After hours of preparation in the kitchen, Umm Ali is ready to break her day of fasting, and share the traditional iftar meal with her children, grandchildren, niece and sister in Espoo.
The sun dipped below the horizon at 22:18 on Saturday evening, and during the holy month of Ramadan many of Finland’s Muslims will be fasting during the day, and eating late at night.
In the Land of the Midnight Sun, the fasting period at this time of year can be more than 21 hours in Rovaniemi. Muslims in Finland can choose to stick to local times, or follow the sunrise and sunset times in the nearest Muslim country like Albania or Turkey, or Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
“It’s very difficult, and you can get very tired. During the day it’s not that hard but then at night time you think ‘oh my God you can’t any more’. I have anemia, I could be fainting, but I still fast because I can” says 22-year old Fatima Al-hawashim who recently graduated.
Around a cloth laid on the floor of one relative’s Espoo home, a boisterous group chats away happily in Finnish, English and Arabic. The youngest children seem especially at ease mixing between different languages, depending on whether they talk to their parents or grandmothers.
A new generation of young Finnish Muslims who lived practically their whole life here, are developing their own traditions and concepts of Ramadan, faith, and fasting.
“I try to keep the fasting tradition up for my daughter” says 28-year old Duoa Al-maseudi, who began fasting this Ramadan again after time off during pregnancy and breast feeding, and with diabetes.
“I think we develop our own traditions, I want to get closer to God. I know in Islam it’s not about dying or making yourself ill. You fast if you can. And if you can’t don’t do it!” she explains.
Her husband Anmar Matrood says that there’s a lot of misconceptions about fasting at Ramadan, or how they celebrate the sunset each day during the month.
“There are only 60,000 Muslims in Finland, compared to a million in London. So it’s an education game. People have no idea how the breaking of the fast goes, they think there’s some tradition, some crazy dance or something. But we bring out the food, then we just eat it” he laughs.
“Finns are curious about Ramadan and fasting” says 30-year old Mustafa Al-hawashim, Fatima’s brother.
“Since childhood we have been doing it. We love it. We always wait for Ramadan and for Muslims it’s the best time of the year, you get to spend a lot of time with your family” he adds.
Recent Comments About Islam
The group of cousins, joined by a Finnish friend, tackle some topics that have caused controversy in the media recently. Like the Danish government minister who said Muslims shouldn’t work when they fast, because it can be dangerous in some professions; and the comments by Finnish Justice Minister Antti Häkkänen (NCP) who last week said there was no room for Sharia law in Finland.
“Nobody wants Sharia law anyway!” exclaims Duoa, as other iftar guests laugh about Häkkänen’s remarks.
And as for the Danish minister, Anmar says there are many factors that can affect someone’s physical or mental capabilities to do a certain job. “I don’t think fasting affects your ability to do anything really, unless it’s like some insanely physical activity”.
Education For Finnish Friends & Neighbours
When Fatima and her brother Mustafa, and their cousin Duoa came to Finland, they arrived as quota refugees after several years living in a sprawling refugee camp in Saudi Arabia. Their families had fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the aftermath of the first Gulf War.
Duoa was just five years old at the time, and hadn’t seen forests or snow until arriving in Finland. Later, the family moved to Espoo.
“Now, it’s much easier than before to be a Muslim in Finland. Easier than ten years ago. We moved to Espoo in 2003 and I remember we came to Mankkaa, it was considered back then a pretty posh area, but when we moved there it was horrible, honestly, with us being Muslim. There were no other Muslims”.
“I’ll never forget it. I went to high school and the first day they called me Osama bin Laden. They called me ‘rag head'” she says.
“I moved to London for six years and when I came back Finland was much different than it was before. So many immigrants. So many Arabs. So many Muslims. But not only Muslims, people from different cultures and countries”.
Anmar explains the situation is similar in most European countries, even though some places like London are more diverse. He moved to Finland four years ago with his wife Duoa, and works in IT. He says that there’s such a misconception about Muslims that he feels pressure to prove who he is.
“Somehow I always feel I have to prove I’m not an ISIS muslim. I’m a hip Muslim, I’m a kind one. I’m normal just like you!” he says.
Future For Finnish Muslims
After servings of traditional sweets and mint tea, the group goes outside to sit around and share lively conversation while smoking cinnamon flavour shisha tobacco.
The consensus is that Muslims will start to be more accepted, and even more mainstream in Finnish society.
“It’s not a coincidence when you see all the brands now catering to ‘Millennial Muslims'” says Anmar.
“Millennial Muslims are a group of people who are extremely powerful expenditure-wise. People have seen the opportunity of marketing to them. Not because they want to be more inclusive, but because they see dollar signs. It’s a win-win situation. If you do something to encourage diversity and inclusion it’s great. If you do something just for financial gain it’s still better than nothing” he muses.
For young Finnish Muslims like Duoa and Fatima, they see a future already unfolding where more women like them are visible in everyday Finnish life.
“I was really happy last time I went to the health centre to see a GP. I saw an Iraqi doctor wearing a headscarf which I had never seen in my entire life! Now Muslims are everywhere. I have lots of friends who have become teachers, we have nurses too” says Duoa.
“I want to see more Muslim teachers” says Fatima. “In the future it’s going to be really easy for them to get a job”.