Dr Usama Hasan of the Quilliam Foundation has issued a controversial fatwa calling for the long fasting hours in the UK to be shortened.
Hasan, whose views are often promoted by the mainstream media, says that Islam is a religion which does not wish to place difficulty on its adherents so those who cannot manage the up to 20 hour fasts should reduce the hours from 12-16.
His views will shock many, including the vast majority of Muslim scholars, who follow the mainstream Islamic view that fasting has set hours (from dawn to sunset) – as outlined by the Quran.
In his fatwa Hasan says: “A number of people have asked me since last year about the excessive length of fasting during UK summer months. This has included those new to the practice of fasting, elderly and middle-aged people, who wish to fast but simply cannot manage the very long days. Since last year, I’ve heard reports of such people in hospital, as well as of children falling seriously ill, due to fasting more than 18 hours per day.
“The day length in London during a midsummer Ramadan is almost 17 hours *sunrise-sunset*. Since there is no agreed beginning of dawn, the dawn-sunset timings vary from 19 to 20.5 hours. The day length increases as we go further north, especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland…
“The spirit of fasting is clearly ‘from morning until evening’ and to focus on its inner aspects, without hair-splitting about external matters. The famous Qur’anic passage about fasting 2:183-7 begins and ends with taqwa (God-consciousness), and includes the memorable wisdom, ‘God wishes ease for you, not hardship … that you complete the course, magnify God for guiding you, and that you give thanks.’
“This verse is in fact the basis of the numerous hadiths about making matters in religion relatively easy and not difficult… In exceptional circumstances, the Prophet (peace be upon him) understood that “morning” and “evening” were relative to people’s habits and culture…
“Those who wish to follow dawn-sunset timings of 18-21 hour fasts and can do so safely, are free to do so. Those who find this genuinely unbearable, or are convinced of the non-literalist approach of ‘morning to evening’ rather than the literalist ‘dawn to sunset,’ may wish to fast for 12 or preferably 14-16 hours, beginning from dawn, sunrise or even their usual morning meal (breakfast!). Such moderate timings are based on the fatwas of jurists over many centuries for high latitudes.”
Dr Hasan’s fatwa will doubtless be greeted with scepticism as The Quilliam Foundation has been ostracised by many in the Muslim community due to its constant demonisation of Muslim activists and its attempts to promote a government-sponsored “western Islam.”
Traditionally, Muslims fast while they have light from the sun at their location (wherever they are in the world) and eat and drink while their location is dark.
This mainstream understanding is based on the following Quranic verse (2:187): “…and eat and drink until the white thread (of light) becomes distinct to you from the black thread (night/darkness) of the dawn. Then strictly observe the fast until/to the night …”