Getting to Know Allah

Ramadan in the Land of the Midnight Sun

What are Muslims who live above the Arctic circle to do when the fast of Ramadan coincides with a period when the sun does not set?

Allah is unequivocal about fasting during the month of Ramadan, granting only an exception for the believers who are too ill or those fighting in His cause during the holiest month in His calendar. The Prophet Muhammad, who may not have been aware of the sun not setting above the Arctic Circle and below the Antarctic Circle during their respective summers, has nothing to say on the matter, leaving Islamic scholars to sort it out for themselves.

Some scholars have suggested "fasting by the clock instead of by the sun, using the sunrise and sunset times of the holy city of Mecca as opposed to local time.” I am not sure Allah would agree with this solution, as He is clear in His Koran on what is night and what is day, and when you can eat and when you can have sex.

2:187 It has been made lawful to you on the night of fasting to approach your wives; they are a raiment for you, and you are a raiment for them. Allah knows that you used to betray yourselves, but He accepted your repentance and pardoned you. So now get to them (the wives) and seek what Allah has ordained for you. Eat and drink until you can discern the white thread from the black thread of dawn. Then complete the fast till nightfall. But do not approach them (the wives) while you are in devotion at the mosque. Those are the bounds of Allah; do not approach them. Thus Allah makes clear his revelations to mankind, that they may fear Him.

To avoid finding fault with Allah's reasoning, other scholars have suggested that “those who live close to the Arctic Circle, where they have continual night or continual day for several months, should look to the closest city to them where night and day are distinct.”

That last suggestion, in Canada, would still make for more than twenty-three hours without food, and perhaps no time for sex, if the closest city is Inuvik, Yellowknife or Whitehorse.

The issue as to when to eat and when not to eat, when to have sex and when not to have sex, when to pray becomes even more confusing when Ramadan falls, due to Allah's choice of calendar i.e. lunar calendar, in the period when the night can last for months on end in the far northern and southern latitudes.

The revelation about discerning "the white thread from the black thread of dawn" was received in stages, and appears to have been a last minute remedy for a problem Allah may not have foreseen when He first informed His Messenger about fasting during the Month of Great Heat.

Narrated Al-Bara:

It was the custom among the companions of Muhammad that if any of them was fasting and the food was presented (for breaking his fast), but he slept before eating, he would not eat that night and the following day till sunset.

Qais bin Sirma-al-Ansari was fasting and came to his wife at the time of Iftar (breaking one's fast) and asked her whether she had anything to eat. She replied, "No, but I would go and bring some for you."

He used to do hard work during the day, so he was overwhelmed by sleep and slept. When his wife came and saw him, she said, "Disappointment for you."

When it was midday on the following day, he fainted and the Prophet was informed about the whole matter and the following verses were revealed: "You are permitted To go to your wives (for sexual relation) at the night of fasting."

So, they were overjoyed by it. And then Allah also revealed: "And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appears to you distinct from the black thread (of the night)." (2.187)

Bukhari 31.139

Narrated Sahl bin Saud:

When the following verses were revealed: 'Eat and drink until the white thread appears to you, distinct from the black thread' and of dawn was not revealed, some people who intended to fast, tied black and white threads to their legs and went on eating till they differentiated between the two. Allah then revealed the words, 'of dawn', and it became clear that meant night and day.

Bukhari 31.141