Rovaniemi (Finland): How do you observe dawn-to-dusk fasting when there
is neither dawn nor dusk? It's a question facing a small but
growing number of Muslims celebrating the holy month of Ramadan on
the northern tip of Europe, where the sun barely dips below the
horizon at this time of year, according to a report in The
In Rovaniemi, a northern Finland town that straddles the Arctic
Circle at 66 degrees north, the sun rises around 3:20 a.m. and
sets about 11:20 p.m. That means Muslims who observe Ramadan could
be required to go without food or drink for 20 hours. In a few
years, Ramadan will begin even closer to the summer solstice in
late June, when the sun doesn't set at all.
"We have to use common
sense," said Mahmoud Said, 27, who came to Finnish Lapland from
Kenya three years ago.
To Said, that means following the fasting hours of the nearest
Muslim country, Turkey.
"It involves 14 or 15 hours of fasting
which is okay, it's not bad," said Said, who works for a
non-governmental organization helping immigrants settle in the
He estimates there are a little over 100 Muslims in Rovaniemi, mainly from Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan. There is no
unanimity on how to deal with the issue, which is becoming more
pressing as more Muslim immigrants find their way to sparsely
inhabited areas near the Arctic.
In Alaska, the Islamic Community Center of Anchorage, "after
consultation with scholars," advises Muslims to follow the fasting
hours of Makkah, Islam's holiest city. The Dublin-based European
Council for Fatwa and Research, however, said Muslims need to
follow the local sunrise and sunset, even up north.
"The debate on
how to do this in the north has been on going on for a few years,"
said Omar Mustafa, the chairman of the Islamic Association of
Sweden. "We fast according to the sun. As long as it is possible
to tell dusk from dawn. This applies to 90 percent of Sweden's
The few Muslims who live so far north that they are awash in
24-hour daylight should follow the daylight hours the closest city
in Sweden where you can tell dawn from dusk, he said, noting that
it is permitted to break the fast for health reasons.
Abakar and her extended family of nine relatives came to Finland
from Sudan's Darfur region four years ago. She opts to observe the
local Lapland sunrise and sunset times before breaking the fast in
her downtown Rovaniemi apartment.
Kaltouma explains that she gets up early and works until the
afternoon, then starts cooking the family's Iftar meal around 5
p.m. "The time of Ramadan fasting is very long, and breaking the
fast can be around 11:30 in the evening. The time you're supposed
to eat your breakfast is 2 o'clock in the morning," the 31-year
In the kitchen, Kaltouma's two daughters — aged 11 and 6 — help
prepare the food. They fry chicken and pastries filled with tuna
in scalding hot oil. A pot of rice simmers on the stove while one
girl kneads cornmeal dough which they'll dip into a chicken broth
and eat with their fingers — traditional Sudanese style — a few
hours later. Apart from the late sunset times, Kaltouma said the
lack of "Muslim food" locally in Rovaniemi can be a challenge. She
sometimes has to wait several days for Halal meat and other
traditional ingredients to come from the larger cities of Oulu, or
Helsinki in the south.
Even though, technically, there is nightfall in Rovaniemi at this
time of year, there is no true darkness. Instead, there's a gray
gloaming with occasional dappled rays of sun reaching over the
northern horizon, giving the city a mystical quality even in the
supposed dead of night.
The dates of Ramadan change according to
the lunar calendar, moving back 11 days each year. That means that
by 2015 there will be no sunset for a month when Ramadan falls
closer to midsummer.
Still, Kaltouma says "there is going
to be at least 10 minutes for us to break the fast."
She said there is one positive
aspect of observing long fasting hours in the Arctic during
Ramadan: the cool temperatures. "Unlike Africa, here in Finland
you don't get thirsty often. No matter how long you fast, you
don't get the urge for water."