Islam neglects those who live near the Arctic Circle, where the sun doesn’t set for six months at a time. In the last few years, Ramadan has fallen in the summer, when the sun did not set in the North.
Two of Islam’s main pillars: fasting and praying, rely heavily on the sun’s position. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and their five prayers are timed in different parts of the day based on the position of the sun and when it rises/sets. Let’s examine what the texts say and compare them to reality.
Ramadan in the Holy Text
For Ramadan, Muslims have to fast from sunrise to sunset.
And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread [of night]. Then complete the fast until the sunset. (Quran 2:187 (abridged))
Classical Tafsirs from Islamic history all state that this entire verse means that fasting lasts from daybreak until sunset. The terms white and black threads were meant to distinguish the parallels between night and day.
Prayer in the Holy Text
Muslims pray five times a day. Each of these prayers are timed based on the sun. The following are verses that discuss the timing of the prayers based on the sun and nightfall. Attached right next to the verses are compilations of Tafsirs (interpretations) of each verses.
- And establish prayer at the two ends of the day and at the approach of the night. Indeed, good deeds do away with misdeeds. That is a reminder for those who remember. (Quran 11:114) (Tafsir)
- So exalted is Allah when you reach the evening and when you reach the morning. (Quran 30:17) (Tafsir)
- Establish prayer at the decline of the sun [from its meridian] until the darkness of the night and [also] the Qur’an of dawn. Indeed, the recitation of dawn is ever witnessed. (Quran 17:78) (Tafsir)
- So be patient, [O Muhammad], over what they say and exalt [ Allah ] with praise of your Lord before the rising of the sun and before its setting, (Quran 50:39) (Tafsir)
- So be patient over what they say and exalt [ Allah ] with praise of your Lord before the rising of the sun and before its setting; and during periods of the night [exalt Him] and at the ends of the day, that you may be satisfied. (Quran 20/130) (Tafsir)
All of the interpretations of these verses emphasize the idea that Muslims have to pray at different times of the day based on where the sun is. There is a clear pattern of practices shifting based on sunrise and sunset.
The Arctic Circle
In the recent years, Muslim populations have been going through dilemmas on how to reconcile rulings of Ramadan and prayer with their livelihoods in the North. Muslims in the Arctic Circle are left confused as the sun never sets. There are sentiments of vagueness and uncertainty in the Muslim world about how to address the growing Muslim population in the Arctic Circle and their ability to practice Islam. In order to respond to this dilemma, local Muslim organizations establish set praying schedules based on the standard 24 hour days.
There is also a confusion in differentiating suhoor (eating before sunrise) and iftar (eating after sunset) because the sun does not set.
In 2013, Muslims from Tromso, Norway have established a fatwa (clerical decree) that stated they fast based on Saudi fasting schedule. If Saudi Arabian society began fasting at 5 AM, the Norwegian Muslims would fast at 5 AM Norwegian time, regardless of where the sun is.
In 2015, a Swedish Muslim association attempted to address these issues and were forced to formulate new rules in Ramadan. They concluded that Muslims should fast based on the last time the sun rose and set. They were to maintain that fasting schedule all throughout the month.
Some have suggested fasting schedules should align with the schedules of the nearest city with daily sunrise and sunset. However, for Ali Melhem, a Muslim man who lived in Kiruna, Sweden, that does not seem reasonable. He told The Local that he checked the nearest Swedish town like Lulea or Umea, and realized their sunrise lasting 23 hours seemed unbearable.
Laborers in Iqaluit, Canada a mosque’s construction crew worked long hours and fasted for 22 hours. That’s no eating or drinking for 22 hours. In St. Petersburg, Russia, the local Islamic organizations have called for the 22 hour fasts in their Ramadan calendars. They described this circumstance as a test of faith for Muslims. Studies show that fasting leads to headache, fatigue, and serious dehydration. With these facts in mind, 22 hours becomes excessive.
While one can look at these Muslims and admire their dedication, I can’t help but see this as another proof that religious devotion can be masochistic, and desperate. The scriptures don’t even mention their circumstances of having unique sun schedules. They discuss the rest of the world with regular sunrise and sunset. Instead of looking at that as an opportunity to scrutinize the scriptures’ geographical insensitivity, they instead desperately seek ways to maintain Ramadan in a local environment completely neglected by Islam. They don’t realize that the Quran and Hadith completely overlook their existence, and they are not included in Prophet Muhammad’s image of future Muslims.
These Muslims think this confusing circumstance is a test of faith, and starve themselves of food and water just to please Allah and pass this test. They impose an imaginary form of tyranny on themselves that sadistically dictates their life even when circumstances aren’t compatible with its demands.
If one was doubtful in their Islamic faith, this should be the catalyst to tip them over. It is clear proof that Islam neglects those who lives in the Arctic Circle. The aforementioned scriptures on fasting and praying all revolve around the sun’s positioning. However, there are environments where the sun does not rise or settle for a long period of time. Islam left out these people.
One can argue that Muhammad simply did not know about life in the arctic circle, and was only concerned with his local geographical conditions. That is my stance. Another can argue that Muhammad simply did not care or thought to consider that Muslims may live there some day.
They both lead to the idea that Islam is not a universal religion. It is not the word of God. If an omniscient Allah wrote the Quran for all of humanity, he surely would have been aware of these Muslims in the future and included their unique circumstances. Because Allah is after all “The Most Merciful, The Most Kind.”
But he didn’t. Because he doesn’t exist. Muhammad did. And as a man of limited exposure to the entire world’s complexities, he did not take this circumstance into consideration.
Islam was born in very specific political, social, cultural, geographic etc. conditions and its scriptures are a context of that time. It is not applicable for all of humanity, in every place, every time.
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