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Dilemma in Tromsø
July 26, 2014 2:19 PM   Subscribe

The Challenge of Celebrating Ramadan in the Land of the Midnight Sun "Six years ago, Sandra Maryam Moe and the sheikh spent months exchanging emails. Is it allowed to eat and drink even though it isn't yet dark outside, Moe wanted to know? And if it is, when does the daily fasting period begin and end? When are the prayer times? Moe described in detail the dilemma facing her community and the sheikh sent her question after question. He too was wary of becoming the originator of a new practice."
posted by Omnomnom (53 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 


I've always been interested in that gray area where the demands of ritual prescription come up against real-world constraints--as happens, of course, for any religious practice. Can a Catholic priest administer the mass if there's no wine or bread available? Is it acceptable for a Jewish person to eat pork if there is literally no other option but to starve etc. I think the different kinds of answers that people propose reveal strikingly different understandings of the nature and significance of religious practice that are easily overlooked in normal circumstances.
posted by yoink at 2:35 PM on July 26 [11 favorites]


This was a problem at the Middlebury Arabic launguage school in Vermont, in years when Ramadan fell during the summer months. For many instructors it wasn't the lack of food or even water that got to them, but having to refrain from chain-smoking for over sixteen hours.
posted by idlewords at 2:39 PM on July 26 [7 favorites]


Is it acceptable for a Jewish person to eat pork if there is literally no other option but to starve etc.

Not that you were necessarily asking, but the answer's yes, absolutely. Judaism is very practical that way.
posted by asterix at 2:43 PM on July 26 [19 favorites]


yoink: Is it acceptable for a Jewish person to eat pork if there is literally no other option but to starve etc.

Jews have always had an exception for bacon regardless of other available options; it just tastes too damn good to be rigid about.
posted by gman at 2:44 PM on July 26 [5 favorites]


i am endlessly fascinated by these types of problems. thanks for posting.
posted by nadawi at 2:48 PM on July 26


Is it acceptable for a Jewish person to eat pork if there is literally no other option but to starve etc.

Judaism is an interesting case - the religion is generally so legalistic, and there are so many rabbinical rulings and such a history of back and forth that Orthodox Jews can and do find scriptural (or at least Talmudic) answers for all KINDS of stuff, including very modern issues. There's a ton of really interesting stuff about this out there; it can be a real rabbit hole.

The rabbis are way ahead of you on the pork question though: you're allowed to violate almost any Jewish law to save you own life or the life of another. It's a concept called Pikuach Nefesh.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:48 PM on July 26 [21 favorites]


For two months of the year, there is daylight around the clock. For tourists, the midnight sun is a natural phenomenon, something to experience. But for Muslims, it is a nightmare when Ramadan comes at exactly this time of year. Like this year. It is a nightmare that the Prophet Mohammed could not have been aware of, 1,400 years ago in the Middle East.

The idea that fasting during Ramadan needs to be "fixed" because Muhamed made a mistake does not square with Islamic belief: Muhamed didn't write the Koran, God did. The problem of fasting in the endless daylight in polar regions is not just one of simple practice, but asks some deeply unsettling questions.
posted by Thing at 2:50 PM on July 26 [11 favorites]


I just saw a piece on this issue for the Muslims in Canada's far north where the sun rises at 3 a.m. and doesn't set until almost 11 p.m.
posted by gman at 3:00 PM on July 26


Now, though, they and their children call Tromsø home because Waizy, a nursing home caregiver, decided he could no longer work in retirement homes in Germany with a clear conscience. It is a "humanitarian disaster," he says.
Kind of an odd line for a German publication to just leave hanging.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:00 PM on July 26 [8 favorites]


Not that you were necessarily asking, but the answer's yes, absolutely

No, I wasn't asking, and I'm aware that there is a rabbinical tradition ruling that the rules of Kosher (and pretty much all rules of ritual practice) can be suspended to save a life. But, of course, that's not in the Torah. It's a product of rabbinical analysis arising precisely from the kind of agonizing encounters with real-world dilemma's that this post is describing.

And, of course, any real world case presents us with infinitely difficult shades of argument. Pikuach nefesh is all very well as an abstract principle, but at what point are you "saving a life" by relaxing the laws of Kosher, say? Do you literally have to starve yourself until you reach the point where unless you eat this one specific meal of ham you will die? How would you even determine what that point is? If you pull into a town and there's only one restaurant open and you're really, really hungry and they have some form of pig in every dish they serve, does pikuach nefesh kick in? As with most such issues, get three Jews in a room and you'll get four opinions as to what's right.

And that's my point. It's not that it's not easy enough to make "rulings" on any given case (the sheikh in this story knows that any of the three he proposes is perfectly sensible in and of itself), it's that there can never be a clear guiding principle as to which other cases are analogous or what in the law or the ritual is "essential" and what is merely symbolic or conventional or what have you.
posted by yoink at 3:03 PM on July 26 [1 favorite]


ChurchHatesTucker - presumably German Spiegel readers would know what he's alluding to.
posted by brokkr at 3:03 PM on July 26


Is it acceptable for a Jewish person to eat pork if there is literally no other option but to starve etc.

There is a Jewish tradition called "fence around the law". Which means that if a law is kind of stupid if you think about it, you put a fence around it and never speak of it again.
So to answer your question, yes, in the described circumstances, it is acceptable to eat pork.
posted by sour cream at 3:12 PM on July 26 [4 favorites]


it's that there can never be a clear guiding principle as to which other cases are analogous or what in the law or the ritual is "essential" and what is merely symbolic or conventional or what have you.

Which is, of course, the case in any body of law. Or indeed any concept of the world. But the reason, I think, isn't that there aren't clear guiding principles, but rather that there are too many of them. Lived reality, it seems to me, is rampant with overdetermination; there are too many sufficient explanations for pretty much everything. The example of religious scholarship and doctrine is fascinating, but it is by no means unique.
posted by howfar at 3:18 PM on July 26


the sheikh in this story knows that any of the three he proposes is perfectly sensible in and of itself

No time to dig for the articles right now, but I've seen two more principles mentioned in Swedish sources -- limiting the fast to no more than 16 hours no matter where you are, or limiting the fast to the shortest interval that applies to any place in the country you're in (i.e. a city in southern-most norway/sweden). Also perfectly sensible, of course.
posted by effbot at 3:19 PM on July 26


Is it acceptable for a Jewish person to eat pork if there is literally no other option but to starve etc.

There is a Jewish tradition called "fence around the law". Which means that if a law is kind of stupid if you think about it, you put a fence around it and never speak of it again.
So to answer your question, yes, in the described circumstances, it is acceptable to eat pork


'Putting a fence around the law' is there to ensure that there are no inadvertent violations, not because Torah is dumb.
posted by leotrotsky at 3:25 PM on July 26 [7 favorites]


The rabbis are way ahead of you on the pork question though: you're allowed to violate almost any Jewish law to save you own life or the life of another. It's a concept called Pikuach Nefesh.

You're also permitted to be small, yellow, electric and make squeaky noises. This is a concept called Pikachu Nefesh.
posted by saturday_morning at 3:27 PM on July 26 [14 favorites]


An example: The law is not to seethe a kid in its mothers' milk. The fence is completely separating meat and milk.
posted by leotrotsky at 3:28 PM on July 26 [3 favorites]


It's very interesting that, "One should fast the same as in Mecca," which is the first thing I though of, is looked down on by some because it is "too easy." I'd love to see an analysis of the latitudes where Muslims live and how that affects their fasting times during Ramadan.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:34 PM on July 26 [5 favorites]


I understand that longest day in Mecca is about 13.5 hours. When Ramadan was invented the fast would have been rather moderate and not so much a burden. Long fasting times are really an innovation which abide to the letter of the law but not its spirit.
posted by Thing at 3:50 PM on July 26 [2 favorites]


Perhaps it is Allah’s will, that his people stick within certain latitudes...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 3:50 PM on July 26 [6 favorites]


Letter versus spirit is a fascinating dilemma whenever it comes up in any of the monotheistical religions. Both are simultaneously both right and wrong, so people really agonize over it, poor dears.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:56 PM on July 26 [1 favorite]


Thing: "The problem of fasting in the endless daylight in polar regions is not just one of simple practice, but asks some deeply unsettling questions."

I'm willing to believe that it just means man was not meant to live in the Artic Circle, and I don't have any particular religious beliefs to uphold.
posted by pwnguin at 4:04 PM on July 26 [6 favorites]


> The idea that fasting during Ramadan needs to be "fixed" because Muhamed made a mistake does not square with Islamic belief: Muhamed didn't write the Koran, God did. The problem of fasting in the endless daylight in polar regions is not just one of simple practice, but asks some deeply unsettling questions.

The Quran doesn't spell out the methodology for fasting in Ramadan, though. The rules and regulations are derived from the various hadiths, and questions and debate about when to break the fast arose in the earliest days.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 4:15 PM on July 26


pwnguin: I'm willing to believe that it just means man was not meant to live in the Artic Circle…
I dunno, I’ve met lots of men (and women, and kids too) who like living above the Arctic Circle just fine.

Observant Hindus would have a hard time living there too. There's nothing to eat but meat.

Perhaps — radical thought — cultural systems are well-tuned to particular environments and economies, and make less sense the farther you get from those situations. The whole “inviolability of God’s law” thing makes this a little tricky but I trust that growth-minded religions eventually find a way.

Snark aside, I found this article fascinating. Reminds me of the problems Muslim astronauts confronted with prayer in orbit. (Which way is Mecca, exactly? Do you have to pray 5 times every orbit?)
posted by axoplasm at 4:30 PM on July 26 [3 favorites]


Can a Catholic priest administer the mass if there's no wine or bread available?

No. Wine and bread are absolute requirements of the rite. The RCC generally won't even bestow holy orders on someone is gluten or ethanol intolerant, because the consumption of the body and blood in the form of bread and wine is a requirement of the Eucharist, and the primary duty of the priesthood is performing that rite.
posted by eriko at 4:32 PM on July 26 [1 favorite]


axoplasm: (Which way is Mecca, exactly? Do you have to pray 5 times every orbit?)

I've been on planes out of the Middle East in which your personal screen tells you which way to pray.
posted by gman at 4:39 PM on July 26 [2 favorites]


"Observant Hindus would have a hard time living there too. There's nothing to eat but meat."

You forgot berries, berries, berries, mushrooms and potato. Did I mention berries?

I'm from Kiruna, where the first photo in the FPP link was taken
posted by dabitch at 4:42 PM on July 26 [2 favorites]


"Can a Catholic priest administer the mass if there's no wine or bread available?"

"No. Wine and bread are absolute requirements of the rite."


But see Teilhard's Mass On The World for one Jesuit's answer to that question.
posted by Anitanola at 4:47 PM on July 26 [2 favorites]


So what if you are on the other end of the world and the sun never rises? No fasting?
posted by Literaryhero at 4:51 PM on July 26


berries, berries, berries, mushrooms and potato. Did I mention berries?
posted by dabitch at 4:53 PM on July 26 [3 favorites]


The Quran doesn't spell out the methodology for fasting in Ramadan, though. The rules and regulations are derived from the various hadiths, and questions and debate about when to break the fast arose in the earliest days.

I know that, as for many things, the Koran lacks detail on its commands, but it does clearly state that the fast should be undertaken during daylight. Also many hadith make it clear that you can eat during night until dawn (indeed, hadith tell that Muhamed added words to clarify the sura due to confusion). Debates over when the day begins or ends are irrelevant, as in polar regions the daylight never ends for many days: there is no night whatsoever and no dawn to mark the beginning of that day's fast. If you follow the rules properly, Muslims in polar regions would have to fast for many days straight (which hadith show Muhamed also forbade). Any solution is innovation, of which both the sheikh and the community are aware, hence their reticence make a final decision.
posted by Thing at 5:07 PM on July 26


Do whatever is practical and burn in hell forever.
posted by telstar at 5:32 PM on July 26


So as far as I understand what Wikipedia is saying, there was a pre-Islamic lunisolar calendar with intercalary months , but in Sura 9 ayat 36-37, the Quran forbids the use of intercalary months, fixing the length of the year at 12 months. I suppose the word "month" probably means lunar month too, in which case the design of the calendar is pretty much fixed.

Now I'm curious to know what was done in practice as far as setting the time of planting or harvest when the standard calendar is a lunar calendar.
posted by jepler at 5:53 PM on July 26


On the one hand, I can understand and respect the sincerely held beliefs of someone who wants to practice their religion and abide by the tenets of such. On the other, I'm sure there's going to be some radical religious individual or sect that is going to disagree that it's being done all wrong and that someone is going to hell for not doing things their way. Too bad the question can't be settled by just asking WWMD?


I'm willing to believe that it just means man was not meant to live in the Arctic Circle, and I don't have any particular religious beliefs to uphold.

I'm with you there, pwnguin, my eponysterical friend. If the religious deity of anyone's preference had wanted me to live in the freezing cold darkness, he would have given me a thick fur coat and a layer of blubber.

er...well, a thicker layer, then. OK?
posted by BlueHorse at 7:10 PM on July 26 [1 favorite]


It really does seem that the most internally consistent answer is not to live there.
posted by empath at 7:15 PM on July 26


There's a good bit about Jewish Inuit in Mordechai Richler's Solomon Gursky was here.
posted by No Robots at 7:26 PM on July 26


The Khanate of Sibir, in what is now known as Siberia, during the 15th and 16th Centuries, was the northernmost Muslim nation ever. From eyeballing maps and such, it looks like it was up in the high 50s and maybe low 60s of latitude, so like 18, maybe 19 hour days. I wonder what they did?
posted by Flunkie at 7:42 PM on July 26


If I tell myself I can't do this thing, but then it becomes necessary to do this thing, then I can do this thing.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:08 PM on July 26


yoink: "I've always been interested in that gray area where the demands of ritual prescription come up against real-world constraints--as happens, of course, for any religious practice. Can a Catholic priest administer the mass if there's no wine or bread available? Is it acceptable for a Jewish person to eat pork if there is literally no other option but to starve etc. I think the different kinds of answers that people propose reveal strikingly different understandings of the nature and significance of religious practice that are easily overlooked in normal circumstances."

THIS IS NOT THE GRAY AREA THIS IS THE SUPER-FUN AREA.

(And the answers are maybe for the priest and definitely yes for the Jew, as life trumps all other mitzvot.)

But yeah, there is like no point to even HAVING rules if you're not going to have arguments about the edge cases because that's where the FUN is and that's where you find out how all your rules work and sharpen your underlying theology but figuring out what breaks it.

sour cream: "There is a Jewish tradition called "fence around the law". Which means that if a law is kind of stupid if you think about it, you put a fence around it and never speak of it again."

What? No, the "fence around the Torah" refers to Jews who do WAY MORE than the minimum dictated in the Torah in order to not even accidentally break God's laws.

A big letter vs. spirit discussion in Catholicism right now is "fish Fridays" during Lent, since one of the intents of the rule is for Catholics to be in solidarity with the poor and eat the simple food of the poor. But for many Catholics in the First World, fish is a luxury item and not at all what the poor eat; the poor eat McDonald's. If you're out having a lobster dinner with all your friends, is this penitential or abstinent? Is a Friday fish-fry party at the church really in the spirit of Lent?

Summer Ramadan in Chicago is a significant, significant hardship, because the heat and humidity are so brutal and the days are quite long. Winter Ramadan is quite easy because the days are so short. In either case it's a much different experience than Ramadan in the Middle East!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:25 PM on July 26 [4 favorites]


An example: The law is not to seethe a kid in its mothers' milk. The fence is completely separating meat and milk.

But sometimes the fence gets built out a little too far. GODDAMMIT CHICKENS DON'T LACTATE.
posted by asterix at 9:08 PM on July 26 [1 favorite]


Religion: primitive public health initiatives run amok.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:10 PM on July 26 [2 favorites]


They could adopt the fasting schedule used in Mecca; they could adopt the fasting schedule used in the nearest city where the sun actually set; or they simply establish their own practice binding on everyone in Tromsø.

I'm at 65 degrees latitude, so a chunk south of Tromsø, but the rabbi that came in for the High Holidays last year gave a sermon on this same issue vis a vis determining the beginning and ending of Yom Kippur (as well as things like when to light Shabbat candles). He said the rabbis had described basically those three options as well (modulo Mecca), although one option was to use the nearest big city at the same longitude. Only problem was that basically all there is due south of Fairbanks is water---until you hit Antarctica. I think we just decided to go with 7:30 as a good time for Kol Nidre, and that probably Seattle was a good bet for candles on Shabbat. (But it's a Reform synagogue, so.)
posted by leahwrenn at 9:32 PM on July 26 [6 favorites]


So - do the Muslims of Tromsø also stick to Mecca time when Ramadan falls in the Arctic winter?
posted by rongorongo at 11:39 PM on July 26


No. Wine and bread are absolute requirements of the rite. The RCC generally won't even bestow holy orders on someone is gluten or ethanol intolerant, because the consumption of the body and blood in the form of bread and wine is a requirement of the Eucharist, and the primary duty of the priesthood is performing that rite.

But that's a man-made rule, so we can change it if we really want to. Kind of like all masses used to be performed in Latin until this guy figured out, hey, it's totally OK to hold mass in German (or whatever).

But yeah, there is like no point to even HAVING rules if you're not going to have arguments about the edge cases because that's where the FUN is and that's where you find out how all your rules work and sharpen your underlying theology but figuring out what breaks it.

Religion: Sharpening your theology by figuring out the loop-holes.
posted by sour cream at 2:13 AM on July 27


Figuring out equivalents to sunset and sundown are easy; for Jews (and perhaps others) it's the date line that's the real problem. Where should it be? Was it set at the moment of Creation (and when, exactly, was the world created, there are a bunch of opinions) or was it set by human migration? Do people possibly carry an internal calendar with them at all times? This is a current practical problem: I understand that some Australian Jews privately keep two days of Sabbath, at least to some extent. And no matter where you draw the date line, it must cut through at least one land mass - Antarctica - so there will always be a place where you can walk out of one day and into another.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:32 AM on July 27 [1 favorite]


But yeah, there is like no point to even HAVING rules if you're not going to have arguments about the edge cases because that's where the FUN is

For some. For others, of course, it's where the schisms start and the killing begins.
posted by yoink at 6:24 AM on July 27 [1 favorite]






(But it's a Reform synagogue, so.)

and according to my rabbi, Reform is a non-halachic Jewish movement, and we follow the laws that we feel are morally important and/or bring meaning to our Jewish practice - so we light Shabbat candles whenever we feel like it, because it's more important to be marking the Sabbath than to worry if the sun is down or will be up still after they burn out.

I really like being Reform.
posted by jb at 8:35 PM on July 27


Eid Mubarak to those in Tromso and across much of the rest of the world, and an easy fast for those who must wait until tomorrow.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:55 PM on July 27 [1 favorite]



But yeah, there is like no point to even HAVING rules if you're not going to have arguments about the edge cases because that's where the FUN is...


I just recently learned about eruvin, which is a great example.
posted by zoinks at 12:30 AM on July 28


I've always been intrigued by the idea that if you are very wealthy and Muslim, you can decamp to where the day is shortest for the duration of ramadan, i.e. this year, spend a month in New Zealand or Ushuaia.
posted by xetere at 7:28 AM on July 28


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