The Ramadan Pole Paradox

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The Geographic South Pole

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.[1]

Extreme fasting windows

See the following list. Fasting begins at Dawn and ends at Sunset.

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'.[2] 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:

Permitted to you, upon the night of the Fast, is to go in to your wives; -- they are a vestment for you, and you are a vestment for them. God knows that you have been betraying yourselves, and has turned to you and pardoned you. So now lie with them, and seek what God has prescribed for you. And eat and drink, until the white thread shows clearly to you from the black thread at the dawn; then complete the Fast unto the night, and do not lie with them while you cleave to the mosques. Those are God's bounds; keep well within them. So God makes clear His signs to men; haply they will be godfearing.

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.

Establish worship at the going down of the sun until the dark of night, and (the recital of) the Qur'an at dawn. Lo! (the recital of) the Qur'an at dawn is ever witnessed.
Establish worship at the two ends of the day and in some watches of the night. Lo! good deeds annul ill-deeds. This is reminder for the mindful.


The North Pole.

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,[3] 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[4]) 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.

Other issues

Main article: Hijri Calendar

There are other issues surrounding the now outdated Islamic lunar-based calendar[5] for Ramadan, which could suggest limited fallible human authorship rather than all-knowing God. Solely lunar calendars have no relation to seasons (and therefore things like weather and length of day etc.) which are related to the sun, so the vast majority of the world uses solar calendars[6] (as well as some manually adjusting lunar calendars to bring in line with solar calendars) - which actually leads to two Ramadan's per Gregorian calendar year[7] approximately every 33 years, with the next being in 2030, and after than 2063.[8]

As explored in the main article, according to traditions the key way the start and end of the fasting period is determined is by the sighting of 'the new moon'.[9] The new moon is the first lunar phase, when the Moon and Sun have the same ecliptic longitude.[10] At this phase, the lunar disk is not visible to the naked eye (except when it is silhouetted against the Sun during a solar eclipse) - which gives it the outline 'crescent'.[11]

There is no objective or fully agreed way to decide when this has occurred, with nine different methods being listed in the main article. This has lead to disagreements between authorities over the actual days of fasting, with for example in Saudi Arabia in 2011, authorities announcing the first "moonsighting" had been made by the requisite credible and pious person (as tradition would suggest is acceptable), whilst Maged Abou Zahra, president of the Jeddah Astronomical Society, told the Egyptian paper al-Shorouk: "The sighting of a new moon would have simply been impossible."[12] The Saudi Authorities allegedly paid allegedly paid ~ $426 million to the poor, as Kaffara (money paid for missing a fast) for the mistake.[13]

There are regular disagreements between Islamic authorities and different countries on these dates, sometimes referred to as the 'Crescent Wars',[14] which critics argue instructions should not be so unclear if they are really coming from God.

See Also

  • Fasting - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Fasting
  • Cosmology - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Cosmology


  • A version of this page is also available in the following languages: Bengali. For additional languages, see the sidebar on the left.

External Links


  1. "Indeed, the fasts may be twenty hours long, but this is something one will have to adhere to." Fasting in extreme latitudes - Q&A
  2. Ramadan 2023: Fasting hours and iftar times around the world - al Jazeera 20 March 2023
  3. Should Muslims in the North Fast 20 Hours a Day?
  4. Behrouz Saba - First Female Muslim Astronaut Could Help Bridge U.S.-Iran Gap - New America Media, September 20, 2006
  5. Lunar Calendar. Britannica Entry. Accessed 2024.
  6. Calendars. Department of Physics and Astronomy. School of Arts and Sciences. University of Rochester.
  7. IN 2030 THERE WILL BE TWO RAMADANS IN ONE YEAR, HERE’S HOW. Dara Rashwan. Grazia Magazine.
  8. Will Ramadan ever happen twice in the same year? Here's what we know... What's On. 2024.
  9. Home » The Islamic tradition of moonsighting and its implications » 6. New moon (Islamic definition)
  10. Meeus, Jean (1991). Astronomical Algorithms. p. 319. ISBN 978-0-943396-35-4.
  11. How to sight the new crescent Moon. Royal Museums Greenwich.
  12. Saturnine faces as astronomers query moon sighting over Saudi Arabia. Siraj Datoo. 2011. The Guardian.
  13. Eid al Fitr: Did Saudi Arabia Mistake Saturn for the Shawwal Moon? Morocco World News. 2015. Aziz Allilou
  14. Ramadan and Eid’s Crescent Wars. Ibrahim Elhoudaiby. 2024. New Lines Magazine.