosen this moment of the holy month of Ramadan, the month of sharing and forgiveness, to celebrate and share with churches of all faiths and all cultures, to show that Muslims are not all terrorists and that we are all capable and must have a good coexistence among religions and other philosophies.”
Hammouche did not say whether Belgian mosques would reciprocate by celebrating Christian holidays at their facilities.
In Cyprus, the Department of Public Works announced that it had fast-tracked the taxpayer-funded renovation of a mosque in Paphos so that it would be available for use during Ramadan:
“Despite delays in the project, the Department of Public Works, respecting the request of the Muslim community to secure a comfortable and safe site in order for them to exercise their religious rights and given that it was not possible to find another site managed to get the contractor to go ahead with construction work in the mosque so that it may be completed and used with safety during Ramadan.”
In Denmark, Integration Minister Inger Støjberg called on practicing Muslims to take a vacation during Ramadan to avoid negatively impacting the rest of society. In an opinion article published by the Danish newspaper BT, she wrote:
“We must address the problems that Ramadan presents us in the present. Undeniably, the demands of a modern and efficient society such as that of Denmark are quite different from those in Mecca during the time of Mohammed….
“It can be very dangerous for all of us if the bus driver neither eats nor drinks during the whole day, and of course one does not perform at the same level at the factory or at the hospital if you do not eat and drink during daylight hours for a whole month.
“I respect that Muslims want to practice their religion and traditions, but I think religion is a private matter and that it is necessary for us to ensure that it does not become a social issue. I do not want to deprive Danish Muslims of the opportunity to cultivate their religion and religious holidays, but I would encourage them to go on vacation during the month of Ramadan so that it does not adversely affect the rest of the Danish society.”
In France, the government, which previously vowed to reduce foreign influences on the practice of Islam in the country, approved visas for 300 imams from Algeria and Morocco to lead Ramadan services in French mosques. The move sparked a backlash from across the political spectrum. “To ask Algeria and Morocco to send us imams during the month of Ramadan is unacceptable,” said the former Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who has pledged to “cut all bridges” between Muslims in France and “third countries.”
The leader of the National Front, Marine Le Pen, said that “it is unacceptable that the Ministry of the Interior organizes the arrival of 300 foreign imams in our country for Ramadan; it is a violation of the principle of secularism (laïcité).” Her former ally in the 2017 presidential race, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, demanded that foreign imams be required to swear an “oath of loyalty to France and the Republic.”
Elsewhere in France, in Chambourcy, the managers of a Carrefour hypermarket complied with Muslim demands to remove Israeli dates from the store’s “Ramadan department.” Customers complained that the presence of Israeli products was “an affront to Muslim customers.”
Europe 1 radio reported that Ramadan was a “commercial bonanza” for French retailers. Mimoun Ennebati, the head of a French Muslim association, said that “a priori, large distributors do not want to offend a certain clientele” during Ramadan. He estimated that practicing Muslims increase their spending by 30% during the month of Ramadan.
Meanwhile, in Mantes-la-Jolie, a suburb of Paris, a 42-year-old man was charged with manslaughter after shaking his five-month-old daughter to death. The man, confessing to the crime, said: “I was observing Ramadan and without eating, my nerves were on edge.”
In Germany, Martin Sichert, a lawmaker from the anti-immigration party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), called for Muslim doctors, nurses, pilots, bus and train drivers to be banned from working during Ramadan if they are fasting. “What patient should have to be operated on by a surgeon who has not had anything to drink for 12 hours?” asked Sichert, a member of the parliamentary committee for labor and social issues. “Why should people have to be transported around by other people who might face concentration problems and dehydration because they have been fasting for hours?”
Family Minister Franziska Giffey warned that “strict interpretations” about fasting were having an adverse impact on Muslim students: “Children need to drink and eat regularly, otherwise they can no longer pay attention in class or work together in physical education.” She also said there was growing peer pressure to observe the fast during Ramadan: “There should be no discrimination, no matter if someone is fasting or not.”
Heinz-Peter Meidinger, president of the German Teachers Union (Deutsche Lehrerverband), expressed concern that “a lot of students now take the fast very seriously.” He complained that Muslim parents increasingly were pressuring teachers to reschedule exams until after Ramadan. This delay, he said, was having a negative impact on non-Muslim students.
In Landshut, Bavaria, Christian politicians and clergy walked out of an inter-cultural Ramadan festival after Quranic verses were sung in Arabic, rather than in German, as initially promised. “Singing the Quran in Arabic is incompatible with the goals of successful integration,” said Thomas Haslinger, the district chairman of the Christian Social Union in Landshut.
Meanwhile, Deutschlandfunk, a German public radio station, in a segment about Ramadan, claimed that “Ramadan is an old German custom that has been around here longer than Oktoberfest.” Author Eren Güvercin added: “Islamic religious practice has long since found its home in Germany. And we German Muslims are looking forward to Ramadan in our Germany. Nobody can deny that to us.”
In Greece, hundreds of Arab and Kurdish asylum seekers clashed in a dispute over the Ramadan fast at the Moria Refugee Camp, on the island of Lesbos. Mohammed Khalil, a 19-year-old Kurdish migrant from Syria explained: “The fight began when some Arab youths started to fight with Kurds over fasting…. Some Arabs from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Algeria came and said Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan] Kurds are infidels and are not allowed to fast. Then the fight started. The refugee Arabs left and later returned with reinforcements. A bloody fight ensued.”
In Iceland, where the sun at this time of the year rises at 3am and sets at midnight, Muslims observed the Ramadan fast according to Mecca time, where the sun sets at around 7pm, to avoid having to fast for 20 hours or more. Ahmad Seddeeq, an imam at the Islamic cultural center of Iceland who is originally from Egypt, said it was easier to fast in a cool climate: “I have done this for years, and I find it more difficult in my country, where it is 40 to 45 degrees Celsius (104-113F).”