Should the Muslims Define the Length of Fast in Ramadan?

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

The International Space Station (ISS) travels at a brisk 17,100 miles per hour. That means it orbits Earth every 90 minutes—so it sees a sunrise every 90 minutes. Thus, every day, the residents of the ISS witness 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets.

When we on earth fast thirty times during the Ramadan, if any of the astronauts of the International Space Station accepts Islam, he or she will need to fast 480 times, in light of the following Quranic verse:

Allah has ordained (fasting) for you; and eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct to you from the black thread of the dawn, then complete the fast till nightfall. (Al Quran 2:187/188)

Every reasonable Muslim will agree that fasting 480 times in the International Space Station will be making a mockery of the Quranic teaching and an unnecessary literal application in a changed and novel situation.

But, many of these same people fail to realize that similar strange situations are happening on the ground on planet earth if they would care to pay attention.

Close to the North Pole, for example in Tromso Norway, the duration of fast will be 24 hours and will be zero hours close to the South Pole this year, when Ramadan is in May and June. When the Ramadan moves to December the converse will apply.


If zero hour fast is a joke and not a fast, so is 24 hour fast! So, here is a solution that I have the courage and presumably the wisdom to propose.

The longest day of the year in Jeddah, Arabia is 13:19 hours long and the shortest day is 10:40 hours long. The longest day is 2:38 longer than the shortest day. Driving distance between Jeddah and Makkah is 53 miles so the duration of day and night is not much different in Makkah.

The fasting starts about an hour and twenty minutes before sunrise. So with a little addition and rounding off, I will call the maximal duration of fast in Saudi Arabia to be 15 hours and that is what I suggest as a possible length for those who don’t want to go through the extraordinary trial of 18-22 hours of fasting.

I am reassured in my understanding by the following verse of the holy Quran and by the articles linked at the end:

The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an was sent down as a guidance for mankind with clear proofs of guidance and discrimination. Therefore, whosoever of you is present at home in this month, let him fast therein. But whoso is sick or is on a journey, shall fast the same number of other days. Allah desires to give you facility and He desires not hardship for you, and that you may complete the number, and that you may exalt Allah for His having guided you and that you may be grateful.  (Al Quran 2:185/186)

The holy Quran expects the fasting to be an exercise of discipline and not a hardship or a torture.  It has created ease for the believers including the sick and the travelers.  Should not those who have travelled, in a manner of speaking, from Arabia the birth place of Islam, to more distant lands, be also given the benefit of this concession?

I don’t claim my suggestions here as an exclusive interpretation of these verses but only as a possible understanding for those Muslims, who want to fast, but are scared by the duration of the fast and the trial that it brings in their lives, in discharging their daily commitments of job, business or study.

Every body is on his or her individual spiritual journey and one size does not fit all, as a recent Pew Research Center survey has shown:

We have good hopes and prayers for the 20% that don’t fast and for the 58% who are not regular in Salat.

In the same vein, as the novelty wears away in years to come, we will be more accepting of those who choose to fast 15 hours rather than 18-22 hours. God is the Final Judge of all matters and of each of us, as He has said so in the very opening chapter of the holy Quran.

Our insistence on the old and the traditional is perhaps grounded in a degree of fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism usually has a religious connotation that indicates unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs. However, fundamentalism has come to apply to a tendency among certain groups—mainly, though not exclusively, in religion—that is characterized by a markedly strict literalism as applied to certain specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, and a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions, leading to an emphasis on purity and the desire to return to a previous ideal from which advocates believe members have strayed. Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established “fundamentals” and their accepted interpretation within the group is often the result of this tendency.

Let us not cage ourselves in an artificial spirituality or religiosity or literalism and free our younger generations towards a more fruitful and rewarding theology, which makes them a success in this life and in the hereafter. Ameen!

Suggested Reading

Arctic Ramadan: fasting in land of midnight sun comes with a challenge

Ramadan Fasting in Sweden, 23 hours a day

Norway: Ramadhan in the Land of the Midnight Sun

God Is Living, So Why Does Religion Treat God As Dead?

The Quran Only Means What Our Wisdom and Intentions Dictate


6 replies

  1. In places with unusually long days or nights the length of the day can be fixed at the usual of 24 hours. The timings of salat and fast will be then determined according to a day of 12 hours and night of 12 hours regardless of the sun. These are exceptional circumstances and there is permission in fiqah for these situations. The group of Muslims living in such circumstances can make this decision with mutual consent or their leader can make this decision. If there is a central leader such as khalifah, then his permission should be sought.
    It should also be noted that very few people are exposed to these conditions as survival in these conditions is very difficult. Almost all people live in areas where no such exception is required.

  2. Continue—
    How do Muslim pray 3 and 5 times a day in Arctic coubtries where the length of day only 1-2 hours?

    From Progressive Muslim view:
    At time of prophet people did not have clock-/ so people saw the the Sun to decide what time was—
    Arab Muslim pray at 6 am, 12 pm, 3 pm, 6 pm and 8 pm
    Shiah Muslim pray at 6 am, 12 pm and 6 pm— only 3 times a day.

    So Muslim who live in Arctuc countries can watch your clock, you fo not need to see the SUN, in modren time any more— so you can dicide what time you get up in the morning and then you star pray Morning Pray —- after 6 hours you pray of Lohor—- after 3 hours you pray ashar — after 4 hours you pray of Maqrip and then after 2 hours you pray night pray—

    Islam us a religion of flexible and do not put difficulty on you— that is why we call Islam is peace, mercy, progressive and beauty

    Hopefully it will be helpful amen
    All love ❤️
    I wish you all a blessed anc peaceful Ramadhan Kareem

    • Somi is so much worried about the dozen or so Muslims that may be working near the arctic circle. Are you planning to spend Ramadan up there?

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