Muslims in the Gulf face one of the toughest fasting months this year as Ramadan comes in the middle of the scorching desert summer and involves one of the longest fasting times that exceed 15 hours a day in the first week of the holy month.
Muslims living in the region already know this but most of them probably do not know that such a long fasting period here is dwarfed by the fasting hours for Muslims living in such countries in the Northern Hemisphere as Sweden, Denmark and Finland, where the day could stretch to more than 20 hours.
But this period is an average in the southern parts of those countries, the capital and surrounding areas.
Further north in Sweden and Iceland for example, it never gets dark in most of June and this means that the day could be as long as 24 hours in Ramadan 2015.
“Islam is very clear regarding fasting. It says Muslims must refrain from food and drinks from just before dawn until sunset, but there are exceptions as our religion has always been flexible,” said Sheikh Abdul Basit Dirawi, an Abu Dhabi-based preacher.
“For example, when a fasting Muslims travels by plane to a distant area, the sun could be rising instead of setting. In such a case, he should make a logical estimation. In areas, where the sun never sets, he just has to follow the pattern of the nearest city where it gets dark or seek advice from the nearest scholars if possible.”
On the opposite end of the planet, Muslims in such countries as Argentina enjoy the shortest day, with an average of only around nine hours, below half Sweden’s day.
In Australia, where a large Muslims community lives, the day is little longer than in South America, averaging around 10 hours through Ramadan, which coincides with winter in that continent.
But before you rush to feel sorry for Muslims in the Northern Hemisphere, you should take the weather into consideration.
While the weather in the Northern Hemisphere remains mild in summer and temperatures are relatively low, not exceeding 25 degree, Ramadan in the Arabian Peninsula comes during the hottest period of the year.
Temperatures could be as high as double those in Sweden, with the Saudi government Met centre expecting them to climb to 50 deg C in some areas.
“Ramadan this year comes in the midst of summer which starts on June 21 until September 22. Climatic forecasts show that Ramadan will be very hot and humid and temperatures will climb to record levels in some areas,” the centre said.
It said temperatures in eastern Saudi Arabia, where coastal Gulf countries are located, could soar to 50 degrees in some days during Ramadan while they would range between 40 and 48 in most other parts of the Kingdom.
Sweden & Finland
In recent comments, a Muslim scholar in Sweden said the principles of fasting during Ramadan are clear and that Muslim there must fast all the day.
“There is still day and night, so Muslims should just follow the rule that you fast during the hours of daylight. Sometimes Ramadan falls in the winter, and then the hours of daylight are very short,” Sheikh Mahmoud Khalfi said.
While insisting strict observance of the fasting rules might sound a bit tough on Swedish Muslims, Khalfi noted that fasting can be tough for people in Muslim countries too.
“In very warm countries, such as those in the Sahara, it is not easy, but people fast the whole day anyway,” he said, adding that there were advantages other than the knowledge that people were observing their religious duties.
“It strengthens your will and strengthens your patience. You learn to control your inner desire. It also teaches solidarity with the poor – those who have nothing to eat.”
According to Omar Mustafa, president of the Islamic League in Sweden, there is still no agreement on how Muslims in northern Europe should observe the fast.
“Several imams and organisations have different opinions. It is up to each individual to decide, nut it is not meant that you should fast around the clock. Islam provides many options,” Mustafa told a Swedish newspaper recently.
In Finland, a newspaper quoted a Muslim Bangladeshi as saying he was fasting an average 21 hours during Ramadan last year.
“It does not get dark here. It always looks the same.
“The sun is always on the horizon” said Shah Jalal Miah Masud said, who lives in Rovaniemi, nearly 830 kilometres (515 miles) north of the capital Helsinki.
“It is quite difficult to get what the time is actually right now. It is 11 o’clock in the evening and the sun has only just started to dip below the horizon.”
According to a Muslim Imam in Finland, there is another option which reduces the number of fasting hours – mark its duration by the rising and setting of the sun in countries far to the south of Finland.
Imam Abdul Mannan, president of the Islam Society of Northern Finland, said there are two schools of thought in this respect.
“The Egyptian scholars say that if the fasting days are long – more than 18 hours – then you can follow the Mecca time or Medina time, or the nearest Muslim country time,” he said.
“The other point of view from the Saudi scholars says whatever the day is — long or short — you have to follow the local time.”