The Ramadan Pole Paradox
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According to Islamic laws set out in the Qur'an and hadith, the keeping and breaking of a fast and the times of prayer, among other things, are related to times of sunrise and sunset. This is unproblematic from the flat Earth perspective found in those scriptures and accepted by 7th century Arabs. However, at higher latitudes on our spherical planet days can become very short in winter and very long in summertime. Above a certain latitude closer to the North or South Pole, the sun is no longer seen to rise or set for weeks or months each (six months at the actual North and South poles). Critics argue that such impracticalities and impossibly lengthy periods result from the very limited geographical knowledge available to the author of the Quran.
Concessions and fatwas
Islamic scholars have thus issued fatwas instructing Muslims at higher latitudes to follow the schedule of their original country or the schedule of the closest country with a distinguishable day and night. However, many Islamic scholars have declared that Muslims must fast for periods of up to and even beyond 20 hours.
Extreme fasting windows
See the following list. Fasting begins at Dawn and ends at Sunset.
|COUNTRY||DATE||DAWN||SUNSET||LENGTH OF FAST|
|Oslo, Norway||Jun 28, 2014||2:27 AM||10:43 PM||20h 16m|
|Juneau, Alaska||Jun 28, 2014||2:25 AM||10:07 PM||19h 42m|
|Reykjavik, Iceland||Jun 30, 2014||1:34 AM||12:02 AM||22h 28m|
A Muslim fasting in Iceland, according to some scholars, would have to fast for nearly the entire day.
Differences across regions
There are also vastly different fasting windows depending on which country you are in. For example, in 2023, as this Al-Jazeera article explains 'Muslims living in the world’s southernmost countries, such as Chile or New Zealand, will fast for an average of 12 hours while those living in northernmost countries, such as Iceland or Greenland, will have 17-plus hours fasts'. That article assumes those above 18 hours will follow a fatwa to fast according to timings in Mecca, or the nearest Muslim country. Ramadan in 2023 began just after the spring equinox. At the two equinoxes the least extreme range of fasting periods occur. When Ramadan coincides with the summer or winter solstice, the most extreme range is found, as illustrated in the table of examples from June 2014 provided above.
Ramadan is a fast of both food and water, as well as sexual intercourse:
This arguably makes it one of the most physically and mentally challenging aspects of the religion to follow. Due to the Polar effect of our spherical Earth, making sunrise and sunset appear at different times across the planet, the difficulty of following the religious rules are therefore dependent on where one is born/lives rather than a similar universal challenge applied equally to all Muslims.
These issues also affect prayer times that are supposed to be carried out at sunrise and sunset the same way, which can heavily disrupt sleep for those living high in the northern hemisphere.
Some have asked, if one is to follow the timings of their home city, what is to be the practice of a permanent Muslim resident or even community in near-polar regions. Additionally, when it comes to regions where the day extends to be weeks or even months, the time-window of fasting for the "closest country" where the fasting window is under a day, the time frame usually still ends up being near 24-hours.
As mentioned in the opening paragraphs many sheikhs have understood the extreme difficulty of undertaking this fast, and so various conflicting fatwas have been issued on the subject, with some simply stating to follow to Qur'an, making it near impossible and unfair for those living there compared to other countries with much shorter fasting periods. While others recognising the problem, have created man-made laws that directly contradict the Qur'an's instruction on this matter - usually to fast along with the nearest Muslim country or Meccan times, regardless of the actual sunrise and sunset of the local area.
This (polar) effect also means a serious 'unfairness' across the globe during Ramadan, with vastly different time windows to carry out fasting, making its difficulty and relevant ease dependent on the 'luck' of where one happens to be living.
Classical and conciliatory modern perspectives likewise appear unable to comfortably deal with the case of Astronauts, and eventually persons settling on extra-terrestrial bodies (moons, other planets, spacecraft, etc.). There is also the question of facing the Kaaba in Mecca, a city on earth, whilst not on earth. As there have been Muslim astronauts (e.g. Anousheh Ansari) some scholars have created guidelines for these cases (one scholar wrote a handbook called Guidelines for Performing Islamic Rites (Ibadah) at the International Space Station).
Considering Muhammad and his 7th century companions, living in the Arabian desert, likely did not know about the earth having poles and being spherical, the shortcomings of Islamic law in these regards are generally found to be unsurprising.
- Fasting - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Fasting
- Cosmology - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Cosmology
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- Arctic Muslims' unique dilemma in Ramadan: The Sun never sets here
- How to pray and fast in countries where the day or night is continuous - Fatwa response from the Islam Q&A team
- islamwhattheydonttellyou164 - Practical Issues Affecting Fasting - YouTube video
- islamwhattheydonttellyou164 - Unclear Rules around Fasting - YouTube video
- "Indeed, the fasts may be twenty hours long, but this is something one will have to adhere to." Fasting in extreme latitudes - Sunnipath.com Q&A
- Ramadan 2023: Fasting hours and iftar times around the world - al Jazeera 20 March 2023
- Should Muslims in the North Fast 20 Hours a Day?
- Behrouz Saba - First Female Muslim Astronaut Could Help Bridge U.S.-Iran Gap - New America Media, September 20, 2006