How to Fast for Ramadan in the Arctic, Where the Sun Doesn’t Set

Marya Hannun in The Atlantic

This week, with the start of Ramadan, Muslims from Indonesia to Michigan began fasting from sunrise to sunset in observance of one of the religions’ primary holidays. But what happens in places where the sun never sets because the country is too far north? For many, this particular dilemma is a relatively new one, only apparent over the last two years. Since the month of Ramadan is pegged to the lunar calendar, it rotates on a yearly basis. The last time the holiday fell this deep into the summer months was nearly three decades ago in the mid 1980s, a time when few Muslim communities could be found above the Arctic Circle. But with Muslims from Somalia, Iraq, and Pakistan — to name a few places — increasingly immigrating to countries like Sweden, Norway, and Finland, the ethical dilemma posed for them by the endless summer days has become very real.

So how did they cope with this dilemma?

Sandra Maryam Moe, a Norwegian convert to Islam and manager of Tromsø’s community center and mosque, Alnor, echoed Ahmed’s statement: “since we have midnight sun during Ramadan this year, we’ve chosen to use the timetable for Mecca.” This means that if the sun rises in Mecca at 5:00 am, residents of Tromsø will begin the fast at 5 a.m. (Norwegian time). In addition to being a good symbolic choice, adhering to Mecca’s timetable, according to Moe, also provides a practical benefit: “they have very stable times for sunrise and sunset so that makes the prayers and the fasting quite balanced.”

The article above, from 2013, is a timely reminder that to agree as a community the start and end times for daily fasts for the sake of peoples health is the sensible thing to do. And invariably the sensible thing to do is usually the Islamic thing to do.