SCID03 Ramadan and Prayer Times in Lands under Midnight Sun

SCIENCE UNDER ISLAM

Science Digest [SCID] for Thinkers

SCID03 
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  [www.scienceunderislam.blogspot.com ] ]

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  [www.scienceunderislam.blogspot.com ])

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 [www.IslamOnline.net]

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. forpeoplewhothink.org/Answers/Ramadan-Summer-Days.html.]

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.
END

7 comments:

  1. It is a very good article; Giving many details, and Since we are human so Everything in Islam shall be related with reasoning.

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  2. a very good article thanks for your research..we live here in norway and time duration for fast is 19-20 hrs..very hard for seniors and young children and working people...i found this very helpful..and relieved over the fact that there is some solution to the problem...thanks

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