'No problems' with fasting Muslim colleagues: Danish medic, bus company

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
'No problems' with fasting Muslim colleagues: Danish medic, bus company
An unrelated file photo showing a bus driver, originally from Iraq, working in Denmark. Photo: Andreas Hagemann Bro/Ritzau Scanpix

A national bus operator and an occupational health doctor have spoken out to debunk immigration minister Inger Støjberg’s claim that fasting during Ramadan is a potential safety risk.


Støjberg, an immigration hardliner in Denmark’s centre-right government, questioned in a blog post on Monday how “commanding observance to a 1,400-year-old pillar of Islam” was compatible with modern labour markets.

"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," Støjberg wrote in a column for tabloid BT.

She also said she feared the fasting could affect "safety and productivity," giving as an example bus drivers who have "neither had a drink nor eaten for more than 10 hours".

"This can be dangerous for all of us," she said.

Bus and train operator Arriva said on Monday that there was no reason for passengers to be concerned about taking a journey with a fasting driver.

“We have never had any problems or accidents related to fasting drivers,” the company’s head of communication Pia Hammershøy Splittorff told newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

Around a third of the company’s 3,500 bus drivers in Denmark have a non-Danish ethnic background, Jyllands-Posten reports. It is unclear how many of those are practising Muslims.

Some drivers who want to swap daytime shifts during Ramadan do this on their own initiative, Splittorff told the newspaper, adding that Muslim drivers commonly cover for their Danish colleagues during the Christmas period.

“We are not going to try to solve a problem that isn’t there. And we have, as I said, not seen any practical problems during the Ramadan period,” she added.

The spokesperson said Arriva had no political view regarding Støjberg’s comments.

“We are not taking a political position on this. But we can confirm from our side of the table that everything is working fine and dandy,” she said.

Doctor Abir Al-kalemji, PhD, who works at Odense University Hospital’s occupational health department, also rejected the suggestion that Ramadan fasting was a workplace safety concern.

“In a decade and a half as a doctor, I have never seen my fasting colleagues underperform,” Al-kalemji wrote on Twitter.

“On the other hand, several Danish colleagues have broken down due to stress and have gone home in tears because of poor working conditions. We have ministers to solve actual problems, not invent them,” she added.

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“Furthermore, it is not permitted to fast unless your health and work situations allow it. It must be sensible and within reason to fast, not at any cost,” the Danish medic continued.

Al-kalemji also said Støjberg should be obliged to present “scientific evidence” before calling for Muslims in Denmark to do something that “deprives them of the right to practice their religion and thereby their freedom of religion.”

“If the minister was genuinely interested in explaining the health and safety implications of Ramadan for individuals and society, she would have included the nuances of the issue in her framing of the problem, rather than settling for undocumented assertions,” she wrote in political journal Ræson on Monday.

In a written comment to The Local, Al-kalemji further clarified that only healthy people are allowed to observe Ramadan by fasting.

“It shouldn't affect their working ability. Pregnant women, children, patients, those with diabetes etc should eat, drink and take their medication. Otherwise it is completely irresponsible and unacceptable,” she wrote.

Ramadan, Islam's revered month in which Muslims around the world fast from dawn until dusk, began last week.

Religious freedom is provided for by Denmark’s constitution.

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