SCID04: Muslims and the Theory of Evolution by T.O. Shanavas. MD


This article challenges the commonly held creation story among the contemporary Muslims, and boldly uncovers that the theory of evolution was originally proposed by Muslims who lived centuries before Charles Darwin. These Muslim scholars, coupled with their literal reading of the Qur’an, advocated evolution of life and natural selection. The author points out that historians, scholars, and the text of the Qur'an itself concur that there is nothing intrinsically inimical to science in its pages. On the contrary, much of the Qur'anic scholarship and scripture seems to support the endeavor that we recognize today under the rubric of science.

Dr Shanvas's CV (short), publications and references are given after the main article.

The Main Article

As the western world celebrates Darwin on the 200th anniversary of his birth, it is a non-event in most of the Muslim world except for a Turkish Muslim copycat of the Christian Institute for Creation Research, Harun Yahya, and his western Muslim followers. He continues to vilify Charles Darwin as the source of all evils in the world. Unfortunately, many in the Muslim world listen to Yahya as if he is a credible source for the theory of evolution and Islam.

With all the respect due to Charles Darwin and western scientists for popularizing the theory of evolution and for collecting irrefutable evidence for the evolution of life, historically Darwin is not the original author of the theory of evolution by natural selection. The theory was originally germinated centuries before Darwin among theists, and it was a known fact for the western contemporaries of Darwin even far away in America.

Most people probably agree that there are three major components to the theory of evolution: 1. Existing animals and plants developed by a process of gradual and continuous change from previous existing forms of life over a period of three or four billion years; 2. Mutation: the mechanism of speciation; 3. Natural Selection: Animals with advantageous traits reproduce and outlive those with weaker traits. The origin of these elements can be traced to Muslim scholars lived centuries before Charles Darwin.

Abdul-Rahman Ibn Khaldun (who died in 1406 A.D) was a respected Islamic scholar, once Prime minister of Morocco, professor of Islamic Jurisprudence, a judge, and the author of the Muqaddimah (An Introduction to History). Eminent British historian, Arnold J. Toynbee, describes the Muqaddimah as the “greatest work of its kind that has ever been created by any mind in any time.”1

Ibn Khaldun accepted that human species belongs to the animal kingdom. He states, “[M]an belongs to the genus of animals” and that “God distinguished from them by ability to think, which He gave man and through which man is able to arrange his actions in an orderly manner.”2 Over 400 years before Darwin, Ibn Khaldun has described the key components of the theory of evolution. He did not see any conflict between his faith and the theory of evolution. He states:

One should then look at the world of creation. It started out from the minerals and progressed, in an ingenious, gradual manner to plants and animals. The last stage of minerals is connected with the first stage of plants, such as herbs, and seedless plants. …The word ‘connection’ with regard to these created things means that the last stage of each group is fully prepared to become the first stage of the next group. The animal world then widens, its species become numerous, and, in a gradual process of creation, it finally leads to man, who is able to think and reflect. The higher stage of man is reached from the world of monkeys, in which both sagacity and perception are found, but which has not reached the stage of actual reflection and thinking. At this point we come to the first stage of man (after the world of monkeys). This is as far as our (physical) observation extends.3

Ibn Khaldun understood the evolutionary origin of human based upon “physical observation.” It should be pointed out here that Ibn Khaldun is not describing a chain of being but an evolution from previously existing species. He states that “the higher stage of man is reached from the world of monkeys.” The existence of different hominid species before the emergence of Homo sapiens sapiens was known to Ibn Khaldun because he states, “the first stage of man (after the world of monkeys).” However, we know now that human species did not evolve from monkeys. Apes and human had a common ancestor, Dryopithecus.

Ibn Khaldun knew that environmental factors could alter the physical characteristics in species. This fact is reflected in his explanation of the origin of human race. He rejected medieval Christians’ explanation of the origin of the black and white races. They held the view that black Africans are children of Ham and their blackness is due to Noah’s curse on Ham. On the other hand, Ibn Khaldun attributes the whiteness of the inhabitants of northern zones to the influence of excessive cold climates that occur as a result of the greater distance between the sun and the zenith in those regions. He also attributes to climatic conditions northern people’s lack of bodily hair, their blue eyes, freckled skin, and blond hair. He considered it a mistake for Christians to attribute the traits of whole nations to one of their prominent ancestors.

Ibn Khaldun also argues that “[There also is disregard of the fact that physical circumstances and environment] are subjected to changes that affect later generations; they do not necessarily remain unchanged. This is how God proceeds with His servants. . . . And verily, you will not be able to change God’s ways.”4

So, environmentally induced alterations in all life forms, including in human species, are an accepted fact among Ibn Khaldun’s generation of Muslims and before him.
Darwin had gathered enough evidence to prove that living creatures are changing and diversifying over a long period of time. He did not know the processes or mechanisms that drive biological diversity (variation in life forms), or how physical traits are passed on from one generation to the next. Pangenesis was Charles Darwin's mechanism for heredity and variation. Darwin thought that particles called “gemmules,” that contain information about the organs, would travel through the body to the sperm and eggs in the reproductive organs where they stick together. The information could be passed on to the next generation in this way, thus explaining the heritability of variation.5 Modern science has now discredited Darwin’s mechanism of pangenesis.

The mechanism of speciation by Ibn Khaldun is as much a modern theory as it can be. He states that Active nature (kiyan) “has the ability to generate substances and change essences;”6 He further explains, “The essences at the end of each particular stage of the worlds are by nature prepared to be transformed into the essences adjacent to them, either above or below.”7 Here, Ibn Khaldun posits that essence determines the nature of species and active nature generates changes in the essence to create new species. Our modern science explains the process of “generation of substance” in the essence of species (genotype) by the word “mutation.”

If we substitute the phrases, “generate substances,” “change essences,” and “worlds” in the above quotes from Ibn Khaldun with our modern scientific terminologies, “generate mutation,” “change genotype,” and “species,” Ibn Khaldun’s understanding of speciation emerges manifestly: Active nature (kiyan) has the ability to [generate mutations] (substances) and [change genotypes] (essences). The [genotype] (essences) at the end of each particular stage of the [species] (worlds) is by nature prepared to be transformed into the [genotype] (essences) adjacent to them, either above or below.

The transformation of species is further explained by Ibn Khaldun: “The word ‘connection’ with regard to these created things means that the last stage of each group is fully prepared to become the first stage of the next group.”8 If he were writing the Muquddimah today, he would say: Gradual evolution can be explained in terms of small genetic changes (mutation) in the species and by the ordering of this genetic variation by natural selection.

The third component of the theory of evolution is natural selection. We have seen above Ibn Khaldun describing active nature creating genetic variation in a population. Centuries before Darwin, other Muslims accepted the concept of natural selection. Abu Raihan al-Biruni (973-1048) was born in Khiva, Uzbekistan. Al-Biruni was among the most educated and cultured men of his time, with a brilliant intellect “encyclopaedic in scope.”9 He excelled in numerous fields of knowledge, and particularly in astronomy, mathematics, chronology, physics, medicine, and history. The following quotes from al-Biruni support the idea that, long before Malthus and Darwin, he knew about the disparity between reproduction and survival. He describes here speciation and natural selection as a result of structural advantages or beneficial trait in some species of plants and animals. Al- Biruni states:

The life of the world depends upon sowing and procreating. Both processes increase in the course of time, and this increase is unlimited, while the world is limited. When a class of plants or animals does not increase any more in its structure, and its peculiar kind is established as species of its own when each individual of it does not simply come into existence once and perish, but procreates a being like itself or several together, and not only once but several times, [italics added], then this will, as single species of plants or animals, occupy the earth and spread itself and its kind over as much territory as it can find.10

Eight centuries later, Darwin (1809-1882) concurred with Al-Biruni (973-1048) that organic beings have an unlimited ability to procreate, but that the world is limited. And both agree that individual variations in the structure of organic beings determine the survival of the peculiar kind among the species. We read in The Origin of Species:

A struggle for existence inevitably follows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase [and] every organic being is striving to increase in a geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life and suffer great destruction. When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with full belief, that the war of nature is incessant . . . the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply [and] that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. This preservation of favourable individual differences and variations, and the destruction of those, which are injurious, I have called Natural Selection or the Survival of the Fittest.11

Al Biruni saw examples of selection in the methods of horticulturists, as well as in the natural behavior of bees. He explained:
Agriculturist selects his corn, letting grow as much as he requires, and tearing out the remainder. The forester leaves those branches, which he perceives to be excellent, whilst he cuts away all others. The bees kill those of their kind who only eat, but do not work in their beehive. Nature proceeds in a similar way (italics added).12

Several centuries later, Charles Darwin explained natural selection using examples almost identical to those used by Al-Biruni:
When a race of plants is…well established, the seed-raisers do not pick out the best plants, but merely go over their seed-beds, and pull up the ‘rogues’ as they call the plants that deviate from the proper standard…Natural Selection . . . is immeasurably superior to man’s feeble efforts.13

So far we have established that pre-Darwin Muslims scholars described all three components of the theory of evolution. In the next step, we explore whether there is any probability that Darwin was only a messenger of the Muslim theory of evolution. John William Draper (1812 -1883), a contemporary of Darwin, was a well-known American scientist. He had served as first president of the University of the City of New York (now NYU). He was the first president of the American Chemical Society.

Six months after the publication of The Origin of Species (November 1859), Professor Draper presented a paper at the meeting for the British Association for Advancement of Science (June 1860) entitled “The Intellectual Development of Europe Considered with Respect to the Views of Mr. Darwin.” During the discussion of his paper, the first discussion of Darwin’s book took place. During the discussion, Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford contemptuously inquired of Thomas Huxley, whether Huxley claimed his descent from monkeys “through his grandfather or grandmother.”14 & 15 So, Draper was closely involved in the initial discussion of Darwin’s book. Draper pointed out in one of his later treatises:
[Christian] (t)heological authorities were therefore constrained to look with disfavor on any attempt to carry back the origin of the earth to an epoch indefinitely remote, and on the Mohammedan theory of evolution [italics added] which declared that human beings developed over a long period of time from lower forms of life to their present condition.16

He acknowledged further:
we meet with ideas with which we flatter ourselves with having originated in our own times. Thus our modern doctrine of evolution and development were taught in their [Muslim] schools. In fact they carried them much farther than we are disposed to do, extending them even to inorganic or mineral things.17

If Draper in America, thousands of miles away from Muslims and separated by a huge ocean, knew about “Muhammadan theory of evolution,” there is every reason to believe that Darwin knew about the theory of evolution from Muslim sources.

The publication of several editions of The Journey of the Soul (The Story of Hai bin Yaqzan) by Abu Bakr Ibn Tufail in Europe gives other supporting evidence for the European awareness of the “Muhammadan theory of evolution.” Abu Bakr Ibn Tufail (Latin name: Abu Bazer) (1095-1138), a poet and an eminent physician, was known to have influenced Jewish and Christian thinkers and was the teacher of the great philosopher Ibn Rush (Latin name: Averroes). Although he wrote treatises on medicine and philosophy, Ibn Tufail is remembered for his famous work, The Journey of the Soul (The Story of Hai bin Yaqzan). The book is a fictional and philosophical biography that deals with the idea of evolution. One of the translators of this book, Yiad Kocache, states: “[This] is widely regarded as the prototype of Daniel Defoes’s Robinson Crusoe.... [A]stonishingly modern ideas on physiology, on the process of evolution, on the ‘scientific method’ all find their place in knowledge which his observation and intuition combine to produce.”18

The first Latin translation of The Journey of the Soul (The Story of Hai bin Yaqzan) by Edward Pocock, Jr., was published in Oxford in 1671. Several editions of this work appeared in the years from 1671 to 1700. Then, in 1708, Simon Okley published the first English translation and Dutch, German, French translations were made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.19 The publication of many editions and several translations in different European languages of this book over of period of three centuries suggests that it was a very popular book; the probability is great, therefore, that Charles Darwin, his father Robert Darwin, and his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, all read it. Erasmus, especially, must have read it because he was a famous philosopher and physician. He was the ringleader of the “Lunar Society,” which discussed in their meetings almost every topic ranging from optics and astronomy, biology chemistry and mechanics, hydraulics and minerals, to meteorology and magnetism, ballooning and ballistics.20 So, it is not logical that he did not read a very popular book, The Journey of the Soul (The Story of Hai bin Yaqzan). Moreover, Erasmus Darwin’s The Temple of Nature has much in common with Tufail’s The Journey of the Soul. A close reading will tell that The Temple of Nature is only an English poetic rendition of Tufail’s book.21

A note for Harun Yahya and anti-evolutionist Muslims: do not blame Charles Darwin for the theory of evolution; Darwin is only a messenger of ideas of the Qur’an and your Muslim scholars. The Qur’an states: “He created you in successive stages” (Qur’an 71:14). The Qur’anic Verse 6:133 gives explicit evidence that modern humans were evolved (created) from earlier hominids. “Thy Lord is All-sufficient, Merciful. If He will, He can put you away, and leave after you, to succeed you, what He will, as the way He originally created you from the seeds of another people.” According to the verse, God may replace modern humans with another species (“whomever He pleases to succeed you”). The process of the creation of new species is similar as in the case of the creation of human originally. God “originally created you [human] from seeds of another people.”

A well-respected twelfth-century exegete of the Qur’an, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (1149–1209), explains the verse by quoting scholars before him: “[God] said: ‘As We originally created you from the seeds of a different people.’ For a wise person, were he to contemplate on this statement . . . he would know that the Almighty created mankind from a sperm; a sperm that did not contain his picture [genotype] in any form or way.”22
Unlike many scientists, Al-Biruni, Jalaluddin Rumi and other Muslim theists did not feel uncomfortable with a theistic evolution of life and humans. Those Muslims did not find anything objectionable in natural selection because they believed that the nature is an office of God. For example, Al-Biruni stated:
Frequently . . . you find in the functions (actions) of Nature which it is her office to fulfill, some fault (some irregularity), but this only serves to show that the Creator who had designed something deviating from the general tenor of things is indefinitely sublime, beyond everything which we poor sinners may conceive and predicate Him.23

[If] Nature, whose task it is to preserve the species as they are, finds some superfluous substance . . . she forms [it] into some shape instead of throwing it away; when Nature does not find the substance by which to complete the form of that animal in conformity with the structure of the species to which it belongs . . . she forms the animal in such a shape, so that the defect is made to lose its obnoxious character, and she gives it vital power as much as possible.24

Rumi (1207-1273) was born in Balkh, Afghanistan. In his treatise, Masnavi, Rumi echoed the evolutionary origin of human. Rumi wrote:
He came first to the inorganic realm and from there stepped over to the vegetable kingdom. Living long as a plant, he has no memory of his struggles in the organic realm. Similarly rising from the plant to the animal life he forgets his plant life, retaining only an attraction for it which he feels especially in the spring, ignorant of the secret and cause of his attraction like the infant at the breast who knows not why he is attracted to the mother. . . . Then the Creator draws him from animality to humanity. So he went from realm to realm until he became rational, wise, and strong. As he has forgotten his former types of reason (every stage being governed by a particular type of reason) so he shall pass beyond his present reason. When he gets rid of this coveted intellect, he shall see a thousand other types of reason.25

I agree with Keith B. Miller, professor of geology at Kansas State University, that “The presumption of ‘Warfare’ between science and religious faith perpetuates erroneous understandings of nature and content of science.… Science is not learned and applied in some culturally and religiously sterile environment.”26 Let me append to Keith Miller’s thoughts that the theory of evolution with all of its major components originated in a religious environment and transmitted to the Darwin family and throughout Europe through the translation of treatises of medieval Muslim scientists.


About the Author

Born and raised as a Muslim in India, Dr T.O. Shanavas. MD immigrated in 1970 to the United States, where he is a well-known pediatrician, for which he has received many "Best Doctor" commendations. He lives in Adrian, Michigan.

Queries from his young son on the Quran and Theory of Evolution prompted him to investigate the subject, which led him to the conclusion that not only there is no contradiction between two, but also the early Muslim scholars advocated such a theory of evolution. He has published two books on the topic (as listed below) and is regularly invited as a speaker on it in many national and international gatherings.

His Publications
1. Islamic Theory of Evolution The Missing link Between Darwin and the Origin of Species, Brainbow Press, USA.
2. And God Said, "Let There Be Evolution!": Reconciling the Book of Genesis, the Qur'an and the Theory of Evolution" [Co-authored] editors: C. Wynn and A. Wiggins, ATTM Press, USA.

References on the Article

1. Abdul-Rahman Ibn-Khaldun. The Muqaddimah (Abridged edition). Trans. Franz Rosenthal (Princeton: Princeton University, 1980), Back cover.
2. Abdul-Rahman Ibn-Khaldun. The Muqaddimah. Trans. Franz Rosenthal (Princeton: Princeton University, 1980), Vol. 2:424.
3. Abdul-Rahman Ibn-Khaldun. The Muqaddimah. Vol. 1:195.
4. Ibid.,173.
5. Charles Darwin. The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication.
Revised Second Edition. (New York: D. Appleton & Co, 1883), 384-385.
6. Abdul-Rahman Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah. Vol. 3:238.
7. Abdul-Rahman Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah. Vol. 2:422-423.
8. Abdul-Rahman Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah. Vol. 1:195.
9. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia, (15th ed.) “Al-Biruni.” Vol. 2: 42.
10. Abu Raihan al-Biruni. Fi Tahqiq Ma Li’l-Hind (Al-Biruni’s India). Trans.
Edward C Sachu (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Tuberner & Co. Ltd, 1914), 400.
11. Charles Darwin. The Origin of Species. (New York, Scarborough: New American Library, 1958), 75, 86, 88.
12. Abu Raihan al-Biruni. Fi Tahqiq Ma Li’l-Hind (Al-Biruni’s India, 400.
13. Charles Darwin. The Origin of Species. 49, 75.
14. J. R. Lucas. Historical Journal, XXII (1979): 102
15. Stephen Jay Gould. “Knight Takes Bishop?” Natural History (May 1986): 18-33.
16. John William Draper. The Conflict between Religion and Science (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1875), 187-188.
17. Ibid., 118.
18. Abu Bar Muhammad Tufail. The Journey of the Soul. The Story of Hai Bin Yaqzan. Trans. Yiad Kocache (London: The Octagon Press, 1985), Back cover.
19. Ibid., vi-vii.
20. Richard Milner. The Encyclopedia of Evolution. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1990): 116-117.
21. Erasmus Darwin. The Temple of Nature.
22. Fakr al-Din Razi . Lebanon: Dar al-Fikar. Al Tafsir al-Kabir (Arabic). Vol. 7: 212.
23. Abu Raihan al-Biruni. Fi Tahqiq Ma Li’l-Hind (Al-Biruni’s India) 295
24. Ibid., 92-93
25. Khalifa Abdul Hakim. The Metaphysics of Rumi. (Lahore, Pakistan: Institute of Islamic Culture, 1977), 36.
26.Keith Miller. “Communicating Evolutionary Science to a Religious Public.Reports of the NCSE. 29: 2 (2009): 34-35.


Readers comments are welcome, but the Editor reserves the right to edit and to remove comments from the blogsite.

SCID03 Ramadan and Prayer Times in Lands under Midnight Sun


Science Digest [SCID] for Thinkers

Ramadan and Prayer Times in the Lands under Midnight Sun
Prof S. M. Deen  [University of Keele, UK]
Friday, 20 May, 2011.

Dear Brothers and Sisters
Apologies for typos, if any, despite my attempts to remove them.

1.  Introduction and Background

This year the Ramadan days in our part of England were over 16¼ hours long (from Fajr to sunset) in early August, which some people (specially the senior members) found very hard. They are devout people, who would never consider the easier and the less virtuous option of feeding two persons in lieu of each fast, but they do find the day too long for their capability. Since God does not burden a soul beyond its capability [Q2:286], I would like to think it is our religious duty to find a solution. The solution discussed below considers lower latitudes such as that of Mecca (21.43N) or perhaps some other latitude, as possible standard(s), supported by some fatwas, and should be valid also in the lands under midnight sun.

[Calculation Note: Ramadan on 10 Aug 2010 in the UK in GMT. End of Suhr 2:53am, Fajr 3:15, sunrise 4:38 am. Sunset/Iftar 7:47 pm [Add one hour more for the British Summer Time]. Hence the day length is 7:22 +7:47 = 15 hr 09 min, fasting over 16 hrs 15 m,  if you count from Fajr hence 1hr 15 min longer than the day length.]

Our senior members are already dreading the approaching longer fast days as Ramadan moves towards the summer solstice (in June), when the day length in London will be up to 16 h 39 mins, with the fast-day length (from Fajr) is around 18 hours. The days will be even longer in Northern England and Scotland. However, the situation in England is not as bad as in some other northern countries. Here are some city names and their approximate latitudes and longitudes in brackets, expressed in degrees with decimal fractions:

London  (51.50 N,  00),  sunrise 03:42 am sunset 8:21 pm (GMT) on June 21 ,  Max day length: 16 h 39 m.
Mecca    (21.43 N, 39.75 E) ,  Max day length: 13h 27 mins
Medina  (24.47N, 39.60 E),     Max day length: 13h 27 min,
Istanbul  (41.00 N, 29.00 E),  Max day length 15h 08m
Ottawa (45.22N, 75.43 W), max day length 15h 41min, from Fajr add another 2 h (is it because of twilight?)
St Petersburg  (59.56 N, 30.18 E), Max day length: 18:53 mins, shortest  5:52 mins
                                                        White nights for weeks around the summer solstice.
Anchorage (Alaska) (61.22 N, 149.85 W), Max day length 19h 22min

Trondheim (63.44 N, 10.40 E),  Max day length 20h 42 m (max temp up to 30 degree)
Tromso (69.67 N, 19.00 E),   No sunset for two months – from May21 to July 21 (temp up to 28 deg)
Hammerfest (70.68 N, 23.71 E),  No sunset for  2½ months (75 days)

The max day length given above is the time from sunrise to sunset on the summer solstice (around 21 June).

In St Petersburg (Russia) the day length in June is nearly 19 hours, but due to a long twilight the nights do not become dark (which creates the so called white nights) for weeks around June 21.  When the nights do not get dark, how does one determine the Suhr time (which is meant to be in dark), and how long the fasting has to be? In contrast the winter fast-days can be as short as six hours, which cannot really give the experience of hunger, from which Muslims are expected to learn about the suffering of those who do not have enough to eat. Also if the night is so short, how can you pray Maghreb, Isha, Tarawi and Fajr, even if you ignore Tahajjud?

In Norway there are many Muslims today. The ancient and vibrant city of Trondheim (pop 165,000), the day is 20½ hours long (from sunrise to sunset) on the summer solstice, much longer if you count from the Fajr prayer time.  Further north in the city of Tromso (pop 65,000) the sun does not set for two months (May 21 to July 21) in the summer and does not rise for two months in the winter. The twilight effect (white night) of no-darkness lasts for about another three weeks.  Still further north in the city of Hammerfest (pop 9000), the sun does not set for 75 days in the summer, with about another month of white nights.

I imagine if you visit these places, you become alive to the problems faced by Muslims there, not only on the fasting length in Ramadan, but also on the determination of prayer times.  As it happened, I visited these places a while ago, and I certainly feel strongly that we need to explore a solution, even though I am not a theologian. I would like to think that the knowledge of science is helpful in this exploration.

I had a very useful conversation on these issues with the main Imam of the Grand Mosque at St Petersburg, where there are many Muslims. He said he had been very concerned about these issues and visited Al-Azhar (Cairo), Mecca, Medina, Tehran and some other places, looking for a solution.  He offered these three alternatives:

  1. Use the fasting times of the area where you originally came from (many Russian Muslims come from their southern countries).
  2. Use 12 hour-day fasting
  3. Use the  Mecca Times

There is also a proposal for 45 N, instead of Mecca, as the base latitude, which we shall consider later.

In the first approach, different people will fast for different length of times (depending on their original countries), while living in the same city. So I think this approach is least desirable. The second approach is equivalent to using zero degree latitude, where day and night are of equal length, but the holy Prophet fasted for longer than 12 hours in summer. So this approach is also unsatisfactory. Let us then consider the third approach.

2. Use of the Mecca Times

In the third approach, we can select Mecca (21.43 N, 39.75 E) because of its central position in our lives. Alternatively we can consider Medina (24:28 N, 39:36 E) as a kind of sunnah since the Prophet fasted in Medina. Because of its higher latitude, days in Medina are slightly longer in the summer and slightly shorter in the winter than in Mecca, but the maximum difference is around 12 minutes, which is small and hence can be ignored. Therefore we assume Mecca as our canonical location, but if Medina is preferred by most people, then it could be Medina. For the southern hemisphere we shall take the location  ( 21.43 S, 39.75 E) as the southern canonical location – but we shall not generally discuss the southern hemisphere in this piece.  Let us state (or re-state) the terms we are employing.

·     Canonical Location: It is the city we chose to follow, which we have assumed here to be Mecca to start with, but later we shall consider some other candidate locations.
·     Canonical Latitude and Longitude: these are the latitude and longitude of the chosen canonical location (in the northern hemisphere)
·     Southern Canonical Latitude: It is the southern counterpart of the canonical latitude, which would be the latitude 21.43 S if Mecca is the canonical location.
·     Southern Canonical Longitude: It is the same longitude as that of the northern canonical location.

The ideas developed below, using Mecca as an example of a canonical location, will apply to any city chosen as the canonical location (such as Medina at 24:28 N, or a city at latitude 45N, or a city at any other latitude). The basic idea is simple. Suppose you live in a city X at high latitude and Mecca is your chosen canonical location. Then if Suhr is at 4 am and Iftar at 7 pm in the Mecca (21.43 N, 39.75 E) local time, then it will be 4 am for Suhr and 7 pm for Iftar also in your city X in your local time, although in your case the sun might have risen at 3 am and set at 8 pm (again in your local time).

However the local time may not necessarily be the standard time officially used in your city. Let us first define local time, which is also called the longitude (or longitudinal) time. The local time at your place (your longitude) will give you 12 noon at midday. The local time is the same at all points (i.e. all latitudes) on a longitude. For London the local time is given by GMT. The local time is easily calculated for a longitude by multiplying the longitude value by 4 minutes, and then by adding it to GMT if East, or subtracting it from GMT if West. For Mecca the local time should be 39.75×4 = 2h 39m to be added to GMT. However, the official time used in Mecca is not its local time but a standard time, which is obtained by adding 3 hours (not 2 h 39 mins) to GMT.  Therefore the Mecca standard time is (3h – 2h 39 mins) = 21 mins more than its local time. Hence if Fajr is at 5 am in the Mecca (standard) time it, then it will be  (5 am – 21 mins) = 4 hr 39 mins at the Mecca local time. This correction has to be made at your location X for your local time as well, since you are likely to use a standard time.   The time used below is local time (sometimes called longitude time), unless indicated otherwise.

Consider the following table below of some cities with latitude (in degrees), longitude (in degrees), sunrise (am), sunset (pm), day-length (in hours and minutes) and their time difference from Mecca (in hours and minutes). The sunrise, sunset and the day-length are for the longest day (summer solstice, around 21 June).  All times given are approximate and expressed in their respective Longitude Times.  The time  differences from Mecca Local Time (MLT) is negative ( – )  if east of Mecca and positive (+) if west of Mecca   
 City                                              Sunrise     Sunset       Day-length      Time-difference from MLT
Beijing (39.93N, 116.38E)             04:30         7:31           15:01                    5:07
Mecca (21.43 N, 39.75 E)             05:16         6:43           13:27                       0
Trondheim  (63.44N, 10.40E)       01:39       10:21            20:42                   + 1: 54
London  (51.50N, 00)                    03:41         8:20           16:39                    + 2:39
Anchorage (61.22N, 149.85W))    02:19        9:41            19:22                   +12:39
Tromso (69.67N, 19.00E)              00              00              24:00                   +  1:23

Turin (45.06N, 07.6E)  [Italy]        04:10        7:50            15: 39                    +2:08
Ottawa (45.22N, 75.43 W),          04:09       7:51             15:41                     +7:40

Therefore, again assume Suhr and Iftar times in the Mecca Local Time (MLT) as 4:00 am and 7 pm – these would also be in those times in Tromso (at its local time) where the sun never sets in the summer, with a time difference of 1h 23 mins after Mecca. The same Suhr and Iftar times will be at Anchorage, but 12 hours 13 mins after the Mecca MLT.  The point to emphasize here is that every one at high latitude should be able to follow the Mecca Ramadan and prayer times in their own local times. The time difference from Mecca should not matter, except for crescent sightings for new lunar months (see below)   

[Aside on International Date Line (IDL)
Since Anchorage is more than 180 degrees West of Mecca in longitude, we can treat it to be in the east of Mecca with a negative time difference 11 hours 21 minutes from Mecca. This should not really matter in practice, except in day names. The accepted convention is that new day-name starts from the IDL (International Date Line) and moves westward with the sun. Therefore positive time-difference for Anchorage (more than 180 degrees away) would mean the same day-name as in Mecca, but the negative time-difference would mean the day before the day in Mecca, since we need to cross IDL to reach Mecca from Anchorage if we follow the sun's apparent westward journey. It would be up to the Anchorage community to choose, between these two possibilities.].

3.  Proposal for 45 N

As mentioned earlier, there is an alternative proposal for 45 N as the canonical latitude instead of the Mecca latitude of 21.43N (with 45S for the southern hemisphere). Consider, Turin in Italy and Ottawa in Canada:

Turin (45.06N, 07.6E), max day length 15h 39m,  from Fajr add another 2 hours (long twilight).
Ottawa (45.22N, 75.43 W), max day length 15h 41mins, from Fajr add another 2 hours (long twilight)

Since both the cities are more or less at 45N, we can choose either of them as the canonical location. Let us assume Turin as the canonical location at 45N.  Say you live in a city called X north of the latitude 45N. Then as before if Suhr is at 3 am and Iftar at 8 pm in the Turin local time, then it will be 3 am for Suhr and 8 pm for Iftar also at your location X at your local time, even though the sun might have risen at 2 am and set at 11 pm in your location (in your local time).  

I would personally favour Turin as the canonical location for 45 N as Turin is further away from the International Date Line than Ottawa. But my personal preference is not important. Any further discussion on the choice between the Mecca latitude and the 45 N latitude as the canonical latitude has been deferred to the Fatwa section given later.

4. Crescent Sighting at High Latitudes

Next issue is the crescent sighting at high latitudes, including latitudes where the sun/moon do not sometimes rise or set.  We cannot use the Mecca sighting of the crescent because of the longitudinal difference (i.e. time difference). I have discussed these issues on crescent sighting in my last blog,
[ scid02 in  [ ] ]

where a Longitude-based Crescent Sighting (LCS) scheme has been presented. This scheme can be followed by both the sighters and the calculators, and will work on higher latitudes including the lands under midnight sun, where sun/moon do not rise/set for days. The sighters (implying physical sighters) are those who insist on the physical sighting of the new crescent, while the calculators (who can be called the logical sighters) are those who use calculations to establish the birth of a new crescent. Therefore in our jargon, if the calculations predict the conjunction of the new crescent to take place at or before midday on a longitude (in its local time), then the new crescent has been "logically sighted" at that longitude. You can read that scheme from my last blog, but here I summarise the main outline.

A Longitude-based Crescent Sighting Scheme

Below by sighters we shall mean the physical sighters and by calculators the logical sighters. We have defined a concept of longitudinal sighting, which states that:

(i) if the crescent is physically sighted at any point on a longitude, then it should be accepted as sighted physically at all points (i.e. all latitudes) of that longitude (for the physical sighters).
(ii) Similarly,  if the crescent is logically sighted at any point on a longitude, then it should be accepted as sighted logically at all points (i.e. all latitudes) of that longitude (for the logical sighters).  

This concept can be used by both the sighters and the calculators. Based on this concept, we have defined sighter's and calculator's longitudes, the former is the eastern-most longitude in which the new crescent is physically sighted, and the latter is the longitude where the conjunction for this new crescent takes place exactly at 12 noon (at the longitude time of that longitude) and hence the eastern-most longitude for the logical sighters (i.e. the calculators) for that new crescent.  Furthermore the crescent would be deemed sighted (physically or logically as the case may be) on all longitudes west of it, until the east side of the sighter's or the calculator's (as the case may be) longitude is reached. As discussed above this scheme will work for both sighters and calculators and also at high latitudes (polar latitudes) where sun/moon may not even rise or set for days, i.e. the lands under midnight sun.  (See the blog for scid02 for more details  [ ])

5.  Theological Views (Fatwas):

Many theologians believe that we need a global solution to this problem, but the solutions proposed are not the same. Here I shall present two solutions one favouring latitude 45 degree and the other for a lower latitude:

(i). The European Council of Fatwas and Research []

They quote the Islamic Council of Fiqh Academy and its decision at Mecca in 1406 AH. [1985 CE?]]
They divide the northern area into three zones (i) 45N – 48 N, (ii) 48N – 66N, (iii) 66N – 90 N

In zone (i) they follow normal practice, fasting from true dawn to sunset (in compliance with Sharia).  But if the day length is excessive for some people, then those people can fast at another more convenient season.  The zone (ii) usually has very long twilight which makes the separation of Maghreb and Isha difficult, in which case Muslims there are recommended to follow the closet regions, where the twilight is not a serious problem, for which 45N is suggested as a solution. For zone (iii) all times are to be calculated in analogy with 45N. Muslims may use ijtihad, the fatwa says, for their decisions.  For the southern hemisphere 45 S will be the relevant latitude. I do not know why they have chosen 45 deg latitude. Summarising, this fatwa says that 45 deg is to be used as the canonical latitude, and those who find its fast-length too long, they can fast at another season, when the day-length is shorter.

I present below some implications of this fatwa, using Turin as a canonical location.

   Turin (45.06N, 07.6E), max day length 15h 39m,  from Fajr add another 2 hours (long twilight).

Therefore the fast-length near the summer solstice will be around 18 hours. Today, we have numerous older people who will be generally too frail to keep this long fast as is the case in London.  Breaking the Ramadan fast by some sick people is a different thing, from breaking the fast by a whole generation of older people who are not sick in the normal sense, but who just find the days too long.  If they fast at a convenient season for those unfasted days, then different people are likely to be fasting on different seasons and different days, which will break the cohesion of the Ramadan spirit, where people do Iftar together. Furthermore, some people may choose the winter period (shorter days) which will break the meaning of the holy month of Ramadan, since (as mentioned earlier) very short fasting does not give the experience of real hunger, which Muslims are supposed to feel in Ramadan with the hungry. In other words, this fatwa does not pay enough attention for a shared common experience.

Given these issues the obvious question is why 45N, rather than any other latitude? What is so special about 45N? I do not know. I have not seen any theological justification for 45 N. However consider Istanbul  (41.00N, 29.00E) which has the max day length (in the summer) of 15h 08 min, compared to Turin's maximum day length of 15h 39 min, thus Turin (45.06N, 07.6E) having a 31 mins longer day-length at the summer solstice. Istanbul has latitude 41N,and as far as I know, people in the Ottoman Empire did not ask for a fatwa in favour of a lower latitude. So if 41N was OK, then why not 45N (which Turin has) as a general upper limit? This is a valid argument, but I think the problem is the change in demography. In those days there were not many older people and they did not live very long. But now we have a growing number of an elderly population, which is not generally in good health and which is increasingly living to a longer age. They are too frail to keep a long fast, the point argued at the beginning of this article. They need a solution that allows them to fast with everybody else during the holy month of Ramadan (but not in a different month) with shorter fasting length..  The fatwa below provides one.     

(ii) Alternative Fatwa

Since The Quran does not say anything on this, therefore we should invoke ijtihad, they argue. In their view any fasting for a day-light time longer than 14 hours is not easy and causes hardship, which God could not have meant it, since Islamic practices are not meant to be difficult to follow. They usually quote two verses from the Quran:

"It was in the month of Ramadan that the Quran was revealed as guidance for mankind, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong. So anyone of you who is present that month should fast, and anyone who is ill or on a journey should make up for the lost days by fasting on other days later. God wants ease for you not hardship.  ..  ..  "             [2.185],            [Abdul Haleem]

     "God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear ....."     [2.286],             [Abdul Haleem]

I have used the recent translation by Abdul Haleem

They argue that the  Quran gives a general guidance to Muslims as captured in the verse 2:185 which, after prescribing Ramadan fasting, goes on to say that: "God wants ease for you not hardship". Furthermore in the verse [2:286], the Quran re-enforces this hardship point by saying "God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear." Taken together these imply that God wants that which is easy for you, not that which is overbearing. Therefore the argument continues:  Fasting is not meant to create severe hardship or health-risk, but to teach Taqwa – consciousness and awareness of the Divine. 

Following these thoughts various proposals have been made, ranging from following a country that has more regular day-night division, to an average day length (averaging over the summer and winter) to individually deciding on the start and end hours of fasting the maximum duration not exceeding some 14 hours or so. I guess the idea of 14 hours comes from Mecca, or Medina, where the maximum day length (sunrise to sunset) in June is 13 hrs 27 minutes and 13 hours 39 minutes respectively, to which one must add about one hour for the fasting length from Fajr to sunset (Maghreb).  

The idea of nearby countries or origin-countries have been discussed and found to be wanting, earlier in this discourse.  Average day length is 12 hours (if we average over a year) and hence it is equivalent to taking the day-length at the equator – a position that has also been discussed and found to be wanting earlier. One scholar gave a fatwa in favour of individual decision up to a maximum of about 14-hour-day, starting from 5 am and ending at 7 pm. The same scholar also indicated a preference for the use of fast duration at Medina or Mecca as guidance. He ends his fatwa with the following thoughtful words:

"I realize that there are Muslims who for whatever reason (be it stamina, strict adherence to the tradition, , etc) will view my suggestion as heresy, and stick to the dawn and sunset times in their regions regardless of the extremely long summer days. My recommendation is for those Muslims who concur that Allah does not want the fast to be overly burdensome on us. And Allah knows the best".
      [ www.]

Our question is how does a Muslim choose? I guess it has to be left to ijtihad. If a Muslim finds the fasting length too hard, he/she can choose either Mecca or (if a higher latitude is preferred) another place on a higher latitude, as the canonical latitude location. It is up to the Muslims to choose. Whatever latitude (45 N, or Mecca latitude, or some other) they choose as the canonical latitude, the people living at high latitude can apply the local time idea proposed above to find their fasting and prayer times from those of their chosen canonical location. This scheme of local times is sound and rigorous and will work at any higher latitude, even in the lands under midnight sun, for whatever location is chosen as the canonical location (Turin, Mecca or some other).  Finally, observe that one can choose a lower latitude for fasting and at the same time feed two persons for each day of Ramadan.

6. Summary

At higher latitudes where the day is too long in the summer and too short in the winter (or even the sun does
not set in the summer and does not rise in the winter), we have a problem for the determination of fasting and
prayer times.  I have described above two fatwas on fasting times, one uses  45 N (say Turin), and the other proposes a lower latitude such as that of Mecca as the canonical location to base their fasting lengths.  (Equivalent definition exists for the southern hemisphere). It is up to the Muslims at the higher latitudes to choose from these, or some other options, using ijtihad (as suggested in the fatwas). Whatever location a Muslim selects as the canonical location, he (she) can use the proposed local time scheme to find the fasting and prayer times from those of the chosen canonical location. Assume a Muslim lives in a high latitude city called X. Now, if Suhr starts at 4 am in the chosen canonical location in its local time, then it will be also at 4 am at the local time of the city X. This is a  simple but rigorous global scheme which will hold at all high latitudes North or South, including in the lands under midnight sun. However, people may or may not agree with my local time scheme, but all Muslims are free to make their own schemes based on ijtihad.  One can of course fast for a lower latitude and at the same time also feed two persons each day during Ramadan. I hope this article will stimulate some discussions on the issues covered.

© S. M. Deen, 2011.