Finding Ramadan in Sweden

By Hadi Yahmid, IOL Correspondent
Sun. Sep. 23, 2007

STOCKHOLM — For Muslims visiting the Swedish capital Stockholm, the holy fasting month of Ramadan and its traditional manifestations are conspicuous by their absence.

There is almost nothing in the busy streets of Stockholm indicating that Ramadan, the most important month in the Islamic calendar, is eleven-day old.

Walking through Stockholm, one can hardly find a halal shop or hijab-clad young Muslims walking by, which have become part of everyday life in most European capitals.

Even dates, which most Muslims use to break their fast following in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), are something of a rarity at markets and shops selling only Swedish pastry.

One tradesman referred to a not-so-far Moroccan shop.

"Still, you might not find what you want for Ramadan," he said.

Muslims make up some 200,000 of the country's nine million people, according to semi-official estimates.

Leaders of the Muslim minority put the number at 400,000.

Religion, let along Islam, takes a back seat in the capital though Sweden is counted as a Christian country.

Welcome Ramadan

The first sight of Ramadan was at the Stockholm underground with an ad featuring a mosque and offering extra mobile rings for Muslims during the holy month.

A short metro ride takes one to the picturesque Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the only stately mosque in Stockholm.

With its unique dome and crescent minaret, the mosque is the meeting point for Muslims from across the ethnic spectrum.

A series of glossy Islamic calendars, in Arabic and Swedish, are the first thing to be spotted when entering the mosque.

Some carry the logo of the Islamic Relief, a major charity with offices in several European capitals.

Others carry Qur'anic verses and hadith encouraging the faithful to pay their zakat as early as possible to the needy and the poor.

After breaking their fast on dates and milk, Muslims converge for the Maghreb prayer.

They then head for the mosque restaurant to have their iftar meals in a family-like atmosphere.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque is the main Islamic center in Sweden and liaises with authorities on behalf of Muslims.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt visited the mosque earlier this month for a meeting with Muslim leaders to defuse the crisis of an anti-prophet cartoon published in the local Nerikes Allehanda newspaper.

The crisis has prompted many Swedes to know more about Islam with several media outlets giving unprecedented coverage for Muslim affairs and high schools introducing optional know-Islam lessons.

"At first glance, visitors might think Islam has no place in Stockholm," said Yassin, a mosque-goer.

"Islam is slowly, but confidently, growing here."


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