Ramadan stirs debate on how long northern European Muslims should fast

(Photo: REUTERS / Kyodo)Egyptian sumo wrestler Osunaarashi, real name Abdelrahman Shalan, breaks his Ramadan fast with curry and rice with chicken cutlets in Inazawa, Aichi Prefecture, on the evening of June 30, 2014, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Osunaarashi, 22, is the first Egyptian, first African, first Arab and first Muslim to muscle his way into sumo's professional ranks, so proud of his heritage that he observed the Ramadan fast during a just-ended tournament.

An Islamic researcher for Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank, has triggered debate over daylight timings during the Ramadan fasting month in northern Europe where summer days are much longer than in Mecca.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2015 is set to start on June 18, and will continue for 30 days until July 17.

As it approaches, and British Muslims prepare for four weeks of fasting during daylight hours, the debate on changing the Ramadan observance times in northern regions has sprung up again, The Independent newspaper reports.

Dr. Usama Haswan, a Quilliam researcher, says it would make more sense for UK Muslims to follow Mecca timings, as daylight lasts much longer as far north as Britain than it does in the Middle East.

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Muslims, however, criticized a London primary school for banning Muslim pupils from fasting during Ramadan, The Telegraph reported June 14.

DEPRIVED OF SUSTENANCE AND WATER

Barclay Primary School in Leyton, east London, sent a letter to parents stating its belief that the health of young children could be compromised if they were deprived of sustenance and water.

It said it had sought guidance and that under Islamic Law, children were not required to fast.

"Previously, we have had a number of children who became ill and children who fainted or who have been unable to fully access the school curriculum in their attempt to fast," the letter said.

The Muslim Association of Britain said there were enough rules in place to protect the vulnerable from fasting without school's interference.

"We believe that there are sufficient and stringent rules within Islam which allow those who are unable to fast, to break fast," a spokesman told Mail Online.

"These rules include those who are medically ill or compromised; or too young or too old to fast.

"However, we believe that this determination should be decided by parents with their children; who can together reach a collective decision whether or not the child can fast.

"MAB ascertains that the final choice of whether or not to fast should be the right of the parents, who should in turn encourage their children to fast without forcing them to do so."

Dr. Omer El-Hamdoon, the MAB president said parents ought to have the ultimate say in whether their child participates in the fast.

"Schools should play a supporting role to parents; and issues like this should be discussed, not blanket enforced," he said.

The Independent reports that Muslims at the East London Mosque break their fast after a long day of no food or water.

In Mecca, daylight during Ramadan is usually around 12 to 13 hours. In the southern part of the UK, it typically lasts around 16 hours or more, and the timings mean observers will have to wake up at around 4 a.m. if they want to eat in the morning.

However, in Aberdeen, more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) north of London, daylight will last for around 18 hours during Ramadan.

In Sweden's northernmost town of Kiruna the sun has not set during June and it's not going to go down before August, which would mean a permanent fast for strict Muslims there.

The start of Ramadan is based on the first sighting of the new moon, it comes earlier and earlier each year.

For the last few years, however, it has occurred during the northern hemispheres summer, meaning a much longer fasting time.

Mohammed Kharaki, a spokesman for Sweden's Islamic Association, said it had issued guidelines that said Muslims should fast between the times that the sun was last clearly seen to rise and fall.

The Independent reported that despite this concession, this could well amount to a 19-hour fast.

The newspaper stories on Ramadan fasting times sparked a twitter debate, some of it with anti-Muslim comments.

Shiraj Ahmed (@ShirajShiraj) tweeted June 11, #Provocative #Unacceptable #Discriminatory. Muslim pupils at Barclay Primary School banned from Ramadan fasting... pic.twitter.com/u8Gl2zWOXO

Peter Bickle tweeted, "Look on the bright side. Any Muslim in Antarctica can eat/drink all day as the sun does not rise in June/July."

Taniaelk's tweet said, "Barclay Primary School in East #London bans Muslim student from fasting Ramadan. That's perfect, force feeding kids into European laiceté [sic]."

theshinkicker ‏@theshinkicker said on June 12, "@taniaelk Not allowing children to eat or drink for 18 hours is cruel. If you don't like this, I suggest you migrate to Saudi."

Iftikhar Ahmad ‏@IftikharA tweeted, "@taniaelk Muslim children should be educated in State funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers, otherwise, they would be lost."

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