On Thursday (June 18), over a billion Muslims around the world will begin fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. This is a time when Muslims, from dawn till dusk, refrain from eating and drinking, as a way to deepen their spiritual connection to their faith.
This year, however, a debate has emerged about the length of the fasting, especially in parts of the world where days are longer during the summer months. In Britain, and other parts of Northern Europe, where days could be as long as 21 hours, some are suggesting that perhaps, the fasting times ought to be shortened.
Muslims adhere to the lunar calendar that’s typically 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, which explains why Ramadan can take place in the summer for a few years, then shift to different seasons in others.
Sheikh Usama Hasan, a senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, a London-based Islamic think tank, has issued a fatwa, saying that Muslims in Europe can follow the “morning till evening” principle and fast according to ’timings of the nearest “moderate land.”’
This will mean that Muslims in Britain can fast with Mecca, where days are 12 hours long. Without such a reprieve, British Muslims could be at a health risk, especially the elderly, Sheikh Hasan says in his fatwa.
But not everyone agrees.
Imam Khalid Latif, the Executive Director at the Islamic Centre at New York University and the chaplain with the New York Police Department, says the fatwa cannot be applicable everywhere. “The fast should be from dawn till dusk, which here in New York is 3:30 am to 8:30pm,” he told Quartz.
There are exceptions to the rule, when there are viable health concerns or if someone is pregnant, elderly or sick, they can be exempt. Imam Khalid says that people who have medical conditions should consult their doctor.
“But to have a broad-based assumption, that longer fasting days should be shortened is problematic,” Imam Khalid says. “It’s a ritual that has mechanics to it and the mechanics of it are such that we fast from dawn till dusk. In our community, from 3:30am to 8:30pm, we will be fasting the long days, and we will encourage people to do so.”
So where are the toughest cities to fast this Ramadan? Muslims in Reykjavik, Iceland, will have to contend with about 21 hours of fasting. In Anchorage, Alaska, fasting will last 19 hours while in Dar es Salaam, the days will be about 12 hours long. Buenos Aires will have one of the shortest fasting times at an average of nine hours per day.