Fasting during Ramadan is so important it is one of the five pillars of Islam. As Muslims claim Islam is divine revelation for the human race for all times, the rules for the fast should take all humanity into account. However, they show every indication of having missed some people.
Before looking at what this problem is, it is first necessary to understand the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. During the month, Muslims are not supposed to consume any food or drink from sunrise to sunset. As it is based on a lunar calendar which does not match the solar calendar, the month(s) of the year it is held is constantly shifting. Therefore, over time, it is held during every month throughout the year.
One of the places the rules for this pillar of are laid out is in the Quran as follows:
2.187 It is made lawful to you to go into your wives on the night of the fast; they are an apparel for you and you are an apparel for them; Allah knew that you acted unfaithfully to yourselves, so He has turned to you (mercifully) and removed from you (this burden); so now be in contact with them and seek what Allah has ordained for you, and eat and drink until the whiteness of the day becomes distinct from the blackness of the night at dawn, then complete the fast till night, and have not contact with them while you keep to the mosques; these are the limits of Allah, so do not go near them. Thus does Allah make clear His communications for men that they may guard (against evil).
Allah and the Eskimo
With something of this importance for all humanity, you would think a god would have laid out the rules in a way that would be perfectly fair and leave no room for confusion, regardless of location. However, the Quran does nothing to take into account the fact the length of days varies greatly in some parts of the world depending on the time of the year (unlike Arabia), and never sets at all in some latitudes. The further one moves toward the poles, the longer the days are during the summer. For people north of the Arctic Circle (there are no permanent settlements south of the Antarctic Circle), living in the land of the midnight sun means the sun never sets. This raises two problems:
- Those living farther north have a more difficult fast as the days are longer
- The Eskimo and others living above the Arctic Circle have an impossible task if Ramadan comes in the summer (and a very easy one if it comes during the winter!).
To attempt to address this problem, those living in the far north are allowed to base their fasts on the daylight hours in temperate zones or of those in Mecca. However, these rules are a purely modern creation with no basis on anything Muhammad said.
Why the shortsightedness?
Of course, some will say this means the problem has been solved, but it exposes a real weakness in the claim that Islam is perfect, divine wisdom. While it is not hard to imagine a medieval man who knew nothing about varying lengths of days missing those in some latitudes, it is absurd to say that an all-knowing and infallible god would do so. Why wouldn’t a god simply devise a system that took all his creations into account?
For example, Allah could have simply set Ramadan on the solar calendar to occur at an equinox when there was sure to be darkness and light everywhere. Why base something so important on a lunar calendar that has actually led Muslims to dispute when exactly Ramadan should occur?
With the length of days varying even where the sun does set, basing the fast on a set number of hours would have solved the problem of people living too far north and would have made the fast much fairer.
If nothing else, being with the power to create the universe could take a few moments of his infinite time during Ramadan to write in the sky when fasts should begin or end. However, as is covered in the miracles of Islam, Allah has an aversion to giving any hard evidence that Islam comes from a god and not a man.
Allah is not a frequent flier
In addition, there is the problem with air travel. Those flying across time zones have no way of a following a fast based on the rising and setting sun in most cases.
Again, Muslims have had to come up with arbitrary rules to put some kind of order into what is supposed to be prefect, divine truth. Just as with divisions within Islam and between religions, god leaves people to fill in the gaps and never offers advice to correct his oversights.
The health problems with Ramadan
There are also the health issues with the Ramadan fast. Although some studies suggest that short fasting in some circumstances may offer limited health benefits, the best way to nourish the body is usually to eat smaller meals, but more often, throughout the day. During Ramadan, Muslims generally eat as much as they can in the early morning and in the evening, when the normal cycle for most people is to slow down and sleep. This is the worst way to nourish the body and is giving people many of their calories at a time the body can do little with them other than turn the calories into fat.
More problematic is not consuming liquids. Particularly in hot climates in summer, not replenishing body fluids can be dangerous for one’s health in addition to having a negative effect on performance.
Any god that would have designed the human body should know that it is not a good idea to deny it something as crucial as water over a hot summer day. Why create rules that will damage your own creations?
Fasting as a religious practice
As with other teachings of Islam, the practice of fasting has prior roots. While there is no hard evidence it ever brings people closer to any god, it certainly weakens people and makes them more susceptible to those who want to exercise control over them. Some have theorized this is the root reason why fasting has long been a religious practice that started well before Islam.
A perfect god certainly would not make such a glaring error as to create rules that are impossible for some people to follow in a pillar of a religion that is supposed to be for all humanity. If Allah made the world, he surely would know how the sun sets in the summer near the poles. This is one of the errors of Islam that shows its man-made origins.