Late Ramadan

The AP reports:

Muslims living in the world’s tallest tower will have to wait even longer to break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

Mohammed al-Qubaisi, Dubai’s top Muslim cleric, said Sunday that Burj Khalifa residents living above the 80th floor should wait two additional minutes to break their dawn-to-dusk fast while those above the 150th floor must wait three extra minutes because they will be able to see the sun longer than those on the ground.

The article goes on to say that there is a similar rule for people living in mountains (who, presumably, see the sun set later than people living in the plains) and people traveling in planes (who might be chasing the sun or running away from it).

It doesn’t say anything about Muslims living close to the poles. Do Muslims in Antarctica have to fast for months if Ramadan falls in the summer? Or do they get to skip the fasting altogether if it falls in the winter?

Or astronauts in low-earth orbit, e.g., on the International Space Station. That orbits every 91 minutes. Does a devout Muslim have to fast during the, let’s say, 50 minutes that the sun is visible and eat during the 41 minutes when it’s hidden by the Earth? What about a Muslim on the moon? Would he have to wait for a lunar eclipse during Ramadan? Or maybe a portable IV drip would be enough to fool Allah.

And yes, I’m sure there are books, magazines, and web sites in which Quite Serious clerics, with furrowed brows and concerned looks, have already analyzed these and other issues to death, and come up with some interpretation that’s somehow compatible with the Koran, the hadith, and the non-negotiable parts of real life. My point is that religion tends to encourage this sort of literalism. We see it with Jews who don’t use electricity on Saturday as well.

Life is complicated, and we’d all like things to be simpler and more manageable. We follow rules of thumb because it’s easier than working out the optimal solution. But at the same time, there has to be some sort of reality check, to see whether the rules of thumb you’re following make sense or whether they need to be revisited. And when you find yourself wondering when, to the minute, you can have dinner based on which floor you live on, I’d say you’re well past that point. But what religion does is to rope certain statements off and declare them to be unquestionable. And that leads to absurdity.

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3 Responses to Late Ramadan

  1. Eamon Knight says:

    Funny you should ask about circumpolar Muslims: I can’t find it online, but there was an item on the CBC Radio news this morning about Muslims in Iqaluit, and how they solved this problem. After long deliberations by a national council of Canadian imams, it was decided that Muslims in the Arctic should follow Winnipeg time for their observances (that being pretty close to the centre of the country).

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    • arensb says:

      I guess that makes sense.

      I can see a reasonable defense of Ramadan along the lines of “fast during the day, to give you some small idea of what hunger is like, so that you’ll be more empathetic and compassionate toward those undergoing privation, and party at night because hey, party.” Of course, if you put it that way, then the precise time at which Ramadan-day becomes Ramadan-night is irrelevant. “Sundown” may have been a convenient rule of thumb when everyone concerned lived in middle latitudes, close to the surface of the earth, and moved at low velocities. But these days, everyone’s got a wrist watch or a cell phone and it would make at least as much sense to just say “party at 6:30 local time”.

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  2. Fez says:

    And yes, I’m sure there are books, magazines, and web sites in which Quite Serious clerics, with furrowed brows and concerned looks, have already analyzed these and other issues to death, and come up with some interpretation that’s somehow compatible with the Koran, the hadith, and the non-negotiable parts of real life.

    Yep.

    From http://www.wired.com/science/space/news/2007/09/mecca_in_orbit :

    Malaysia’s space agency, Angkasa, convened a conference of 150 Islamic scientists and scholars last year to wrestle with these and other questions. The resulting document (.doc), “A Guideline of Performing Ibadah (worship) at the International Space Station (ISS)”, was approved by Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council earlier this year. According to the report, determining the qibla should be “based on what is possible” for the astronaut, and can be prioritized this way: 1) the Ka’aba, 2) the projection of Ka’aba, 3) the Earth, 4) wherever.

    The referenced document as a PDF can be found here (http://makkah.files.wordpress.com/2007/10/a_guideline_ibadah_at_iss.pdf)

    I know it’s my bias but I can’t get beyond interpreting a catch-all ‘priority’ of “wherever” as putting the lie to the significance of the dogma.

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