We have to distinguish between two situations:
- At latitudes less than those of the polar circles (< 66°33’ N and S) the sun sets and rises throughout the year.
- At higher latitudes still, there is perpetual day or perpetual night at some periods during the year.
In the second case of extreme latitudes, beyond the polar circles, we can ignore the southern hemisphere since there is no inhabited land beyond the Antarctic polar circle. Such is not the case for the north of the Arctic polar circle.
In fact, we will see that the demarcation line for the calculation of the prayer times at high latitudes is not the Arctic polar circle, but already 60°N, the southern hemisphere not being concerned.
The algorithm of Syed Khalid Shaukat can be extended up to latitudes of 65° by means of comparison with another value for Subh Sadiq and for Shafaq. This is explained in what follows.
Between the latitudes 55° and 65°, north or south, the days are very long in summer. Subh Sadiq can then occur very early in the morning. Combined with a very late Isha, this situation can cause hardship for the Muslim, especially during the time of fasting. Muslim jurists (Fuqaha) have studied this question.
In practice, between the latitudes 55° and 65°, we compare two values: the one given by the algorithm of Syed Khalid Shaukat and the one given by the rule of Sub’u Lail, the seventh of the night. The rule of Sub’u Lail is admitted by Hakim ul Ummat Ashraf Ali Thanwi (Imadadul Fatawa, vol 2, p 98, 12/12/1322 Hijri) and also by Allamah Shami in Durre Mukhtar. (For more details, we invite the user to consult the site www.moonsighting.comin the section “Prayer Times”). According to this rule, the night is divided into seven equal segments. The time of Fajr will then be either at the beginning of the last segment of the night or at the time given by the algorithm of Syed Khalid Shaukat, always retaining the later of the two times. On the contrary, the time for Isha will either be at the end of the first segment of the night or at the time given by the algorithm of Syed Khalid Shaukat, always retaining the earlier of the two times.
The rule of Sub’u Lail does not suffice to resolve the problem of the length of the fast at the very high latitudes.
The second town in Finland, Tampere, is situated at 61.5°N and 23.8°E. It has a population of 300 000 with 5000 Muslims. The Muslims are represented by the Islamic Society of Tampere. The length of the day towards 20th June, the summer solstice – that is, the interval between Fajr and Maghrib – exceeds 20 hours, in spite of the application of the rule of Sub’u Lail. Yet, Tampere is far from the polar circle.
The situation is worse in the towns north of the polar circle. Let us take the example of Narvik in Norway, situated at 68.47°N and 17.43°E. On 20th June – the summer solstice – the interval between Fajr and Maghrib is 23H27M, whereas at the winter solstice, 20th December, the interval is reduced to 2H51M. And this occurs even after applying the rule of Sub’u Lail. For the fasting in Ramadan, in one case as in the other, such delays are abnormal. We have received many messages from cities at the higher latitudes conveying to us the difficulty of observing a fast of such a length in summer.
The Creator wants discipline, but not beyond human forces. The five daily prayers are compulsory, but, in extreme cases, it is allowed to use a wise and healthy judgement. As proof, one can cite the Hadith of Dajjal, when the day will be like a year. The companions of the Prophet received the instruction to calculate judiciously in such a situation (Reported by Muslim – Vol. 2, p. 51 and 52 – as narrated by Annawwas ibn Sam’an).
One last difficulty that we have already mentioned above: north of the polar circle, the sun does not set or does not rise and some periods of the year. At Hammerfest in Norway, for example, at 77.66°N and 23.68°E, this happens between 14th May and 30th July (perpetual day) and between 22nd November and 19th January (perpetual night).
Some Muslims in the northern countries asked us whether, in case of an abnormal situation, it was legitimate to refer to the prayer times in Makkah in order to limit the duration of fasting in summer. According to us, such a procedure is not legitimate. However, we asked our team member, Professor Hocine Bourriche (see “about ourselves” on the welcome page of our Website) to examine whether it was possible to find a reliable jurisprudence in order to fix the maximum length of the fast in summer and a minimal length in winter, in the case, of course of an abnormal situation. After a great deal of research, Professor Bourriche found the required jurisprudence. We invite the reader to consult it by clicking on the following link: study by Professor Bourriche.
According to the Egyptian Council of Fatwa, Dar al-Iftae: “Any length of fasting superior to 18 hours or inferior to 6 hours should be considered as abnormal. One should, in this case, refer oneself to the times of Mecca.” We accept the normality of the fasting durations proposed by the Council. But we do not accept the reference to the times of Mecca because the difference in the day lengths is too important and the change too sudden. As far as this second point is concerned, we shall rather follow the solution suggested by the Council of Eminent Scholars of Saudi Arabia and which consists in case of extreme conditions – total absence of day or total absence of night – to refer to the nearest “balanced” country.
In practice, we do not retain the normative values fixed by the Fatwa of Dar al-Iftae, but those practiced by the inhabitants of the northern countries at 60° latitude. Two important cities are situated at this latitude with large Muslim populations. One is Oslo in Norway (40 000 Muslims) and St Petersburg in Russia (500 000 Muslims with a beautiful mosque, the largest in Europe until 1990).
It so happens that the longest day of the year, both in Oslo and in St Petersburg is 19 hours and 38 minutes (on 20th or 21st June) whereas the shortest day is 7 hours 43 minutes (on 20th or 21st December). Defined as the time interval between Fajr and Maghrib, it is these durations that we use as reference rather than the 18 hours or 6 hours fixed by the jurisprudence. An important Muslim population practices these fast durations since a very long time and thus it is legitimate to use them as reference.
We note in passing that the day lengths depend mainly on latitude and very little on longitude. Thus, at the other end of the earth, in White Horse, Canada, situated at 60.68°N and 135.13°W, the maximal and minimal day lengths are more or less the same (19H54M on 20th June and 7H27M on 20th December). It is true that the Muslim population concerned in White Horse is not important, only about 50 members.
For any location L, at a latitude of more than 60°, as soon as the day lengths (duration between Fajr and Maghrib) exceed 19H38M in summer or are less than 7H43M in winter (this, in spite of applying the rule of Sub’u Lail), we slide imperceptibly to the south, keeping the same longitude as L. The steps of sliding are tiny: 0.03°, the objective being to avoid brutal changes in the prayer timings and keeping the day lengths within the normative limits of 19H38M and 7H43M.
We slide towards the south until we reach the latitude of 60° - that of Oslo and of St Petersburg – at the summer or the winter solstice. Thereafter, we slide back imperceptibly to the north, until a point of time when the situation is again normal at L, with day lengths within the normative limits. We use the same method all the more when the sun does not rise or set at L.
The period during which we have to “quit” the location L and slide towards the south depends on the latitude of L. At Hammerfest for example, at 77.66°N, the situation is abnormal from 30th April to 14th August in summer and from 3rd November to 9th February in winter. Between 14th May and 30th July the sun does not set whereas between 22nd November and 19th January it does not rise. Thus, it is only outside these periods that we can apply the normal rules of calculation for Hammerfest.
1. For latitudes up to 60° North or South we use the algorithm developed by Syed Khalid Shaukat, comparing the value thus obtained with that given by the depression of the sun at 18°. The time we retain for Fajr is the later of the two values. The time retained for Isha is the earlier of the two values.
2. For latitudes between 55° and 60° North or South, we still use the algorithm developed by Syed Khalid Shaukat. We compare the value obtained with that given by the rule of the seventh of the night. Fajr is prayed at the later of the two values and Isha at the earlier of the two values. This best avoids a situation of hardship for the faithful.
3. For latitudes superior to 60°, we take into account the normative values given, on the one hand, by Islamic jurisprudence (Dar al-Iftae), and, on the other hand, by the custom in the large cities situated at 60° latitude, Oslo in Norway and St Petersburg in Russia. These values are 19H48M in summer and 7H43M in winter. As soon as the situation becomes abnormal in the places at high latitudes, we slide in steps on 0.03° south, maintaining the same longitude. We do this in order to keep the day lengths within the normative limits. As soon as the situation becomes normal in the place under consideration, we return to the usual method of calculation.
4. The other prayer times, Zuhr, Asar and Maghrib, have precise mathematical definitions. Since we always maintain a “normal” situation with defined times of sunrise and sunset, these prayer times are easy to calculate.