About Us
Back Issues
Forthcoming Issues
Print Edition
Contact Us
IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 9    Issue 5   16-31 July 2014

Professor A. R. Momin

Ramadan in Sweden, with No Dusk or Dawn

Sweden, located in northern Europe, lies at a high altitude. About 15% of Sweden’s territory lies north of the Arctic Circle and the northernmost part of the country has a sub-Arctic climate. Although weather conditions vary from region to region and often change dramatically during the same day, most parts of the country have very long hours of daylight in summer and very long nights in winter. In the mining town of Kiruna, the northernmost part of Sweden, perpetual daylight lasts from early May to early August and the sun never sets from May 28 to July 16. In winter, from early December to early January, the sun does not rise – what is known as the “polar night.”

Muslims in Sweden

Sweden is home to a fairly large Muslim population, estimated at around 500,000, making up about 5% of the country’s population of 9.6 million. The first Muslims to arrive in Sweden were Finnish Tatars, who emigrated from Finland and Estonia in the late 1940s. The Finnish Tatar Muslims have been well integrated into Swedish society and are prominently represented in the education system and the fur trade. A wave of immigration from the Balkans, Middle East, Turkey, Iran and North Africa started from the late 1960s. Approximately 3,500 Swedes have converted to Islam.

Kiruna, located 145 km north of the Arctic Circle and surrounded by snow-capped mountains throughout the summer, has a Muslim population of approximately 700, most of whom are asylum seekers. This year, the sun stays up around the clock for more than half of the fasting month. If one follows the local prayer times, one has to begin the fast at 3:30 in the morning and break it at 10:10 p. m. According to the local timetable, the fast will involve 18 hours and on some days of the remaining month, 23 hours.

Muslims in Kiruna follow four different timetables to begin and break the fast. The majority follow the timings of the Swedish capital Stockholm, where there are days and nights, unlike in Kiruna. This is according to the advice given by the European Council of Fatwa and Research (ECFR). Some Muslims follow the Mecca timetable of Ramadan while others follow the Istanbul timetable. There is no central authority or organization of Muslims in Sweden which could suggest a uniform timetable.

Fasting in Abnormal Zones

Fasting during the month of Ramadan is observed according to the lunar calendar. This is not just a remnant of an ancient calendrical system but is imbued with universal significance as well as compassion for the Muslim ummah. The change of seasons is a universal phenomenon. Weather conditions during some months of the year are pleasant or at least bearable while those in other months are harsh. Similarly, some regions have hospitable or bearable weather conditions during the large part of the year while other regions have harsh weather conditions through much of the year. If the month of Ramadan were to be reckoned according to the solar calendar, it would fall during a fixed month of the year. And if the fasting month always coincided with inhospitable weather conditions in a given region, it would put the local Muslim community under considerable hardships. The Quran says, “Allah intends every facility and convenience for you; He does not wish to put you to difficulties” (2:185). The great benefit of the lunar calendar is that, since it is shorter than the solar calendar by 11 days, the month of fasting keeps rotating through different seasons, providing relief for some period from oppressive weather conditions.

The celebrated historian Masudi (d. 345 AH) and the astronomer Albiruni (d. 440 AH) have mentioned that days and nights in the regions located near the poles are unusually long. An eminent Turkish scholar Haji Khalifa (d. 1658 CE) raised the question about determining the timings of prayers and fasting in the regions near the poles. In 1930 a committee comprising some ulama and scientists was constituted in the erstwhile Hyderabad state in the Indian subcontinent for the purpose of offering suggestions, in light of Islamic law as well as scientific observations, about the determination of the timings of prayers and fasting in regions near the poles. After much deliberation the committee suggested that the world’s regions should be classified into normal and abnormal zones, and that this classification should be based on the length of days. The two zones should be divided by drawing a line at 45 degrees latitude. The normal zone will comprise the regions that lie at 45 degrees latitude, and the timings for prayers and fasting that prevail in the normal zone should be made applicable to the regions that lie in the abnormal zone above or below 45 degrees latitude. In other words, the timings for prayers and fasting in the abnormal zone should be determined not according to the movement of the sun but the movement of the clock. The timings for prayer and fasting in Paris will be applicable to Sweden and Norway. This suggestion was later approved by the ulama of Makkah and Madinah and Cairo.

Following this suggestion, Professor Muhammad Hamidullah, a renowned Islamic scholar, proposed that regions that are above 45 degrees latitude in the northern hemisphere and those below 45 degrees latitude in the southern hemisphere should be considered abnormal for the purpose of determining the timings for prayers and fasting and that these regions should follow the timings of normal zones in 45 degrees latitude. He suggested that Bordeaux-Bucharest in Europe and Portland-Halifax in the US should be considered as the limit of the normal zone in the northern hemisphere.

China Bans Muslim from Fasting in Xinjiang

Chinese authorities have banned Muslim officials, teachers and students in the far western province of Xinjiang from fasting during Ramadan. The order comes amid growing violence and unrest that has hit the region in recent months and the government crackdown on Uighur activists, who are blamed for the violence.

Xinjiang, which has a large concentration of Muslims, has China’s largest deposits of oil, natural gas and coal. The region, earlier known as Eastern Turkestan, was annexed by China in 1949. In the 1990s, when the Soviet Union was breaking up and its Central Asian republics were declaring independence, Chinese authorities feared that Xinjiang, which shares borders with Central Asia and had a Muslim majority, might secede from the country. In order to forestall this possibility, the Chinese authorities embarked on a calculated policy of settling hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese in Xinjiang. Wang Lequan, the Communist Party secretary and absolute power in Xinjiang for 15 years, opened the region’s oil and gas fields to drilling, laid pipelines east to the Chinese heartland and west to Kazakhstan. Lured by rising employment opportunities, Han Chinese workers flocked to Xinjiang. During the 1990s, about two million Han migrated to the region. As a result of the planned migration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang, the proportion of Muslims in the region’s population has shrunk from 75 per cent in 1949 to 45 per cent today. Xinjiang has been milked for its abundant oil reserves, but the benefits have not accrued to the region’s Muslim population in any significant measure.

Xinjiang has undoubtedly developed, but large numbers of people, especially Uighurs, are still living in poverty. Wang Lequan also carried out a policy of de-ethnicization of Uighur Muslims. He substituted Mandarin for Uighur in primary schools, saying that minority languages were “out of step with the 21st century,” and banned or restricted Islamic symbols and practices, including the Islamic veil, beard and praying and fasting while on the job, among government workers. Chinese authorities have sought to suppress and erase the religious and cultural identity of Muslims in Xinjiang. A Muslim couple is not allowed to have more than two children and those who violate the law have to pay a hefty fine. Children under the age of 18 are not allowed to attend mosques. Islamic instruction in madrasas is prohibited.

China has been accused by two US-based human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China, of conducting a “crushing campaign of religious repression against Muslim Uighurs”. This campaign is ostensibly carried out in the name of anti-separatism and counter-terrorism. The repressive measures of the government range from surveillance of imams and forced closure of mosques to the detention of thousands of people and executions. The curriculum of Islamic educational institutions is required to be approved by the authorities. Imams have to attend political education camps. Religious literature has to be screened and approved by the authorities before circulation. In the wake of 9/11, thousands of Uighur men were imprisoned on trumped-up charges of terrorism and religious extremism. East Turkestan Islamic Movement, the main religious and cultural organization of Uighurs in Xinjiang, has been declared a terrorist group by both China and the US. There have been frequent protests and demonstrations by Uighur Muslims against the repressive and discriminatory policies pursued by the Chinese authorities. According to Amnesty International, some 3,000 Uighurs have been arrested and 22 executed since the mid-1990s.

In 2013, Muslim officials, students and teachers in Xinjiang were not allowed to keep the fast during Ramadan. The ban has been enforced this year as well. Fasting has been banned in all universities across the region. Several Muslim students told the Western Media that they were prevented from fasting by the authorities. Those who refuse to eat risk being punished by officials. However, the ban on fasting has turned out to be counter-productive. Many Muslims are defying the ban and the attendance in mosques has increased after the ban was announced.

Amnesty International Slams Egypt for Human Rights Violations

On July 3, 2013, Mohammad Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, was ousted by the head of the Egyptian military, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who installed a military-backed government. On June 8, 2014, al-Sisi was elected President. Since the time al-Sisi assumed the reins of power, activists and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have been relentlessly hounded. At least 1,400 people, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood, have been killed by the Egyptian security forces in political violence. Thousands have been detained and tried on trumped-up charges and tortured in prison. On August 14, 2013, more than 600 people, mostly Brotherhood activists and supporters, were brutally gunned down by the security forces at two sit-ins in Cairo. On September 23, 2013, Muslim Brotherhood was banned and on December 25 it was declared a terrorist organization. Al-Sisi has vowed to eliminate the Brotherhood. There is at present no parliament in the country to check al-Sisi’s increasingly autocratic style of functioning. However, protests and demonstrations by Morsi’s supporters against the military-installed regime continue unabated. Huge protests across large parts of Egypt marked the first anniversary of the ouster of Morsi on July 3, 2014. The authorities arrested more than 200 people, part of an ongoing crackdown on the Brotherhood.

On July 5, 2014, an Egyptian court sentenced Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual guide Mohammed Badie and 36 other Brotherhood activists to life in prison. They were accused of inciting violence and obstructing traffic in Cairo during protests over the removal of President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. Mohammed Badie has already been given two death sentences.

In a report released on June 5, 2014, Amnesty International has slammed the Egyptian government for its flagrant violation of human rights, including the suppression of civil liberties, arbitrary arrests and detentions, unfair trials, brutal torture of political opponents and high-handed control over the media. The report says that at least 16,000 people from across the country have been detained during the past year. The military-installed government has sentenced hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and at least eighty of the detainees have died in police custody due to torture. Three Al Jazeera journalists, who were accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, were sentenced to seven years in jail in June 2014, which provoked widespread international outrage.

The report says that 1,247 Muslim Brotherhood activists have been sentenced to death by pliant courts, of which 247 have been upheld. Citing harrowing incidents of torture and death in police custody, the reports says Egypt is “failing at every level in terms of human rights.” Egypt’s security forces are back to employing the same methods of brutal torture which were widely practiced during Hosni Mubarak’s dark era. Torture methods employed by the security forces include the use of electric shocks, handcuffing, suspending prisoners from open doors and rape. The report cites the case of a 23-year-old male student, who says he was held for 47 days and was tortured and raped during his interrogation. “They cut my shirt, blindfolded me with it and handcuffed me from behind…they beat me with batons all over my body, particularly on the chest, back and face…Then they put two wires in my left and right little fingers and gave me electric shocks four or five times,” he said. “Egypt’s notorious state security forces – currently known as National Security – are back and operating at full capacity, employing the same methods of torture and other ill-treatment used during the darkest hours of the Mubarak era,” the report says.

Persecution of Myanmar’s Muslims Continues Unabated

Myanmar’s Muslim minority continues to bear the brunt of persecution, violence, forced ghettoization and displacement. Since June 2012 more than 200,000 Muslims have been displaced and more than 240 have been killed by Buddhist mobs. More than 140,000 are forced to live in camps, where living conditions are appalling. The UN estimates that at least 86,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the country by boat during the past two years. Attacks on Muslim houses, mosques and shops and clashes between Buddhist mobs and Muslims have been occurring with regular frequency during the past two years. In April 2014, UN special rapporteur on human rights Tomas Oja Quintana stated that the “long history of discrimination and persecution against the Rohingya Muslim community could amount to crimes against humanity.” The New York Times described the Rohingya refugee camps as quasi-concentration camps.

The recent spurt in violence was triggered on July 1, 2014 when a 300-strong Buddhist mob gathered near a tea shop owned by a Muslim, who was accused of raping a Buddhist woman. On July 2, 2014, a Buddhist man was stabbed to death in Mandalay. The next day a Muslim man was beaten to death. Accusations of rape of Buddhist women by Muslim men are often used as a ploy to incite passions among Buddhists and to launch attacks on Muslims. In the clashes that broke out on July 1 and 2, at least 19 people, mostly Muslims, were wounded.

On July 4, hundreds of Buddhists wielding knives, swords and bamboo poles and riding motorcycles roamed the streets of Mandalay, calling for death to Muslims. The police erected barriers lined with barbed wire to block the entry of the mob into the Muslim neighbourhood. But they did not disarm the Buddhists nor prevented them from shouting anti-Muslim slogans.

European Court of Human Rights Upholds French Veil Ban

In France, home to about 6 million Muslims, the question of headscarves was first brought to national attention in 2003 when Nicolas Sarkozy, who was then minister of the interior, insisted that Muslim women should take off their headscarves for official identity photographs. In July 2003, President Jacques Chirac, who had stated in 2003 that “wearing a veil is a kind of aggression,” appointed a commission, headed by a former minister, Bernard Stasi, to explore the feasibility of enacting a law in respect of headscarves. The Stasi Commission submitted its report Laicite et Republique in December 2003. The report reaffirmed the principle of laicite (the French version of secularism) and called for the outlawing of all “conspicuous” signs of religious affiliation in public schools. On March 15, 2004, the French government passed a law banning the wearing of “conspicuous” signs of religious affiliation, including a large cross, a veil, a skullcap or a turban, in public schools. Private schools and universities were not governed by the ban. Women in the street were allowed to dress according to their choice. The ban provoked widespread protests by Muslims across the country.

France’s former president Nicolas Sarkozy from the centre-right UMP party (who is currently under investigation for corruption) stirred up a hornet’s nest by stating in his first state of the nation address on 22 June 2009 that Islamic veils were a sign of women’s debasement and therefore not welcome on French soil. He said: “The problem of the burqa is not a religious problem; it’s a problem of liberty and women’s dignity. It’s not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly the burqa is not welcome in France. In our country, we can’t accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That’s not our idea of freedom.”

Sarkozy appointed a 32-member cross-party commission of French MPs shortly after his address to consider a ban on face-covering veils and burqas. In its report, released on 26 January 2009, the commission recommended a ban on the wearing of face-covering veils in schools, universities, hospitals, post offices and other state-owned premises and while using public services such as public transport. However, the ban would not apply to women covering their faces in the street. The law took effect on April 11, 2011. The penalty for violating the law is 150 euros.

A young Pakistan-born French Muslim woman submitted a petition to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg in 2011, saying that she liked to wear the burqa as a mark of her religious, spiritual and cultural expression and that no one was forcing her to cover her face. She argued that the ban on the face-covering veil violated her right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to respect for one’s own private life and personal identity, and the right to manifest one’s belief, practice and observance in public or in private. These rights, she contended, are guaranteed under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights.

In a shocking ruling on July 2, 2014, the majority judges of the European Court of Human Rights dismissed the petition, saying that France has a sovereign right to pursue and enforce what it considers to be the ideals of social assimilation and communication and that the ban on the wearing of full-face veils in public places was not in conflict with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights. A court statement said the ruling also took into account the French state’s submission that the face plays a significant role in social interaction and that concealing it hindered social interaction.

However, two of the judges, who are women, wrote a dissenting judgment, arguing that the French law infringes upon the right to one’s own cultural and religious identity and is therefore at variance with the European Convention and democratic principles. The dissenting judges observed that the majority view sacrifices concrete individual rights against abstract principles.

According to police figures, no more than 2,000 women -- most of them young and a quarter of them converts -- wear the face-covering veil. In other words, it is a non-issue.

Laicite or secularism is considered the corner-stone of the French republic. Notwithstanding the rhetoric surrounding the doctrine, France has worked out an accommodation with the Catholic Church in many ways. Even after the separation of church and state was mandated by law in 1905, public schools accommodated the desire of parents (and the pressure of churches) for children to have religious instruction and treated it as a right. In the early 1980s there were huge and successful demonstrations against government plans to abolish subsidies for the country’s predominantly Catholic private schools. Since 1958, the French government has contributed 10 per cent of the budgets of private religious schools. More than 2 million children attend state-supported Catholic schools. The school calendar still observes only Catholic and state holidays. The secular state also maintains religious buildings, including churches and synagogues, as a public responsibility. Curiously, while a great deal of hue and cry is made about the Islamic veil, no one in the country seems to have any problem with the traditional, head-covering robe of Catholic nuns. Thus the tall claims about France’s republican values, laicite and the country’s all-encompassing national culture are selectively applied and implemented.

Muslim organizations in Europe fear that the ECHR’s verdict will provide an incentive to other European countries to enforce a ban on face-covering veils. Belgium has already banned the burqa in public places. Barcelona in Spain and some towns in Italy have banned full-face veils in public places.

NSA Spying on Prominent American Muslims

Technology is a double-edged sword, which can be used for both good and evil purposes. Technological innovations – which are growing by leaps and bounds – are now being used for purposes that pose a serious threat to freedom and human rights. A particularly disturbing phenomenon is the mushrooming growth and increasing tentacles of highly sophisticated tracking and surveillance technologies. These technologies are generating incredibly vast amounts of data – nicknamed Big Data – through satellites, computers and the Internet, remote-sensing equipments and microphones. Since the 1980s such data has doubled every three years. Much of this data is generated by private companies for commercial purposes, but the biggest purveyor of this data is the US government. Since the US is the predominant host to the world’s Internet infrastructure and networks, it is in a position to monitor all data passing through electronic communication.

It is becoming increasingly common – and fashionable – across large parts of the world to place personal data on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Facebook has more than a billion users outside the United States and Google’s search engine dominates 90% of the Internet activity in Europe. Now all electronic communication seems to be vulnerable to surveillance and misuse by commercial interests and governments.

In early June 2013, Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the US National Security Agency (NSA), handed a trove of highly classified documents to the British newspaper The Guardian, which reveal that NSA had been secretly monitoring the phone records and Internet activity of hundreds of millions of people, mostly foreigners, in the US and in other countries, ostensibly in the name of national security. The documents show that, among other things, NSA, in cahoots with its British counterpart GCHO, devised a surveillance network to monitor the phones and emails of all delegates at the 2009 G20 meeting in London. The NSA runs a top-secret surveillance programme codenamed PRISM, through which a vast amount of online data, including emails, files, social networking data and photos, is collected from a range of American Internet companies, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, YouTube, Skype and Apple. PRISM has made it possible to intercept and monitor almost all types of information about individuals, groups, communities and nations across the world. On the basis of that information, it will now be possible to forecast, among other things, social protests and uprisings in any part of the world.

The National Security Agency is working clandestinely on a massive project, costing billions of dollars, through which NSA will have direct access to personal data from all over the world – through emails, Skype conversations, Google searches, Facebook posts and YouTube videos. In other words, NSA is set to spy on the entire world.

The revelations about NSA’s global surveillance programme have sent shock waves throughout the world and have evoked indignation, apprehensions and anger. The programme is undoubtedly fraught with alarming and horrifying implications for the freedom and privacy of hundreds of millions of people around the world and the security and sovereignty of nations, including Muslim nations. Repressive regimes in the Muslim world as well as those which are allied to the US may use such surveillance technologies to keep a tab on movements that pose a threat to their power. Israel will, without a shadow of doubt, use these technologies – if it is not already using them, which is unlikely – to monitor developments in the Arab and Muslim world, especially in Iran. It is reported that a US company’s tracking technology is being used by Syria’s ruling regime to keep a tab on all electronic communication in the country.

Surveillance of Prominent Muslim Americans

The Intercept online magazine published a sensational report, based on documents supplied by Edward J. Snowden, on July 9, 2014, saying that the US National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have covertly monitored the emails of at least five prominent Muslim Americans, including academics, layers and rights activists. These include Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Hooshang Amirahmadi, a professor at Rutgers University and president of the American-Iranian Council, Asim Ghafoor, a defence lawyer who has handled terrorism-related cases, Faisal Gill, a former Department of Homeland Security lawyer, and Agha Saeed, national chairman of the American Muslim Alliance, which supports Muslim political candidates.

The NSA has not given any reasons for spying on these men, who have denied any wrongdoing. Mr Ghafoor said he believed his faith was a factor in the surveillance. The Intercept report suggested that widespread prejudice against Muslims in the US, including government agencies, played a role in this sordid affair. Several rights organizations in the country have sent a letter to President Barack Obama expressing concern over the discriminatory manner in which surveillance was used by government agencies. The report exposes the hypocrisy of the US government which often claims that it is wedded to the protection of human rights, democratic freedom and civil liberties.

Name * :
E-mail * :
Add Your Comment :
Home About Us Announcement Forthcoming Features Feed Back Contact Us
Copyright © 2014 All rights reserved.