Extreme Ramadan

During the month of Ramadan, observant Muslims are obliged to abstain from food and drink during daylight hours (as well as things like sex and cigarettes). This is hard enough to do during the fall or winter months, when daylight is shorter, let me tell you. When I was working in the Persian Gulf, which was only for two Ramadans, we non-Muslims tried not to eat or drink in the office out of respect for our colleagues who were observing the fast. Even for the few hours we’d be at work, and work days tend to be a little more irregular during Ramadan as time with family is given extra consideration, this was a challenge. People (me included) would stick a bottle of water in a desk drawer and close the office door to take a drink, because it was freaking hot all day and, dammit, you get thirsty. Then there were the days when you’d have to run home around lunchtime just to eat something, and then come back to the office later. Fasting requires discipline to be sure.

So I have great respect for anybody who keeps the Ramadan fast, particularly if you’re in the northern hemisphere right now when the days are longer. But, man, I especially have to tip my hat to any Muslims living in extreme northern latitudes right now, like Alaska, or Finland, or Iceland, where you’re getting 21 hours of daylight a day. That is pretty incredible. I mean, I guess you can arrange your day so you’re sleeping for part of that time (you probably have to; there’s so little darkness that you’re presumably going to be awake, praying and eating, for most or all of it), but if you’re working a normal schedule then that’s easier said than done (as is training your body to sleep when it’s light out, though I guess all Icelanders have to deal with that).

There’s apparently a scholarly debate within Islam over whether believers at extreme latitudes can be allowed to fast for a set number of hours each day instead of during all daylight hours:

And those in the far north may fast for more a “moderate” length of time – 12, 14 or 16 hours, say – if they need to, according to a fatwa published by Sheikh Dr Usama Hasan, a British Islamic jurist who works for the Quilliam Foundation counter-extremism think-tank.

Other scholars disagree, however. Imam Khalid Latif, the Executive Director at the Islamic Centre at New York University, told the Quartz website that “to have a broad-based assumption that longer fasting days should be shortened is problematic.”

Some fatwas suggest fasting for the daylight hours of Mecca – around 13.5 hours.

On the plus side, I suppose, when Ramadan works its way back around to the northern hemisphere’s winter months, which won’t happen until the mid-2020s, Muslims in Iceland will have very short periods of daylight fasting instead. I don’t know if they’re expected to add more fast hours to the day in that case, but it seems to me that if you diligently fast all day when the days are incredibly long, you ought to be allowed to stick to the same rules when the days are incredibly short.

All in all, though, I’d probably avoid any Muslim smokers living in Iceland at the moment. They might not be in a great mood.


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