As Iftar – the daily breaking of the fast during the Muslim month of Ramadan – is quickly approaching, Swedish society is reflecting on how to adapt to the traditions of “new Swedes”, and are making their own efforts to celebrate and mark Muslim holidays.
The second largest Swedish daily newspaper, Svenska Dagbladet, has launched a Ramadan blog [SWE], where three practising Muslim bloggers – a policeman, a student, and a lawyer – reflect on everyday life throughout the Holy Month. Subjects span the high and low in an attempt to portray what it means to be Muslim in Swedish society today.
The bloggers usually write in their own group blog, Betraktarens Öga: “In the Eye of the Beholder”.
The relationship between Islam and Swedish society is not without tensions. It's arguable that Muslim celebrations in Sweden did not emanate from the tolerance many Swedes like to pride themselves on, but rather for commercial reasons. Big food chains now market halal meat, and other religiously permissible foods, and the trend has spread to other parts of commerce, which also attempt to meet the demands of the growing number of Muslim consumers in Sweden.
Yesterday, blogger Cherin Awad commented on the Prime Minister's visit to a halal slaughterhouse:
“Såg att vår statsminister igår var och besökte ett halal-slakteri (finns inte alltför många i Sverige). Om ramadan sa han att det kunde jämföras som en vit vecka och på frågan om han själv trodde att han skulle fixa att fasta svarade han att “bara han gav sig den på´t så..” Coolt. Snacka om att plocka pluspoäng hos en grupp som kanske inte har det största förtroendet hos de blå. Good boy. (…) ska jag ändå passa på att skvallra lite om att några av er läsare lite längre fram kommer ges möjligheten att prova på att vara muslim för en dag med allt vad bön, fasta och moskébesök innebär. Men ingen tvångskonvertering. Wallah, jag lovar! Mer info om hur man ansöker kommer längre fram. Statsministern kanske är intresserad av att vara med?”
“Saw that our Prime Minister visited a halal slaughterhouse yesterday – (there aren't too many in Sweden). About Ramadan, he said that it could be compared to an abstinence week, and to the question of whether he himself could cope with fasting, he replied that, “If he only went in for it…” Cool. Talk about picking up plus points from a group that may not have the greatest confidence in the conservatives. Good boy. (…) anyway I am going to blab a little to you, that later on some of you readers will be given the chance to be a Muslim for a day with all the prayer, fasting and visits to the Mosque. But no forced conversions. Wallah, I promise! More info on how to apply will follow later on. Maybe the Prime Minister is interested in joining us?”
Other topics the bloggers have explored are the thoughts of a Swedish Muslim student studying human rights, reaching out to Guantánamo prisoners bereft of those very rights. Then, a recipe for an energy drink, to better prepare for the fasting season. Subjects span all aspects of life during Ramadan, so shwei, shwei – little by little – Swedes might still get the hang of it.
Are Swedish blogger reactions as merciful as befits this time of year? The overwhelming impression is silence. Well, not total silence…
Bloggers Homan Anwari och Semus (SEMUS=Secular Moslems in Sweden) welcome the new Ramadan blog as does Mötesplatsen Fred (Meeting Place for Peace). Meanwhile, Jan Kallberg flogs the idea, comparing it to letting right-wing Christian Evangelists get access to the usually secular Swedish media arena.
Is this merely the silence before the storm? Possibly…
Intolerance and xenophobia is apparently on the rise in Sweden, at least if taking opinion polls and public support for far-right wing parties seriously. As the Ramadan blog started only yesterday, with the rise of the new crescent moon signaling the coming season, much may still happen.
Will blogging about Swedish Ramadan realities change the views of “native Swedes” about Islam in society? It is hard to tell… One thing is sure though. It will take ages before Swedes learn to say “Atyab at-tihani bi-munasabat hulul shahru Ramadan al-Mubarak” (The most precious congratulations on the occasion of the coming of Ramadan).