The sun (almost) never sets on Yellowknife, a remote city in Canada’s Northwest Territories. That fact, however, presents a bit of a conundrum for the city’s 300 practicing Muslims, who fast from first light to sunset during the month of Ramadan.
Situated just 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle on the shores of Great Slave Lake, only three to four hours separate sunset and sunrise during the summer months. Since Islam, like Judaism, has no central authority or leadership to guide its followers on matters such as this, Muslim scholars and organizations came up with three different solutions to deal with this ethical dilemma.
“Ramadan is an individual worship. What you do is between you and God,” Nazim Awan, chair of the Islamic Center of Yellowknife, said in a telephone interview with The Times of Israel.
One can choose to follow local time, but toward the end of Ramadan that would mean fasting nearly 20 hours, Awan said. This week the sun sets after 11 p.m. and rises just after 3:30 a.m.
Another option is to follow the prayer schedule of the next closest city or country with a large Muslim population. In this case it’s Edmonton, where sunrise and sunset are slightly farther apart. During the first week of June sunset is around 10 p.m. and sunrise is around 5 a.m.
The Islamic Center took a vote and decided the center would follow the Edmonton schedule for prayer times and for holding communal Iftar, the evening meal that marks the end of each daily fast during Ramadan.
There is also a third way, which is to follow Mecca time. That’s the schedule Awan and his family follow, along with many others in Yellowknife.
For Awan, who came to Yellowknife from Pakistan in 1997, knowing they are keeping Ramadan alongside those in Mecca simplifies things and makes it more meaningful.
‘As the Prophet Mohammed said, when you are faced with two or three choices, and they are all right, take the easier one’
“The intention is not to see how long you can fast. Fasting is metaphoric pain, it’s spiritual. Following Mecca time means you are not doing anything more or less. You have peace of mind,” said Awan. “As the Prophet Mohammed said, when you are faced with two or three choices, and they are all right, take the easier one.”
Ramadan is fixed to the lunar calendar and changes yearly. So the same three options apply when the holiday occurs in the deep of winter, when darkness swaddles the land save for a few hours a day.
Yellowknife is home to a Muslim melting pot of sorts. Their numbers are small, but between them they represent more than a dozen countries, including Pakistan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, the Maldives, India and Morocco, along with a number of aboriginal Denes native to Canada who converted.
The Iftar celebration includes dishes such as piyaju, lentil fritters from Bangladesh and atayef, stuffed pancakes favored by Palestinians; there will be kabuli palaw, rice with lentils, raisins, carrots and lamb from Afghanistan, and boakiba, a sweet pudding from the Maldives.
“That’s the beauty of Iftar. So many people with their own cultural backgrounds coming together, sharing their foods and traditions,” Awan said. “It reminds us that we are so fortunate to have all our Muslim brothers and sisters together.”