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Short Arctic night a challenge for fasting Muslims

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By DAVID MAC DOUGALL

Source: Associated Press MercuryNews.com

Finland.  How do you observe dawn-to-dusk fasting when there is neither dawn nor dusk?
It’s a question facing a small but growing number of Muslims celebrating the holy month of Ramadan on the northern tip of Europe, where the the sun barely dips below the horizon at this time of year.

In Rovaniemi, a northern Finland town that straddles the Arctic Circle, the sun rises around 3:20 a.m. and sets about 11:20pm. That means Muslims who observe Ramadan could be required to go without food or drink for 20 hours.

In a few years, Ramadan will begin even closer to the summer solstice in late June, when the sun doesn’t set at all.

“We have to use common sense,” said Mahmoud Said, 27, who came to Finnish Lapland from Kenya three years ago.

To Said, that means following the fasting hours of the nearest Muslim country: Turkey.

“It involves 14 or 15 hours of fasting which is okay, it’s not bad,” said Said, who works for a non-governmental organization helping immigrants settle in the area. He estimates there are a little over 100 Muslims in Rovaniemi, mainly from Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.

There is no unanimity on how to deal with the issue, which is becoming more pressing as more Muslim immigrants find their way to sparsely inhabited areas near the Arctic.

In Alaska, the Islamic Community Center of Anchorage, “after consultation with scholars,” advises Muslims to follow the fasting hours of Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.  The Dublin-based European Council for Fatwa and Research, however, said Muslims need to follow the local sunrise and sunset, even up north.

“The debate on how to do this in the north has been on going on for a few years,” said Omar Mustafa, the chairman of the Islamic Association of Sweden. “We fast according to the sun. As long as it is possible to tell dusk from dawn. This applies to 90 percent of Sweden’s Muslims.”

The few Muslims who live so far north that they are awash in 24-hour daylight should follow the daylight hours the closest city in Sweden where you can tell dawn from dusk, he said, noting that it’s permitted to break the fast for health reasons.

Kaltouma Abakar and her extended family of nine relatives came to Finland from Sudan’s Darfur region four years ago. She opts to observe the local Lapland sunrise and sunset times before breaking the fast in her downtown Rovaniemi apartment.

Kaltouma explains that she gets up early and works until the afternoon, then starts cooking the family’s iftar meal around 5 p.m.

“The time of Ramadan fasting is very long, and breaking the fast can be around 11:30 in the evening. The time you’re supposed to eat your breakfast is 2 o’clock in the morning,” the 31-year old said.

In the kitchen, Kaltouma’s two daughters—aged 11 and 6—help prepare the food. They fry chicken and pastries filled with tuna in scalding hot oil. A pot of rice simmers on the stove while one girl kneads cornmeal dough which they’ll dip into a chicken broth and eat with their fingers—traditional Sudanese style—a few hours later.

Apart from the late sunset times, Kaltouma said the lack of “Muslim food” locally in Rovaniemi can be a challenge. She sometimes has to wait several days for halal meat and other traditional ingredients to come from the larger cities of Oulu, or Helsinki in the south.

Even though, technically, there is nightfall in Rovaniemi at this time of year, there is no true darkness. Instead, there’s a gray gloaming with occasional dappled rays of sun reaching over the northern horizon, giving the city a mystical quality even in the supposed dead of night.

The dates of Ramadan change according to the lunar calendar, moving back 11 days each year. That means that by 2015 there will be no sunset for a month when Ramadan falls closer to midsummer.

Still, Kaltouma says “there is going to be at least 10 minutes for us to break the fast.”

She said there is one positive aspect of observing long fasting hours in the Arctic during Ramadan: the cool temperatures.

“Unlike Africa, here in Finland you don’t get thirsty often. No matter how long you fast, you don’t get the urge for water.”

Posted by on July 25, 2012. Filed under Europe. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to Short Arctic night a challenge for fasting Muslims

  1. Zia H. Shah

    July 25, 2012 at 6:47 am

    Quoting Wikipedia about Northern lights:

    An aurora (plural: aurorae or auroras) is a natural light display in the sky particularly in the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic) regions, caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere (thermosphere). The charged particles originate in the magnetosphere and solar wind and, on Earth, are directed by the Earth’s magnetic field into the atmosphere. Aurora is classified as diffuse or discrete aurora. Most aurorae occur in a band known as the auroral zone,[1][2] which is typically 3° to 6° in latitudinal extent and at all local times or longitudes. The auroral zone is typically 10° to 20° from the magnetic pole defined by the axis of the Earth’s magnetic dipole. During a geomagnetic storm, the auroral zone will expand to lower latitudes. The diffuse aurora is a featureless glow in the sky which may not be visible to the naked eye even on a dark night and defines the extent of the auroral zone. The discrete aurora are sharply defined features within the diffuse aurora which vary in brightness from just barely visible to the naked eye to bright enough to read a newspaper at night. Discrete aurorae are usually observed only in the night sky because they are as bright as the sunlit sky. Aurorae occasionally occur poleward of the auroral zone as diffuse patches[3] or arcs (polar cap arcs[4]), which are generally invisible to the naked eye.

    In northern latitudes, the effect is known as the aurora borealis (or the northern lights), named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas, by Pierre Gassendi in 1621.[5] Auroras seen near the magnetic pole may be high overhead, but from farther away, they illuminate the northern horizon as a greenish glow or sometimes a faint red, as if the Sun were rising from an unusual direction. Discrete aurorae often display magnetic field lines or curtain-like structures, and can change within seconds or glow unchanging for hours, most often in fluorescent green.

  2. syed ahmed

    July 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    In North Norway it is a middnight sun in midjune and midaugust,it means that sun never sets during this period.