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Ramadan in a land where the sun never sets
July 13, 2014, 3:32 pm
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During this year's holy month of Ramadan, when consumption of food and water is prohibited between dawn and dusk, how do Muslims observing the fast manage in the far north of Scandinavia, where the sun never sets?   

An estimated 700 Muslims are spending Ramadan in the mining town of Kiruna, located 145km north of the Arctic Circle and surrounded by snowcapped mountains throughout the summer. Many of them are recent asylum seekers, sent to Kiruna while their claims are processed.

The sun stays up around the clock from 28 May – 16 July, which constitutes half of the fasting period this year.

"I started Ramadan by having suhoor with the sun shining in my eyes at 3:30 in the morning," said Ghassan Alankar from Syria, referring to the meal just before dawn. 

Since there is no central authority in Sunni Islam that could issue a definite religious ruling, or fatwa, Muslims in the north are using at least four different timetables to break the fast.

Alankar sticks to Mecca time, Saudi Arabia, "because it's the birthplace of Islam". But he is worried about whether his fast will be accepted by God.

A majority of those who fast in Kiruna follow the timings of the capital Stockholm, 1,240km further south, after being advised by the European Council of Fatwa and Research (ECFR), a Dublin-based private foundation composed of Islamic clerics.

"In Stockholm, there is day and night," said Hussein Halawa, secretary-general of the council explaining the decision. He was personally invited to northern Sweden from Dublin this year to experience the lengthy daylight and give advice.

Idris Abdulwhab, from Eritrea, follows the ECFR fatwa, which means his longest period of fasting will be 20 hours.

One of those who has chosen to fast according to the local prayer times listed online is Fatima Kaniz. In a homely apartment overlooking mountains and mining facilities, she prepares a Pakistani fast-breaking dinner, or Iftar, for 8:30pm as the persistent sun penetrates the window blinds.

Following the Kiruna prayer times means that Kaniz fasts for about 18 hours during two-thirds of the month of Ramadan. But due to the sun's movements, she will fast for a whole 23 hours during one of those days.

"I live in Kiruna, and I pray according to Kiruna time all year round. Why should I change this during Ramadan and suddenly follow Stockholm?" she asked.

When Ramadan falls in December, however, Muslims will face the opposite of midnight sun: polar night. For two weeks, the sun does not rise above the horizon. Muslim prayer times also follow the sun - which means that during winter, all five prayers can fall within a time span of two hours.

 

 

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