There are about 250,000 Muslims living in Denmark, and the Danish integration minister thinks that those fasting for Ramadan are better off staying at home until the month-long holiday is over.
“I want to call on Muslims to take leave from work during the month of Ramadan to avoid negative consequences for the rest of Danish society,” wrote Inger Stoejberg in a column for BT, a Danish tabloid. Her argument: Muslims working in certain jobs, such as bus drivers, might be unable to focus if they have not eaten.
Stoejberg's remarks prompted backlash in Muslim communities across Scandinavia, a region still grappling with an influx of refugees that has sometimes sparked hard-line immigration reforms. Pia Jardi, chairwoman of Finland's Muslim Union, called Stoejberg's suggestion that Muslims stay home from work “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 as normally.” Pia Hammershoy Splittorff, a spokesman for the Arriva bus company in Denmark, told BT that there's no history of bus accidents during Ramadan, and “so de facto it's not a problem for us.”
Denmark's Muslim Union made a public statement thanking the minister for her concern but said Muslims are capable of functioning in Danish society “even when we fast.”
Stoejberg, a center-right politician, has become the face of Denmark's increasingly tight immigration rules. In 2015, Danish authorities put ads in Lebanese newspapers warning asylum seekers not to come there. Then, in 2016, Denmark passed a controversial law that allows Danish authorities to search migrants' belongings and seize valuables and cash from them to help pay for their time in the country — drawing comparison to Nazis' treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.
The Danish government has also put an emphasis on migrants learning Danish and joining the workforce if they plan to stay in the country. Critics say the immigration rules have become too harsh.
But Stoejberg remains happy with her progress on immigration reform. Last year, Stoejberg posed for photos with a cake decorated with a Danish flag and the number 50, a reference to the 50 immigration restrictions she had been able to pass into law.
“Today I got the 50th amendment to tighten immigration controls ratified,” she wrote on Facebook. “This needs celebrating!”