Things are set to get even more challenging in 2015, when the fast will fall in June.
During the month-long fast, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sex between daybreak and sunset. While this is a challenge for people everywhere, in Sweden it presents particular challenges.
In northern Sweden, where dawn on Wednesday broke at 2:46 am, Muslims are expected to fast for over 18 hours, compared to only 13 hours in Mecca, for instance.
Mikael Sundin, a board member of the Association of Muslims in Umeå, said living so far north presented certain challenges:
“It’s even more extreme here that it is in Stockholm. But most Muslims up here are following the official times. I’m going to follow the times and see how it goes,” he told The Local.
In many Muslim countries, the fast is often broken in the evening with long and elaborate meals. But with some Swedish Muslims experiencing only a few hours of darkness, this becomes harder to do.
Imam Mahmoud Khalfi at Stockholm Mosque told The Local that the principles of fasting at Ramadan were clear:
“There is still day and night, so Muslims should follow the rule that you fast during the hours of daylight.”
He pointed out that Sweden’s Muslims had to take the rough with the smooth:
“Sometimes Ramadan falls in the winter, and then the hours of daylight are very short.”
Indeed, in 2005, the month of fasting stretched from October to November, when daylight hours are short. But in coming years the fast will be even longer than this year – in 2015, it begins on 18th June, when many parts of Sweden don’t get dark at all.
In those circumstances, says Mahmoud Khalfi, Muslims are allowed to follow the patterns of the nearest city in which it gets dark.
“There are also those who say you should follow the patterns of Mecca,” he said, and pointed out that there were different schools of thought within Islam on exactly how the fast should be observed.
The young, the sick and the elderly are absolved of the duty to fast, Khalfi points out.
While insisting on the strict observance of the rules might sound a bit tough on Swedish Muslims, Mahmoud Khalfi points out that the fast can be tough for people in Muslim countries too:
“In very warm countries, such as those in the Sahara, it isn’t easy, but people fast the whole day anyway,” he said, adding that there were advantages other than the knowledge that people were observing their religious duties:
“It strengthens your will and strengthens your patience. You learn to control your inner desire. It also teaches solidarity with the poor – those who have nothing to eat,” he said.