Storyline

Storyline gather all pieces of information into a holistic picture of the problem of prayer times in high latitude areas.

Islam is a perfect religion and a perfect way of life. In Islam, every issue and rule with regard to worship to Allah SWT and with regard to relationship with other creatures (human being, animals and plants) have been explained in detail. This includes the rules on the daily obligatory prayers and their coressponding times.

After 14 centuries since the first birth of Islam, 1.8 billions Muslims currently live in seven continents. From Arctic Circle areas on the North to the southern tip of Argentine, from desert at Morocco to tropical rain forest in Indonesia, from Cape Town in South Africa to Anchorage in Alaska; in short today Muslims live at almost every corners of the world.

However, not long ago the vast majority of Muslim have only been living between 45deg South to 45deg North, where all phenomena necessary to determine prayer times exist throughout the year. As such, the standard ruling on prayer times can be reasonably implemented.

Go to global Muslim population map...

Even today, only a tiny fraction of Muslims live beyond 45deg latitudes, areas where not all phenomena necessary to determine prayer times exist throughout the year. This reality induces problems to Muslims w.r.t prayer and fasting times. As such, the standard ruling on prayer times can only be implemented partially. These few Muslims living beyond the 45deg then raised concern on prayer and fasting times, which was responded by various House of Fatawa.

The problem we are discussing now, i.e. prayer (and fasting) times for high latitude areas, is actually a multidimensional problem. The problem is so complicated and crucial, such that touch upon many dimensions (geographical, shariah, demographical, behavior-change, social, educational, occupational, health, technical, practical, barrier and fairness dimensions) of the life of Muslims and propective Muslims (the ones who is considering to embrace or to convert to Islam). Here we consider at least 12 dimesions of problems related to prayer and fasting time in the high latitude area.

Going from 45deg latitude to higher latitudes, the summer extreme period extends for merely a few days a year to more than 200 days a year for higher latitude areas. From 66deg latitude to higher latitude, the extreme period also occurs during winter. It last for just a few days and prolong up to 140 days a year on 82deg latitude. The geographical location dictates the availability of natural phenomena necessary to determine prayer times. Here we touch upon another dimension, that is shariah dimension, which provide rules on which natural phenomena necessary to determine each prayer time.

The appearance of fajr sadiq (the true dawn), that is the horizontal whiteness at the east horizon during dawn, is necessary to determine the start of Fajr (Subh) time. Sunrise is necessary to determine the end of Fajr time. The highest position of the sun during the day (or the shortest shadow of an object during the day) is necessary to determine Duhr time. The existence of one time or two times shadow is necessary to determine Asr time. Sunset is necessary to determine the Maghrib time. Finally, the disappearance of the red light or the whiteness at the west horizon is necessary to determine the Isha time.

The summer extreme period occurs when the day is very long, the area experiences sunrise and sunset, but the sun never goes below 18 degree. Strictly speaking, the redness or whiteness never disappear from the horizon. According to standard shariah ruling, there is no Isha time. Furthermore, it would be difficult to determine Fajr time. If we forced to, then Fajr time should be at the middle of the night, merging together with Isha time.

Sunrise and sunset at some part of high latitude areas during summer extreme period also never occurs, which means the sun disk never disappear from the sky. This phenomenon is called as "midnight-sun". According to standard shariah ruling, there is no Maghrib, Isha and Fajr times, because there is no sunset, no true dawn and no disappearance lf the red light at the west horizon. The only prayer time available is Duhr time, i.e. when the sun reaches its peak (even though it will be very low anyway). During this period, it will also be difficult to determine Asr time (which ever method used). Either one shadow or two shadow methods gives very close time to Duhr time (maybe in the order of minutes, if not in seconds).

During winter time, the day tends to shorter and the night becomes longer. The short day can be problematic for performing Duhr and Asr times. As a rule of thumb, it is decided that whenever the day (from sunrise to sunset) is less than 4 hours, then the day is considered as winter extreme period. A day of four hours long gives Duhr and Asr times one hour each. During Friday, one hour should be sufficient to perform Friday sermon and prayer.

This reality gives two options. First, strongly hold on to the natural phenomena necessary to determine prayer times and skip all prayers when they do not exist. Second, whenever one or more natural phenomena necessary to determine prayer times do not exist, then disregard them all together and define solution/method to re-arrange the prayer times (independent of local natural phenomena).

We understand that the first option is not an option at all. We do know that five times obligatory prayers in a single day (24 hours) are absolute. We have to perform the five times prayers no matter what. Therefore, we only left with the second option. The second option is based on the analogy to the Hadith which mentions about how long Dajjal will stay on earth and how we supposed to salat when the day is very long or very short.

In Sahih Muslim (5228) narrated from An Nawwas bin Sam'an, Rasulullah SAW was asked about how long Dajjal will stay on earth. Rasulullah SAW replied:

أَرْبَعُونَ يَوْمًا يَوْمٌ كَسَنَةٍ وَيَوْمٌ كَشَهْرٍ وَيَوْمٌ كَجُمُعَةٍ وَسَائِرُ أَيَّامِهِ كَأَيَّامِكُمْ

which means, "Forty days, one day will be like a year, one day will be like a month, one day will be like a week, and the rest of the days will be like your days."

And then someone asked: "O Rasulullah, for one day which equals to one year, will it be sufficient for us to perform salat once in a day?"

Rasulullah SAW replied:

لَا اقْدُرُوا لَهُ قَدْرَهُ

which means, "No, but you should estimate the timing."

Other similar hadith is mentioned in Sunan Abu Daud 3764 (shahih), Sunan Tirmidzi 2166 (shahih, here the one who asked about this issue was An-Nawwas), Sunan Ibnu Majah 4065 (shahih), and Musnad Ahmad 16971.

According to another similar hadith in Sunan Ibnu Majah 4067 (dhaif according to Al-Albani), similar estimation is also valid when the day is very short. In the hadith, Rasulullah SAW said:

وَإِنَّ أَيَّامَهُ أَرْبَعُونَ سَنَةً السَّنَةُ كَنِصْفِ السَّنَةِ وَالسَّنَةُ كَالشَّهْرِ وَالشَّهْرُ كَالْجُمُعَةِ وَآخِرُ أَيَّامِهِ كَالشَّرَرَةِ يُصْبِحُ أَحَدُكُمْ عَلَى بَابِ الْمَدِينَةِ فَلَا يَبْلُغُ بَابَهَا الْآخَرَ حَتَّى يُمْسِيَ

which means, "Verily that his (Dajjal's) days will be 40 years, a year will be like half year, a year will be like a month, a month will be like a week, and the rest of the day will be like sparkling fire. A man walks from one gate of Madinah in the morning, and not yet he arrived at the other gate, the day is already set".

And then someone asked:"O Rasulullah, how we supposed to perform salat during those short days?"

Rasulullah SAW replied:

تَقْدُرُونَ فِيهَا الصَّلَاةَ كَمَا تَقْدُرُونَهَا فِي هَذِهِ الْأَيَّامِ الطِّوَالِ ثُمَّ صَلُّوا

which means, "Estimate your days to perform salat just like you estimate salat during the long days, and then perform salat".

Whatever method implemented should always be in the corridor of the purpose of shariah (maqasid al-Shariah), i.e. the preservation of:

  • Religion/Faith (din)
  • Life (nafs)
  • Lineage/Progeny (nasl)
  • Intellect (‘aql)
  • Property/Wealth (mal)

Whatever method implemented should aim to give the solution to the Muslims, not to induce other problems. It is definite that there are a number of solutions available (or proposed) throughout the history. Any method cannot invalidate any other method. However, any able and knowledgeable Muslims may evaluate each solution on its implementation and assess its practicality, benefits and disadvantages. Comparing between various available valid solutions, a criteria that might help to select a method to implement is taking the easier one. This is according to the example that Rasulullah SAW has given his ummah.

In Sahih Bukhari (4295) narrated from Aishah RA, she said:

مَا خُيِّرَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ بَيْنَ أَمْرَيْنِ أَحَدُهُمَا أَيْسَرُ مِنْ الْآخَرِ إِلَّا اخْتَارَ أَيْسَرَهُمَا مَا لَمْ يَكُنْ إِثْمًا

which means: “Whenever Rasulullah SAW was offered two options, an option is easier than the other, then he always choose the easier one, as long as it is not a sin.

Similar hadiths to the one above are mentioned in Sahih Bukhari (3296, 5661, 6288), Sahih Muslim (4294, 4295), Sunan Abu Daud (4153), Musnad Ahmad (23410, 23686, 23702, 24127, 24310, 24403, 24574, 24686, 25061), and Muwatha Malik (1401).

This problem affects all groups of age, i.e. children, teenager, young and productive people, as well as old people, in different ways in relations to social, behavior-change, educational, and health dimensions. Therefore, whatever method implemented should give consideration on the full spectrum of demography of Muslims living in the area. This means that the solution is not only targetting the strongest ones and leave out the weak ones. The solution shall not only targetting the young and productive ones and leave out the old ones and children.

What happen when Ramadhan occur during the summer extreme period and the time table used is the one which force the people to fast longer than 18 hours? Some people (mainly young and productive people) are indeed strong and their body could adapt to such situation. This group most likely only eating once in 24 hours period, mainly due to full (the food is not yet finished to be processed) and the very short time available to do it.

In order to keep up with the Isha and tharawih prayers as well as Fajr prayer, they tend to awake during the night (or more precisely during the vicinity of midnight, let say between 22:00 and 03:00). The night sleep is then changed into the beginning (let say between 18:00-22:00) and end (between 03:00-07:00) of the night. So basically they divide the night sleep into two parts, i.e. before Maghrib and after Fajr.

Some weaker people, including children and old people, and due to various reasons related to health (such as indigestion or dyspepsia) and occupasional (job/work) issue, tend to skip the fasting. If fortunate, they might try to compensate in the other days. If they indeed do so, nevertheless they lose the atmosphere of Ramadan.

Some people with sufficient money, they could afford to "escape" to more moderate climate for the whole month of Ramadan and then back again when everything is normal.

What happen when Ramadhan occurs during the summer extreme period and the time table used is the one which forces the people to fast longer than 18 hours? As consequence of daily behavior-change as described previously, social relation between members of family and between Muslims and others outside the family also changes.

As mentioned before that people tends to sleep at the beginning and at the end of the night. This means all of their usual activities in the afternoon has to be ceased during the month of Ramadan, such as shopping for household logistics, sending kids to sport club and martial art, refresh walking with family in the neighborhood, tidy up the garden, tidy up the house, cooking for dinner, and any other activities people usually do after working hours. Maybe the only thing that has to be done no matter what is cooking for dinner.

This also means that there are many people who cannot sleep at the beginning of the night due to work related issue, such as shop keeper, they have very little time to sleep. And any less sleep than needed will have detrimental effect on physical and psychological health.

Due to very long day and very short night (or even maybe no night), husband and wife have no chance to make an intimate relationship throughout the month of Ramadan. This fact is against the nature of Islam's law which tends to channel the basic human need into halal means, not suppress it. This issue is very important, such that it is mentioned in the Quran Surat Al-Baqarah verse 187.

أُحِلَّ لَكُمْ لَيْلَةَ الصِّيَامِ الرَّفَثُ إِلَىٰ نِسَائِكُمْ ۚ هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَّكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَّهُنَّ ۗ عَلِمَ اللَّهُ أَنَّكُمْ كُنتُمْ تَخْتَانُونَ أَنفُسَكُمْ فَتَابَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَعَفَا عَنكُمْ ۖ فَالْآنَ بَاشِرُوهُنَّ وَابْتَغُوا مَا كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ ۚ وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا حَتَّىٰ يَتَبَيَّنَ لَكُمُ الْخَيْطُ الْأَبْيَضُ مِنَ الْخَيْطِ الْأَسْوَدِ مِنَ الْفَجْرِ ۖ ثُمَّ أَتِمُّوا الصِّيَامَ إِلَى اللَّيْلِ ۚ

It has been made permissible for you the night preceding fasting to go to your wives [for sexual relations]. They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them. Allah knows that you used to deceive yourselves, so He accepted your repentance and forgave you. So now, have relations with them and seek that which Allah has decreed for you. And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread [of night]. Then complete the fast until the nightfall.

The cause of revelation of this particular verse was as follows. At that time, there was an assumption that in the month of Ramadan it is forbidden (haram) for eating, drinking and having intimate relation between husband and wife after falling asleep at night until he breaks the fast the next day. One day Umar bin Khaththab RA came home from the Prophet's home after a late night. He wants to have intimate relation with his wife, but his wife says: "I'm asleep." Umar said: "You are not sleeping", and he did that to his wife. Likewise Ka'b did so. The next day Umar told about that to the Prophet SAW. Then the above verse (QS. Al-Baqarah verse 187) was revealed from the beginning to the end of the verse. (Narrated by Ahmad, Ibn Jarir, and Ibn Abi Hatim from Abdullah bin Ka'b bin Malik, who came from his father.)

For Muslim family home is the first school of the children, where the first effort to forge them into better future Muslims generation is done. The best method of education is without doubt by example (role model). During the long day in summer period, children usually go to bed even before sunset. If we cling on to the principle of using sunset to determine Maghrib time eventhough it is very close to mid-night, while children usually go to bed few hours before mid-night, then children will skip the Maghrib and Isha prayers or at least they will not observe their parent performing Maghrib and Isha prayers during summer period. This is in a long run will affect the effectiveness of enjoin them to perform salat. The tendency is that parents have harder time to dicipline their children to perform salat.

Moreover, parents might violate the advice of Rasululah SAW about salat education to the children. In a hadith in Sunan Abu Dawud (417, hasan sahih), Rasulullah SAW said:

مُـرُوْا أَوْلاَدَكُمْ بِالصَّـلاَةِ وَهُمْ أَبْنَاءُ سَبْعِ سِنِيْنَ، وَاضْرِبُوْهُمْ عَلَيْهَا، وَهُمْ أَبْنَاءُ عَشْرٍ،.

which means, "Enjoin your kid to perform salat when he is 7 years age. And if he leaves salat when he is 10 years old, then beat him.".

Another similar hadith is also narrated in Musnad Ahmad (6402, 6467), Sunan Darimi (1395, hasan) and Sunan Tirmidzi (372, hasan).

Many Islamic scholars took this hadith as analogy also for fasting, that is children should be enjoined to fast when they are 10 years old. During summer extreme period, when the day becomes very long, this will be problematic for the children.

Fasting for very long time, let say up to 18 hours or more may be possible for people with less activities, such as unemployed people. This might not be true for pensionist, due to the old age.

An imam in the masjid (regularly paid) may also be strong enough to perform such a long fasting. He can lead all the prayers, including tharawih in the night. He is able to wake up the whole night. But then, he sleeps after Fajr time, which is quite close to mid-night, until few hours before Duhr.

Some people working under the shade with minimum physical activities, such as working in the office dealing with computers and papers, may also be strong enough to perform such a long fasting.

However, the greater number of people who relies on physically related jobs, such as cleaning service, teacher, construction worker, carpenter, driver, shop keeper, delivery man, porter, sailor, laundry, etc, tends to skip the fasting. They then might or might not compensate the fasting in another day.

While majority of the people are able to fast 15-16 hours long, only few are able to fast 18 hours or more for extended days due to health issue. These few are mostly comprised of healthy young men, see Nugraha etal. (2017)

Very long fasting strongly correlates with very short sleep. Very short sleep for extended days may harm physically and mentally, see Banks & Dinges (2007). Very short sleep may increase the risk of mortality, see Kripke etal. (2011).

The waking up during the whole night and shifting the sleep into other abnormal time to sleep can be analagous to shiftwork. Research shown that shiftwork has detrimental effect (tending to cause harm) w.r.t quality of sleep, general health, and work performance, see e.g. Gordon etal. (1986) and Fido & Ghali (2008).

Technically, this problem is not difficult to solve, once collective decision is made. All computation tools and astronomical formulas necessary to calculate prayer times are available.

Various fatawa offer their proposed solution. Each of these solution has to be implemented into a time table. An assessment is then made to decide if the time table based on the respective proposed solution is able to solve all problems surrounding this issue. The aim is then to get a solution which does not create another problem.

Needless to say that problems surrounding this issue might made Non Muslims and prospective Muslims to run away. It would be hard for them to see the beauty of Islam, the justice of Islamic Shariah, and the concept that Islam is rahmatan lil 'alamin (mercy to the worlds), when the rule for fasting during summer period seems to be devastating.

This problem affects Muslims for several days in a year at around 48deg up to more than 200 days in a year at around 75deg. The phenomena of long fasting time and Maghrib, Isha and Fajr times compressed in just few hours in the vicinity of mid-night, these difficulties tumble upon Muslims living in the high latitude areas every year. While all Muslims living in the other part of the world enjoy the ability to fast (wajib and sunnah) throughout the year peacefully, Muslims living in the high latitude areas tend to skip the sunnah fasting and seeing the Ramadan as dreadful experience.

If all of the earth belongs to Allah SWT. It would be far from fairness if Muslims living in the high latitude areas must accept the difficulties they are facing every year as inevitability. There must be solution for these problems, because Allahu Al-'Adl (العدل), Allah The Just.


References:

  1. Leave the Isha prayer

    Leaving Isha prayer is not preferable but allowed in the period where Isha and Fadjr times are mixed. Shafaq Ahmer does not disappear to Fadjr time. The number of Muslims using this discount is not big.

  2. Combine Maghrib and Isha

    Although Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Imam Shafi, Imam Hanafi, Imam al-Nawawi and many others do not allow combining Maghrib and Isha, and others who allow this combination, don’t allow it as a habit, yet there are many who practice it when Isha is too late. Those who practice it use a Hadith from Muslim where Ibn Abbas RA said "The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) combined noon and mid afternoon prayers, and combined sunset and nightfall prayers, in Medina, under no circumstances of fear or rain." Ibn-Abbas was asked, "So, why did he do that? He answered; he (the Prophet) wanted to remove pains and troubles off his nation.” Further given arguments are; Allah doesn't burden any soul with more than it can bear (Quran 2:286). Allah puts no burden on anyone beyond what He has given him (Quran 65:7). He has chosen you and has not burdened you with any difficulty in the religion (Quran 22:78).

  3. Nearest Day (Aqrab Al-Ayyam)

    This principle is due to the traditional jurists of the Hanafi School. The principle is, for the period of time when twilight does not end, the time for Sahur for this “abnormal” period will be taken as the time for the last day on which twilight ended.

  4. Nearest Latitude (Aqrab Al-Balad)

    This principle is due to the fellow jurists of the Shafii School. The difference of time between the beginning of twilight and sunrise at 48 degree latitude is calculated. The same difference is maintained between the end of Sahur time and the sunrise for the locality for which the Sahur time is to be evaluated. Muslim world league has moved nearest latitude to 45 degrees in March 1986.

  5. Middle of the Night (Nisf Al-Lail)

    This principle is due to the latter jurists. The period from sunset to sunrise is divided into two halves. The first half is considered to be the “night” and the other half as “day break”. Thus the time for Sahur will end at the mid-point.

  6. One-seventh of the Night (Sabe Min-Lail)

    This principle is again attributed to recent jurists. The period between sunset and sunrise is divided in seven equal parts. During the six-seventh of the period, following sunrise, it is recommended that people may consume food for Sahur. The time limit for Sahur will therefore be one-seventh part of the night, before sunrise. For example on 21st April in Oslo the sunset time is 8.50 pm and sunrise on the following day is 5.40 am. The sunset to sunrise duration is therefore 530 minutes. One-seventh of this duration is approximately 76 minutes. Thus the limit time for Sahur on 22nd April will be 4.24 am.

  7. Follow the 45 degree latitudes

    This decision was given by Muslim World League in 1406 AH (1986 CE).The conclusion of the ruling in the fatwa regarding prayer and fasting time in abnormal period is as follows.

    • The ruling regarding Region 2 (48 to 66 degrees latitudes north or south) is that the times for Isha and Fajr should be determined by using the corresponding percentages for these prayers at the latitude of 45 degrees.
    • The ruling regarding Region 3 (66 degree latitude north or south and the corresponding pole) is that the times for all prayers should be computed according to their analogues at latitude of 45 degrees. The 24 hours in a day in this region should be divided up into the same proportions as it is at 45 degrees.
    • Local Relative Estimation: In August 2009, Muslim World League came with a new method to calculate prayer times for Isha and Fadjr in abnormal period. The procedure is as follow.
      • The time span between Sunset and Isha time is found for each day the actual Isha time exists. Let’s call this "Isha Length".
      • The time span between Sunset and Sunrise is found for each day the actual Isha time exists. Let’s call this "Night Length".
      • The percentage of Isha Length to Night Length is found for each day the actual Isha time exists. Let’s call this "Isha Percentage".
      • Now we will end up with many Isha Percentages, so the average Isha Percentage is found. Let’s call this "Average Isha Percentage".
      • When Isha prayer time disappears on a certain day, this percentage will be applied to find the alternative Isha Prayer Time.
      • The same Average Percentage is used to find the alternative Fajr Time.
      • If the above mentioned procedure is used directly in the first day the Isha/Fajr disappears, then there will be a big difference in time between Isha/Fajr prayer time of the last day the actual Isha/Fajr prayer time exists and between the first day the alternative Isha/Fajr prayer time is used. Thus this procedure is not used directly when the Isha/Fajr time disappears! Instead, at the beginning of the disappearance period, the alternative Isha time is found by subtracting 5 minutes from the previous day (and 5 minutes are added to the Fajr prayer time of the previous day). This 5-minute increment is used until there is no gap found using the Local Relative Estimation method. Same procedure is used at the end of the disappearance period.
  8. Twilight angles for Isha and Fadjr

    Some solutions are just based on twilight angles for Isha and Fadjr that vary between 10 to 19.5 degrees.

  9. Twilight angles for fadjr and a number of minutes for Isha

    This number may differ from 30 to 120 minutes. It has potential for many combinations.

  10. Mushahida (Observance)

    Hizb-ul-ulema in England has done their own observations with the naked eye in Blackburn and created prayer timetables. Molvi Yakub Miftahi has written a rapport and a book about it. The observation method and the way it has been transformed to other cities have been criticized. The found repeated criticism is that observers were inexperienced, methodological errors, Blackburn is among the most polluted areas, too few observations and transformation to other cities is not based on Mushahida but on adding or subtracting minutes. There are many mosques in England who are using their timetables.

  11. Divide the night in 3

    Divide the time between sunset and sunrise in three. Isha starts at the end of first part.

  12. Fasting under 20 hours

    Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Almusleh from Saudi Arabia came with the upper fasting limit of twenty hours in 2007. According to this fatwa one can use Makkah or Madina prayer times analogously, when fasting time reaches twenty hours.

  13. Fasting under 18 hours

    When fasting time reaches eighteen hours, switch over to Makkah or Madina prayer times analogously. This fatwa was announced in August 2010 by Dar-al-Ifta Almisriyyah (Egypt).

  14. Night has no indicator while the day’s indicator is not sun but its brightness (duha)

    A new method from Centre for Religious and Innate Research of the Süleymaniye Foundation Turkey. According to them they provide solution for all latitudes. They have added new meanings to some words in Quran in order to include white nights that are found at high latitudes. Maximum day length will be zawal time pluss 90 degrees sun move. When sun goes beyond 90 degrees then the day length is reduced by the extension over 90 degrees. In this way at higher latitude day length will be less than that at many lower latitudes. Instead of sun they use sun’s brightness (duha) for finding prayer times. They have no solution for the situation where days are very short. They are still working and the project is not complete.

All these solutions given above did not come in one day. The very existence of many different solutions for Isha and Fajr is the real evidence of dissatisfaction regarding prayer times among Muslims. You ask for a new solution because you are not satisfied with the existing one.

Which method?

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Why?

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How to calculate?

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The impracticality of aqrab-al-ayyam method

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The impracticality of aqrab-al-bilad method

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The limit of one seventh method

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Tolerance time

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Coverage area

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The pitfall for areas at the border

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*Only skeleton is provided in order to give the framework for ongoing (future) works.