Ramadan in the Arctic: How do you break a fast at sundown if the sun doesn’t set?

In Iqaluit, Nunavut, labourers are working long hours to finish the region’s first mosque before winter. And they’re doing so without eating or drinking anything, even water, for almost 22 hours each day.

Like Muslims around the world, the mosque’s construction crew is observing the holy month of Ramadan — which moves based on the lunar calendar and this year falls during summer — by fasting from sunrise to sunset. Summertime means longer days without food for Muslims across the Northern Hemisphere. But it is particularly challenging for the thousands who live near the Arctic Circle, where the sun barely sets. In Iqaluit, one of Canada’s northernmost cities, dusk begins around 11:00 p.m. By about 2:00 a.m., the sun is up again. In St. Petersburg, daylight lasts at least 21 hours. In Stockholm, the sun sets at 1 a.m. and rises just 2 1/2 hours later. The land of the midnight sun does not offer much time for repast.

How Muslims living in nearly 24 hours of daylight should observe Ramadan is a fairly new question for the faith’s leaders, says Shankar Nair, a religious studies professor at the University of Virginia. Until the 20th century, the number of Muslims living in northern climes was quite small. But generous immigration and refugee policies have drawn followers of Islam to Canada and Northern Europe. About 600,000 Muslims live in the Nordic countries. Canada’s Muslim population numbers around 1 million.

Scholars from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other centres of Islamic learning have issued contradictory fatwas, or legal rulings, on how Ramadan should be celebrated in near-constant sunlight. Muslims in these communities choose which to follow.

In Muslim countries everyone fasts, so you don’t see those temptations

Some decide to adhere to the sunrise and sunset hours of nearby, more southern cities, says Hussain Guisti, general manager and chief financial officer of the Zubaidah Tallab Foundation, a Canadian charity. In Iqaluit, that would mean fasting between about 5:30 a.m. and 9 p.m., as Muslims do in Ottawa. But other members of the community prefer to keep to the long hours of their locale, set by the religious leaders. “I think it’s a sign of being more serious,” Guisti says.

It’s also a challenge. Studies show that fasting for most of the day can lead to headaches, fatigue and serious dehydration. At night, followers must eat and rehydrate after a long, sometimes sweaty day in just a couple of hours.

Muslims in Kiruna, Sweden, where the sun never sets, say the long fasts make it hard to get through the day. “Sometimes I got tired and took the bus home from work instead of walking,” Fatima Kaniz told Al Jazeera. “I looked at the clock many times.”