Rows about Ramadan

Uriya Shavit, an Israeli working for the University of Tel Aviv, studies Muslim communities in Europe and recently gave a talk at Leiden University.

(Het originele Nederlandstalige artikel staat hier)

Where are you now?

“I’m in Reykjavik, Iceland, doing fieldwork.”

But surely Iceland doesn’t have many Muslims?
“That’s exactly why I’m here! I’ve been studying Islamic communities in Europe for a very long time. There have been such communities in the Netherlands and Germany for decades. I’m interesting the beginnings. There are about 1,050 Muslims in Iceland, which has a total population of 330 thousand. I’m here to watch how the community develops.”

“It’s flourishing. There are three mosques now, but the three religious communities are at loggerheads.

About what?
“About things like fasting during Ramadan. You are only allowed to eat after sundown, but as there are 22 hours of sunlight in summer on Iceland, that’s quite drastic, obviously. One group says: it’s not feasible and in emergencies you’re allowed to take the time the sun sets in Mecca, but the other two disagree. However, there is more to the dispute than just religion: ultimately, they’re squabbling about money too.”

So, in Iceland, the differences are already quite big. Are such differences typical of Islam?
“Oh, absolutely. Islam has far less hierarchy than Catholicism, for example, with the pope, the archbishops, the bishops, etc. In Islam, it’s much easier to choose your own spiritual leader. That’s why there are so many differences of opinion, for instance, like whether, as a Muslim, you can wish someone a Merry Christmas: there’s no pope to say what’s right and what’s wrong. There are all sorts of different imams who issue fatwas that don’t apply to all Muslims.”

What about Sharia law then?
“It’s often more blurred than the West supposes. I think that beer adverts on football shirts are a good example. Is it okay for a Muslim to play for a club sponsored by a brewery? In principle, you must not encourage behaviour that is haram and that includes drinking alcohol. But if you wear a shirt advertising beer so you and your children can eat, it’s alright.”

You are Jewish and work for an Israeli university. Is your research never obstructed by Muslim anti-semitic or anti-Israeli sentiments?
“I get asked that a lot. It’s interesting that highly-educated Westerners want to know about that. I don’t actually have any problems. I’m always given a very warm and hospitable welcome in mosques – including by fundamentalist groups. There are many Muslims from North African countries who have moved to Europe and often the relationship between Jews and Muslims in those countries is rather good. There is another side to this story, of course. I’ve not met any Muslims who are great fans of Israel. You’ve got to be realistic.” VB

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Rows about Ramadan

Uriya Shavit, an Israeli working for the University of Tel Aviv, studies Muslim …