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.
In Rovaniemi, a northern Finland town that straddles the Arctic Circle at 66 degrees north, the sun rises around 3:20 am and sets about 11:20 pm. 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 area. 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 Mecca, 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 per cent of Sweden's Muslims."
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's permitted to break the fast for health reasons.
Kaltouma 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.


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