Summertime Ramadan means long periods of fasting for Muslims at northern latitudes
Up to nineteen hours from sunrise to sunset in Southern Finland - 22 hours in far north
By Susanna Kosonen
The smartphone sounds, indicating that it is 10:20 PM. “Time for prayer”, the device says. The sun has finally set.
The family rises and moves to another room to pray. There is a sound of running water, then silence, and finally there is the voice of the father of the family Hamid Ben Hachemi reading the prayer.
After a few minutes the family returns to the living room and sits at the table – finally. After all, it has been 19 hours since they last ate or drank anything.
At their home in Vantaa, full-time fasting is practiced by Ben Hachemi, his wife Iman Leskinen, and their two eldest sons, 17-year-old Hatim and 15-year-old Adam. Salim, 9, and Salma, 7, are so young that they are still exempted from the full fast.
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims are required to refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. Muslims are also required to give to the poor and to pray intensely during Ramadan.
“The purpose is not to complain about not being allowed to eat or drink. This is an opportunity to be a better person”, Hamid Ben Hachemi explains.
This year Ramadan began on July 20th. Each year the start is 11 days earlier than it was in the previous year. At the latitude of Helsinki the fasting period is now about 19 hours, and in the north of Finland it is 22 hours. In the next couple of years there will be no sunset at all during Ramadan in areas north of the Arctic Circle.
Will it be possible to fast at all in those circumstances? Several Muslim communities in Finland decided to meet this summer to consider the matter. The decision was to recommend fasting according to local conditions. In places where there is no sunset it was decided that people should follow the schedules of the closest location in Finland where there is a distinct night and day.
It is possible to suspend the fast, but the missing days need to be made up at another time. In practice this means that Muslims in Lapland would need to fast a couple of months later.
Some northern Muslims have decided to make Ramadan easier by scheduling the fast according daylight conditions in Mecca, where the day is about 15 hours long.
Abdul Mannan, the Oulu-based chairman of the Islamic Association of Northern Finland, says that this was decided in order to keep Ramadan from being an unreasonable burden. “Fasting is not a punishment.”
Mannan adds that they prefer to celebrate Ramadan with Muslims in the rest of the world, and not to wait for the autumn.
Ramadan is celebrated because according to Islam, the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad at that time, says Imam Walid Hammoud. He says that Ramadan offers a good opportunity to become acquainted with the Koran. Hammuod also feels that it is all right for Muslims in the far north to observe Mecca time.
However, there are also questions about whether or not Mecca time should also be observed when Ramadan occurs in the dead of winter. At that time the daily fast in the far north would be, at best – or at worst, just a few minutes.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 28.7.2012
Library in Espoo sets aside prayer space for Muslims (6.9.2010)
What is Ramadan? (About.com)