Muslims across Europe are marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month which, in accordance with the lunar calendar, this year fell between July and August.
Ramadan was a major topic for public discussion, and the month-long holiday received heavy press coverage from print and broadcast media in all parts of Europe -- a reflection of the rising influence of Islam across the continent.
Muslim leaders sought to leverage the media attention to showcase Ramadan -- a time when Muslims refrain from taking food or water between sunrise and sunset -- as the peaceful nature of Islam in Europe.
Muslims were supported by European multiculturalists – who, when it comes to Judaism and Christianity, are staunch enforcers of secularism. They made great efforts to draw up guidelines, issue instructions and carve out special privileges to ensure that Muslims were not offended by non-Muslims during the festival.
As in past years, Ramadan-related controversies also fuelled heated debates in many countries.
In Britain, for example, Channel 4 became the first mainstream British television channel to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer (adhan) live each morning during Ramadan (see video here). Channel 4 also broadcast a series of programs about Ramadan called "Ramadan Diaries" which explored how British Muslims "cope with the physical and spiritual effects of fasting."
Channel 4 said the special Ramadan programming was an act of "deliberate provocation" to anyone who associates Islam with extremism.
In an article at the Radio Times, a media trade publication, Channel 4 senior executive Ralph Lee said the broadcaster was giving a "voice to the under-represented" Muslims in Britain and that if it were not for heroic actions of Channel 4, the "vast majority of people in Britain" would not be aware of the "mass act of personal sacrifice and worship" that occurs during Ramadan.
Lee also said Ramadan was of greater interest to its viewers than the "blanket coverage" given to the 60th anniversary of the Queen's Coronation by its rivals in June 2013. Lee added: "And let's not forget that Islam is one of the few religions that's flourishing, actually increasing in the UK. Like Channel 4's target audience, its followers are young. It's recently been reported that half of British Muslims are under 25."
Not surprisingly, Muslims welcomed Channel 4's decision. Anjem Choudary, a radical Muslim hate preacher who has long campaigned to bring Islamic Sharia law to Britain, said he was in favor of any move to promote Islam "Islam," he added, "is the fastest growing ideology in this country. By some accounts Britain could be a Muslim country by 2015."
Abu Zakariyya, of the radical Islamic Emergency Defence group, added as well: "We want to see Sharia law in the UK and only God knows if this could be a step towards it."
Also in Britain, a teacher at the Charles Dickens Primary School in Portsmouth, Hampshire, refused to allow a 10-year-old non-Muslim pupil to drink water at school on one of the hottest days of the year because it was unfair to Muslim students who were observing the Ramadan fast.
The mother of the child, Kora Blagden, said: "A [Muslim] child who is fasting had a headache and the teacher said it would be unfair if the other children drank in front of the pupil. They normally have their bottles on their table but they were kept in a tray by the teacher. Luke was dehydrated when he got home and drunk three glasses of water straight away."
Meanwhile, the London-based Guardian newspaper called on non-Muslim students to "practice their own controlled fasts during the Ramadan period in support of their Muslim friends."
In Finland, the daytime fasting during Ramadan caused a clash over meal times at the Metsälä refugee reception center in Helsinki. The kitchen at the refugee center normally operates only during daytime hours, but throughout Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating during the day and only break their fast at night.
After Muslim refugees complained about the mealtimes, Finnish immigration officials admitted they were unprepared for the nighttime Ramadan meal ritual. The conflict created such a stir that even Finnish Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen was drawn into the imbroglio; he agreed to a compromise to provide Muslim refugees with bag lunches to resolve the dilemma.
A senior official with the Finnish Immigration Service, Veikko Pyykkönen, said that authorities will cooperate with the reception center and with other Islamic experts during this Ramadan to see how the late meals should be managed. "The idea is to have guidelines ready for the next Ramadan," he explained.
Also in Finland, the taxpayer-funded Finnish Broadcasting Company, known by its Finnish acronym YLE, was accused of removing a documentary critical of Islam from its website.
The politically incorrect documentary, which was removed from the YLE website just days before it was to be aired during Ramadan, is about the forgotten women of the Arab Spring. Among other topics, the documentary describes the public rapes of women in Egypt.
YLE defended its move with the following statement: "Yle Areena has limited the viewing of the online documentary due to the distressful content."
But Finnish bloggers said the real reason for the censorship was because the documentary is critical of the low status of woman under Islam.
Meanwhile, Muslims in Finland and other Scandinavian countries faced the problem of fasting for 21 or more hours of daylight during the summer. According to the president of the Islamic League in Sweden, there is no consensus on how Muslims living in Scandinavia should observe Ramadan without jeopardizing their health.
In France, Muslim leaders argued over whether Ramadan was to begin on July 9 or July 10. Muslim leaders in France had agreed in May 2013 to break with tradition and use scientific methods to determine when the new moon appears, setting July 9 as the first day of Ramadan.
But Muslim groups in northern Paris and the city of Lyon said they would wait until July 10 to begin fasting because they failed to see the new moon by traditional direct observation.
The French Muslim Council (CFCM), the official Islamic representative body, had insisted that according to its calculations, Ramadan began on July 9. But the theological council at the Great Mosque of Paris said the month of daytime fasting would not start until July 10, causing confusion among the more than 5 million Muslims living in France.
According to one woman interviewed by public broadcaster France 24, "I've never known such a period of utter confusion. It is ridiculous. There are members of my own family starting Ramadan at different times. My parents and most of my brothers and sisters are starting Wednesday, but I had decided to follow what the CFCM told me, so I have already started fasting."
In any event, Ramadan is big business in France, where Muslims spent an estimated €350 million ($465 million) on groceries, meat and dairy products during the one-month holiday this year. The market for halal products (halal, in Arabic, means permitted or lawful) in France has experienced double-digit growth for the past ten years; retailers expect halal products to generate €5.5 billion ($7.3 billion) in sales in 2013.
In Germany, Muslim mobs ushered in the beginning of Ramadan with three nights of rioting in Hamburg. The unrest began on the evening of July 12 when more than 150 Muslim youths attacked police and burned cars in Altona, the westernmost district of Hamburg. More than 100 riot police were deployed to restore order. An 11-minute video of the Hamburg unrest, with cries of Allahu Akbar [Allah is the Greatest]. can be viewed on YouTube,
In Eisenhüttenstadt, a German city near the border of Poland, a gang of Islamic radicals attacked a young Muslim couple for violating the Ramadan fast. During the incident, at least ten Chechen jihadists broke into an apartment at the asylum seekers facility in Eisenhüttenstadt and beat the couple, who are refugees from Chechnya, to the point that the woman suffered a miscarriage. According to local police, Chechen gangs have a history of enforcing Islamic Sharia law in the city.
Meanwhile, the German news agency Deutsche Welle reported that German military canteens have adapted to Ramadan and altered their menus to provide Muslim soldiers with foods that are prepared according to Islamic Sharia law. According to Deutsche Welle, army canteens are better equipped than many other large kitchens to prepare food for Muslim and non-Muslim soldiers separately: "The cooks use separate forks and ladles and make sure that the meat is stored separately. And if we grill together, the cooks always have some aluminum foil with them, so that the turkey breast doesn't touch the bacon."
In Spain, Muslims got into a heated argument over whether or not a rock music concert held on a public square is compatible with Ramadan. The imbroglio occurred in Melilla, a Spanish exclave on the northern coast of Morocco, where Muslims make up more than 50% of the city's population, and where the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) has been officially recognized as a public holiday since 2010.
As in years past, municipal authorities in Melilla invited several North African rock and fusion bands to play at taxpayer-funded evening music concerts for Muslims to celebrate the breaking of the daily fast.
This year, however, Muslim leaders expressed outrage at what they said was an offense against Islam. The Muslim political party Coalition for Melilla (CpM) went so far as to organize a press conference to express its disdain. CpM Deputy Mohamed Abderrahim argued, "Ramadan cannot be a party, is one of the fundamental pillars of Islam. It's not a parody or a circus."
The leader of the CpM, Aberchán Mustafa, said: "To live in harmony we must know how to conjugate the verb 'respect.' Would you like it if the authorities hired Brazilian dancers to enliven the streets during Holy Week or to organize a festival on the evening before Easter? No, and I understand. We demand the same respect for our religion: we are offended. They want to distort the spirituality of fasting."
Municipal authorities gave in to the pressure and moved the music concerts to a location away from the center of the city, not to cause offense.
In Salamanca, a city in northwestern Spain, Muslim prisoners led at least four uprisings at the Topas Penitentiary during Ramadan. Prison officials say the daily fast during Ramadan "habitually has a negative influence on the nerves of Muslim prisoners" and there exists a "high degree of tension" between Muslim and non-Muslim prisoners at the facility, presumably because the latter are not observing the Ramadan fast.
Topas Penitentiary in Salamanca, Spain, in which Muslim prisoners led several uprisings this Ramadan.
Meanwhile, the largest daily circulation newspaper in Spain, El País, published an opinion article by the president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Spain, Riaÿ Tatary Bakry. Entitled "Ramadan and Society," in it Bakry writes that Ramadan is now a fact of life in Spain, and he urged non-Muslim Spaniards to get used to the new reality by educating themselves about Islam.
Bakry also urged Spanish employers to make special exceptions for Muslim employees during the month of Ramadan. He wrote that non-Muslim bosses and colleagues need to understand the "peculiarity of total fasting -- all liquids and solids, from sunrise to sunset -- which is about seventeen hours without drinking or eating at this time of year near the summer solstice."
Bakry called on Spanish employers to give Muslim employees additional breaks from work during Ramadan, and appealed to "all Spaniards to adapt to these changes during Ramadan, which is just one more normal holiday, a cause for celebration for all."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.