In Scandinavia – a region that includes Norway, Sweden and Denmark – Muslims are a minority and there are no official holidays to mark Eid al-Fitr. Scandinavia is also short on Middle Eastern cuisine, and mosques, while present, are not in abundance and certainly not a fixture in every city. This year, in some places in Scandinavia, the sun rises at around 2:30 in the morning and doesn’t go down again until midnight during the month of Ramadan. Yet thousands of Muslims – converts, visitors and residents – celebrate Ramadan in Scandinavia.
Ahmed Hayman, a 24-year-old Egyptian photographer who studies in Denmark, says the Danish weather is pleasant for fasting.
“The Danish weather is easier, because humidity is not as high as it is in Egypt and the cool cold weather doesn’t make you that thirsty,” he says from Denmark, where it is around 20C this August.
This year is the first Hayman has spent Ramadan outside Egypt, and although the weather is nice, he says it doesn’t really feel like Ramadan to him. “Ramadan is about family gathering with each other and the atmosphere of Ramadan in the streets of Cairo. It’s so different here."
Jasmin Sobhy, 31, has been living in Norway for most of her life and therefore has celebrated Ramadan there many times. She, her brother and her father used to follow the time schedule of either Egypt or Saudi Arabia, since there are very few dark hours in the Norwegian day.
She says it’s tough fasting in such a country because, unlike in many places in the Middle East, there are no special working hours during Ramadan.
“I had to go to go to school and finish my exams just like everyone else, but it was very hard because I didn’t get much sleep at night and didn’t have as much energy as I normally do,” she says.
She managed to get by though, and finds that there are some positive things about spending Ramadan in a Muslim-minority country.
“The Muslims that stay in smaller societies, find each other, and eat iftar and celebrate Eid together. We help each other in that way,” she says.
There are no official rules about which time schedule should be followed when you’re a Muslim living in Scandinavia, though the issue has been the source of discussion for Islamic religious authorities.
While some say that it is fair that those living in northern countries should only fast as many hours as those in Mecca do, others say that since Islam does not concern countries and borders, fasting hours should not depend on those elsewhere.
Hayman follows the Egyptian time schedule while fasting in Denmark because he thinks it’s more logical than fasting from 3:30 in the morning to 9:00 in the evening each day. After consulting Muslim cleric, he was told that when visiting northern countries it is natural to follow one's schedule from back home.