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.