The challenge of fasting over 18 hours in Sweden

Sweden's long summer days are presenting a challenge to Muslims fasting for Ramadan. Religious leaders say the long hours of daylight are not a good excuse to skip the fast. 

Things are set to get even more challenging in 2015, when the fast will fall in June.

During the month-long fast, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sex between daybreak and sunset. While this is a challenge for people everywhere, in Sweden it presents particular challenges. 

In northern Sweden, where dawn on Wednesday broke at 2:46 am, Muslims are expected to fast for over 18 hours, compared to only 13 hours in Mecca, for instance.

Mikael Sundin, a board member of the Association of Muslims in Umea, said living so far north presented certain challenges:

"It's even more extreme here that it is in Stockholm. But most Muslims up here are following the official times. I'm going to follow the times and see how it goes," he told The Local.

In many Muslim countries, the fast is often broken in the evening with long and elaborate meals. But with some Swedish Muslims experiencing only a few hours of darkness, this becomes harder to do.

Imam Mahmoud Khalfi at Stockholm Mosque told The Local that the principles of fasting at Ramadan were clear:

"There is still day and night, so Muslims should follow the rule that you fast during the hours of daylight."

He pointed out that Sweden's Muslims had to take the rough with the smooth:

"Sometimes Ramadan falls in the winter, and then the hours of daylight are very short."

Indeed, in 2005, the month of fasting stretched from October to November, when daylight hours are short. But in coming years the fast will be even longer than this year - in 2015, it begins on 18th June, when many parts of Sweden don't get dark at all.

In those circumstances, says Mahmoud Khalfi, Muslims are allowed to follow the patterns of nearest city in which it gets dark.

"There are also those who say you should follow the patterns of Mecca," he said, and pointed out that there were different schools of thought within Islam on exactly how the fast should be observed.

The young, the sick and the elderly are absolved of the duty to fast, Khalfi points out.

While insisting on the strict observance of the rules might sound a bit tough on Swedish Muslims, Mahmoud Khalfi points out that the fast can be tough for people in Muslim countries too:

"In very warm countries, such as those in the Sahara, it isn't easy, but people fast the whole day anyway," he said, adding that there were advantages other than the knowledge that people were observing their religious duties:

"It strengthens your will and strengthens your patience. You learn to control your inner desire. It also teaches solidarity with the poor - those who have nothing to eat," he said.

James Savage ([email protected])

Source: The Local

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  10 Comments   Comment

  1. Hamid from United Kingdom

    I don't agree... the people in Muslim countries get supports, like the

    working hours are shrunk to half, they come back home by Duhar and

    sleep for hours to kill time... We should try to learn Hikmah and come

    out of emotionality... the extra long time lengths of Fasting is

    giving message to new muslims in the cold freezing west that Islam

    doesn't have a solution for them... I think, it's better that the

    Fatwa is only taken by the Islamic Scholars who have been living in

    the west for many years and they also go work for earning, because

    only they understand the correct situation here and the solution....

  2. Siddeeque Zainuddeen from KSA

    This is interesting piece of writing. Duration of fasting is a little more than 14 hours in Makkah today, not 13 hours as the author wrote.

  3. Siddeeque Zainuddeen from India

    I enjoyed reading this beautiful article and beautiful comments.May Allah Bless. Aameen.

  4. Amina from Mexico


    12 hours should be enough. The Prophet, s.a.w.s, never fasted more that 12 hours.

    14 or 16 hours is simply an excess in my view.

    Ramadan Mubarak!

  5. Naveed Abbasi from United Kingdom

    Ramadhan Karim to all, well the article(infact the issue) made me smile, We in UK are not far behind as our fast this year in London is about 17 hours( Iam sure its over 18 hour in Scotland), and I have had chance of fasting for much less hours but in much higher temprature,and oh boy ,I will swap cooler climate of Sweden and Europe with 20 hour fast then 12 hour of much hotter climate.

    So brothers and sisters in Sweden you should be thankful to Allah SWT for beautiful climate as I can gurantee you that living without food is possible for 24 hours or more but when your throats are dry because of heat ,even 12 hour would seems a lifetime.

    May Allah SWT accepts our fasts and all other good deeds.Ameen

  6. Revelation from US & A

    Assalamu Alaikum,

    This is an interesting article, which brings up my question. How do people fast in parts of Sweeden (or some other country) where the sun does not set at all for 6 months, or where it's dark for 6 months?

    This Ramadan, in many parts of the United States, people are fasting 15 1/2 hours. Several years from now, when Ramadan hits the month of July and the sun does not set until 9:30 or 10:00 p.m., it will be much longer. However, as brother Asif said, we should keep the ultimate aim in mind as it will be well worth it in the end, Insha' Allah.

  7. Abdullah from Malaysia

    Assalamu alaikum!

    I think it would be interesting to see the opinion of the European Council for Fatwa and Research on this issue. They must have deliberated on this issue. Only the people in really good health would be able to sustain such fast (which might be alright; others can always pay fidyah and/or make up the fast later). Between iftar and tarawih prayers, there is very little time left to rest and recuperate. As for fasting during the time when the sun doesn't set at all, how would following the nearest city where it gets dark be possible? Such a city would still have very long days (22 hours or so). I remember visiting Finland in June many years ago, and it got dark for about an hour or two. It makes sense to follow Makkah time in such circumstance. Insisting on fasting for 18 hours, without taking into consideration the possibility of facilitation (taysir), should be reconsidered. Please don't conclude from this I'm advocating one position or the other, or that I'm issuing a fatwa; I'm not! I'm just thinking aloud and wondering if there could be other options to an 18 hour fast. Ramadan Mubarak everyone!

  8. Asif from US

    For any activity in life, we should always keep the end goal in mind.

    For fasting, they are:

    1- to please Allah (swt) the Most High, Most Merciful

    2- the struggles in this world will insha'Allah pay off in the grave and in the Final Day.

    3- With every difficulty comes ease