Practising Muslims across the world are observing Ramadan. For one month, they are fasting between first light and sunset. But what do Muslims do in a town where the sun never really goes down? The town of Rovaniemi in Finland lies in a land of extremes. At 66 degrees north it straddles the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland. During midwinter it is cloaked in total darkness. But in the summer it is bathed in daylight. The long days pose a particular problem for fasting Muslims like Shah Jalal Miah Masud. The 28-year-old moved to Rovaniemi – 830km (515 mile) north of the capital, Helsinki – from Bangladesh five years ago to study IT. He has not had any food or water for 21 hours. Masud says it is difficult to fast according to Finnish time and admits he is tired. But despite the hunger and fatigue, he says it is a pleasure to observe Ramadan during the long Finnish days.
There is another option which reduces the number of fasting hours – mark its duration by the rising and setting of the sun in countries far to the south of Finland. Dr Abdul Mannan – a local Imam and president of the Islam Society of Northern Finland – says there are two schools of thought. “The Egyptian scholars say that if the days are long – more than 18 hours – then you can follow the Mecca time or Medina time, or the nearest Muslim country time,” says Dr Mannan. “The other (point of view) from the Saudi scholars says whatever the day is – long or short – you have to follow the local time.” Dr Mannan says the majority of Muslims in northern Finland observe either Mecca’s fasting hours or Turkish time because it is the nearest Muslim country to Finland.
Nafisa Yeasmin recalls her first Ramadan in Rovaniemi when she decided to fast according to Finnish daylight hours, going without food for up to 20 hours a day. “It was very difficult to follow because in Bangladesh we are used to 12 hours’ daytime and 12 hours’ night-time,” she says. “Then I thought, not any more. I have to follow Mecca’s timetable. But I’m a little bit worried whether Allah will accept it or not.”