What do fasting Muslims do in countries where the sun never sets?

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SHAFAQNA – Ramadan is celebrated worldwide in the religion of Islam, and bans all those practicing the religion from eating during the hours of sunlight.

Serving food before dawn and after sunset, they cannot even drink water while they observe in daylight hours during the month-long ritual.

Eating, drinking, smoking and any sexual activity is banned while the sun is visible, and the fast breaks with a meal known as the Iftar.

But for those who live in the northern most regions of the world, fasting can prove tricky if the sun barely sets.

In what is known as a polar day, the sun does not set below the horizon, and the reverse for a polar night.

In the most extreme locations, the sun does not set for 60 days.

Already a momentous challenge to let nothing pass your lips for around 18 hours, Muslims in the north face this added challenge.

Countries which experience a certain degree of polar day and night are Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US.

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In what is known as a polar day, the sun does not set below the horizon

One such place is Kiruna in Sweden, 768 miles north of the capital Stockholm.

Islamic Association spokesperson Mahmoud Khalfi said: “There are many questions about this every day.

“Today I’ve already had at least eight calls about it.

“Muslims from all over Sweden are calling us, and we can help them with it.

“Experts have looked at the issue and settled on a way to work it out.”

The association guides Muslims who are having trouble to guidance issued by the European Council for Fatwa and Research, an independent body.

They detail certain adjustments people can make so as they do not starve to do death.

Mr Khalif continued: “The fast is adjusted to the time that there was last properly dusk and dawn in the area.

“So in Kiruna for example, the fast is adjusted to late March. Around the 20th of that month.

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Kiruna in Sweden, is 768 miles north of the capital Stockholm

“For Muslims in Kiruna that would mean the fast time is the equivalent of those in Stockholm. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, however.

“Muslims in Kiruna can fast as if they lived in mid-Sweden, around Stockholm or Örebro.

“It’s quite a long day in any case: the fast still lasts for around 18 hours. But one can cope.”

Other fatwas, a ruling on a point of Islamic law, instruct observant followers to adjust their times to the nearest Middle Eastern country.

But some Muslims choose to set their own times, following the time zone of Mecca, the holy place of the religion.

Others decide to observe the sun’s movements to the extreme – fasting for 23 hours a day.

One woman, 26-year-old Yasmeen Alhabbash moved to Oslo, Norway, from Gaza, and fasts for 21 hours a day, compared to her 14 hours back home.

She told her friends: “Can you believe I am fasting 21 hours here?

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They cannot even drink water while they observe in daylight hours during the month-long ritual

“I sometimes get headaches, feel weak, and it can be hard to concentrate.”

She counts herself lucky that she does not live further north, where the sun does not set.

Intense debate still lingers among scholars over the phenomena affecting Muslims in the far north, with no uniform advice given.

This year, Muslims in the UK face the longest fasting period in 33 years, as it coincides with the summer solstice.

The countries with the shortest fasting times are Argentina, with 11 hours and 8 minutes, and New Zealand at 11 hours and 21 minutes.

The times and dates of Ramadan vary each year as they are determined by the lunar cycle, but affect around 22 per cent of world population – roughly 1.6 billion people.

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