Ramadan in the Arctic Circle

Here in Egypt, we complain that 16 hours of fasting is too long. But what happens in places where the sun never sets because the country is too far north? During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims living in the Arctic Circle may get really confused. 102   HERO-shutterstock_1846700002When should they begin and end each day of fasting? Muslims fasting in this area have a difficult time determining the exact moment of sunrise and sunset where daylight remains omnipresent. Some areas even experience the phenomenon of midnight sun. This northern region sees days when the sun is up for nearly 24 hours. The Arctic Circle encompasses parts of eight countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States (Alaska), Canada, Denmark (Greenland), and Iceland (where it passes through the small offshore island of Grímsey).

This issue seems to be a relatively new issue, apparent in the past 5 years only. Since the month of Ramadan is in accordance to the lunar calendar, it rotates on a yearly basis. The last time Ramadan fell this deep into the summer months was nearly three decades ago in the mid-1980s. Back then, very few Muslim communities were found above the Arctic Circle. But nowadays, Muslims from Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan and many more Muslim nations increasingly immigrated to countries like Sweden, Norway, and Finland—in addition to converts. The ethical dilemma posed for them by the endless summer days has become very real.

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The European Council for Fatwa and Research is drafting new guidelines for Muslims living in this Nordic area to accommodate realistic fasting hours, easing Ramadan. New guidelines are being put into place to regulate the hours of fasting for Muslims living in areas of the Arctic Circle where the sun only sets for a few hours each day, leaving Muslims to fast for about 20 hours per day.

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Since there is no definitive sunrise or sunset, Mohammed Kharraki, a spokesman for Sweden’s Islamic Association advised Muslims to “go by the last time the sun clearly set and rose.” This seems very vague, but that’s the best that can be done. Another clerical decree (a fatwa) says to correspond fasting to wither the closest Islamic country or with Mecca.

They experience the opposite dilemma when Ramadan falls during winter. Some days the sun doesn’t come up or is up for no more than a couple hours! This leaves them having to get creative with their fasting schedules. Hopefully, one fatwa will come out tromping the rest, leaving Muslim residents of the Arctic in a less-puzzling state.