COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark’s immigration minister, who last year celebrated the country’s increasingly strict entry laws by posting a Facebook picture of herself with a cake, has suggested that Muslims fasting for Ramadan should stay home from work “to avoid negative consequences for the rest of Danish society.”
The minister, Inger Stojberg, made the remarks in a newspaper column Monday in which she called adherence to the religious practice “a danger to all of us.”
The month long Ramadan holiday, which began last week, involves daily fasting from dawn to dusk, a period that in Denmark lasts up to 18 hours a day during the spring and summer. Stojberg pointed in particular to bus drivers and people working in hospitals.
Her comments prompted criticism from Muslims and immigration advocates.
“This is a minister who is supposed to strengthen integration and strengthen social cohesion between population groups,” said Natasha Al-Hariri, an integration consultant who holds a law degree and is Muslim. “But she’s doing the opposite: She’s stirring up a debate based on no figures, no statistics and no anecdotes.”
The office of Stojberg, whose official title is immigration and integration minister, did not return a call for comment.
Members of her center-right Liberal Party, which leads the current government, distanced themselves from her remarks.
“In Denmark there’s room for everybody — if you believe in Jesus, Allah or Buddha — as long as you mind your duties and take responsibility for your actions,” said Fatma Oktem, a party member and former member of parliament, who was born in Denmark to Turkish parents.
A recent Justice Department proposal to ban the wearing of “clothing items that cover the face” — including burqas — in public was already testing the limits for some party members.
Responding to Stojberg’s comments, Jacob Jensen, a Liberal member of parliament, urged fellow politicians in a Facebook post to “concentrate on solving real problems first,” and added that the management of workers during religious holidays was best left to employers.
“If a nurse didn’t eat or had been to a Christmas party, there’s a head nurse to handle it,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s not something for us politicians to get involved in.”
Arriva, one of Denmark’s main bus operators, declined to comment Tuesday, but a spokeswoman was quoted by the Danish newspaper BT as saying that it had never had any accidents involving a driver who was fasting.
“We ran some information campaigns and had a Ramadan flyer with advice on how to drive during Ramadan,” the spokeswoman, Pia Hammershoy Splittorff, was quoted as saying. “We’ve done that for some years, but have also ascertained it wasn’t necessary.”
— Celebrating Immigration Rules With Cake
Stojberg made headlines in March 2017 when she posted a picture of herself on Facebook with a cake celebrating the passing of the country’s 50th immigration restriction.
“Today the 50th restriction was passed on immigration. This must be celebrated!” she wrote in a post that showed her holding the cake, which was decorated with fruit, the number 50 and a Danish flag.
The post, which caused an outcry on social media, came at a time when countriesacross Europe were facing a backlash against immigration and culture wars over national identity.
The integration minister also included a link to a list of ministry regulations, such as a law requiring newly arrived asylum-seekers to surrender valuables like jewelry and gold to help pay for their stay in the country.
— Handing Over Assets for Living Costs
That law — which Denmark’s parliament passed in January 2016, the same month that the country imposed temporary controls along its border with Germany — required that asylum-seekers who entered the country with assets of more than 10,000 kroner, or about $1,250, must help cover the cost of their lodging.
Criticized by activists and U.N. officials, the law was amended to exempt “objects with sentimental value” like wedding and engagement rings and family portraits.
Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said at the time that the law’s purpose was to introduce the same requirements for asylum-seekers that the country’s citizens faced: to use their own resources before qualifying for welfare benefits.
The law was applied just four times in the year after being introduced, according to DR, the national broadcaster.
Laws in Germany and Switzerland also require asylum-seekers with assets exceeding certain amounts to contribute to their living costs.