REYKJAVIK – Muslims around the world abstain from food and drink during daylight hours in Ramadan. But for Muslims in Iceland, the holy fasting month can be a real challenge.
“I’m going by the local time in Reykjavik. Going 21 hours without eating is a long time. But the majority of Muslims here in Reykjavik are doing it too,” Karim Askari, executive director of the Islamic Foundation of Iceland told CNBC on May 23.
About 1.8 billion Muslims around the world began the holy Ramadan last Thursday. As Hijri year arrives 11 days earlier than the last one in respect to the Gregorian Calendar, its Hijri lunar months are cycling Ramadan through the seasons.
In Muslim countries near or on the equator, such as Indonesia and Nigeria, this movement makes little difference to the daylight hours critical to observe the fast.
But for those observing Ramadan in the world’s most northern and southern countries, near the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, the issue is a bit challenging especially during the summers when there is nearly no night and in winters when there is nearly no daylight.
In Iceland where Muslims are close to the North Pole, the summer’s sun sets at midnight and returns two hours later.
This year, Icelandic Muslims fast for the longest time on earth which is 21 hours and 51 minutes, with the sun setting at 11:57 p.m. on the final night of Ramadan on June 14.
Muslims living in extreme countries with such unusual conditions can follow one of three solutions offered by Islamic Shari’ah.
“They can break their fast using the time of either the sunset in the nearest country that doesn’t have near continuous daylight or night, the nearest Muslim-majority country, or observe Makkah’s time as the holiest site in Islam. Otherwise, they can stick to observing local times,” Askari said.
Two mosques in Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik have agreed to follow local dawn and dusk times to decide when they should break their fast.
Other mosques and organizations in other Icelandic cities have chosen to follow the times of other European countries with proper daytimes.
“One mosque in Reykjavik is following the times of a city in France,” Askari informed.
“They can choose what they want. Some people can’t accept that they’ll be eating when the sun is up, even if it’s near midnight, because they are used to waiting in their home country — so they will go by local Icelandic times. Others can accept that they’ll have to eat even when the sun is partially up,” the Muslim director explained.
What may seem like extreme conditions to some is a blessing in disguise for Askari and Muslims.
He is adamant that fasting in the tolerable cold is easier than doing so in the humid and hot summers of Asia and Africa.
“There is flexibility for Muslims thanks to Islamic Shari’ah. Each person can offer what he feels in his heart. Muslims have this flexibility inside them wherever they are,” Askari expressed.
According to the 2010 estimation of Pew Research Center, Muslims represented roughly 0.2% of Iceland’s population which has a sum of 350,710 individuals. The Qur’an was first translated into Icelandic in 1993, with a corrected edition in 2003.
The earliest mention of Iceland in Muslim sources originates in the works of the medieval Muslim geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi (1099–1165/66) in his famous Tabula Rogeriana, which mentions Iceland’s location in the North Sea.
As of 2013, the Muslim Association of Iceland “Félag múslima á Íslandi” had 465 members. And the Islamic Cultural Centre of Iceland “Menningarsetur múslima á Íslandi” had 305 members.