By Harriet Sherwood
Muslims in the northern hemisphere face the most challenging Ramadan for more than 30 years, with long summer days creating the shortest possible window for breaking their daily fast.
The Islamic holy month, which is expected to begin on Monday, straddles the summer solstice this year, meaning early dawns and late sunsets. The dates of Ramadan, which are determined by the moon, move forward by 10 or 11 days each year in a 33-year cycle.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast between dawn and sunset, abstaining from food, drink, smoking and sex. In the depths of winter, the daily fast can be as short as eight hours, compared with more than 20 hours in some places this year.
“We had a taste of this last year, but this year it’s even more challenging,” saidIbrahim Mogra, assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain. “But this is all part and parcel of the experience, and most Muslims take it in their stride. Maybe a few more will take advantage of the exemptions available to the elderly, frail and those on medication.”
Muslims in the Scottish Highlands and islands face the longest fasting period in the UK. “In the Highlands, the light never really goes – it’s dusk, rather than complete darkness. We still have to go about our lives, so it can be tough,” said Waheed Khan, a hospital doctor and trustee of the Inverness Masjid, the most northerly mosque in the UK.
“But Muslims are motivated to fast. Thinking about it seems difficult, but doing it is fine,” he added.
Inverness is home to a few hundred Muslims, although numbers fluctuate with short-term employment contracts in the NHS and other industries. A handful of Muslims live further north, in Shetland. “One of the challenges is to make a [Ramadan] timetable for them,” said Khan.
Many employers make special allowances for staff who are fasting, allowing shifts to be moved earlier in the day when energy levels are higher and giving people time out to pray.
“Lots of Muslims save up their holidays so they don’t have to work for at least part of Ramadan,” Mogra said. “And these days people have better choices – slow-release energy foods, for example – which make them better equipped.”
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