As with the prohibition of alcohol however the rules for fasting don't actually meet the standards one could expect of a God.
"O you who believe! Observing As-Sawm (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqoon (the pious)? [al-Baqarah 2:183]
Permitted to you, on the night of the fasts, is the approach to your wives. They are your garments and ye are their garments. Allah knoweth what ye used to do secretly among yourselves; but He turned to you and forgave you; so now associate with them, and seek what Allah Hath ordained for you, and eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread; then complete your fast Till the night appears; but do not associate with your wives while ye are in retreat in the mosques. Those are Limits (set by) Allah: Approach not nigh thereto. Thus doth Allah make clear His Signs to men: that they may learn self-restraint. (2:187)
Nowadays people often "translate" that into angles. The two popular angles are 15° and 18° below the horizon, yet others use 12°. Again however that is actually irrelevant for the discussion at hand.
Muslims may start to eat when the sun has completely set beneath the horizon.
Now that is a pretty straight forward thing isn't it ?
Not really, as there are several things that seem rather "imperfect" for a perfect ruling.
First of all since the moon year advances 10-12 days each year you will eventually end up with Ramadan once being in summer and once being in winter. But that could be argued away with some "global" justice for mankind so that all of us eventually have to fast in the same way.
But then again there is something that seems off for a global religion sent down to mankind for all times.
What do you do when you are living near the poles? As you might know the length of day and night depends not only on the season but also on your location on earth. Near the poles you might end up having days or nights that last for months (actually longer than Ramadan itself is).
If one applied the rules as they actually are written down then basically on one pole of the globe people could eat all they want, on the other side all would starve. Some years later the people on the other pole would also die provided they didn't move in between to some safer grounds.
One would expect God to know that wouldn't we? But a desert merchant living in the arab peninsula... well we wouldn't expect that from him would we?
Actually even today there exist still many people which are totally unaware of the problem. But since Islam is perfect and true there must be an explanation. We simply have to ask a scholar don't we.
And lo and behold there are explanations (actually i have heard three so far). None of those actually can be derived from a direct text in Quran or Hadeeth. All of them being the kind of "retro-reasoning" that i so often find with people that are confronted with reality and look for a way to fit that into their religious framework.
Here are the ideas. Remember that the solution supposedly fits mankind (also pre-PC-Internet Era):
- Take your city of birth (or Mekka) as reference. There is no justification for that ruling and aside of that it is pretty stupid. How do you expect any person to know the times at Mekka for Ramadan. What if your city of birth happens to be in the region you live?
- Take the next city with a clear night and day as reference. Again the same problem. How would I know the times of the next city? Especially in the year 1000AD for example? But then again the worst problem is simply that it doesn't actually help even if i knew. For the "nearest" city to have a day and night would still have more than 20 hours of fasting! Of what use is it for me to know that i can take the nearest city that offers the conditions Ramadan requires when the conditions that must be still only allow me a time frame of an hour or two?
- You do not need to fast if the conditions for sunrise and sunset can't be met where you live. And i find that were in the Quran? Where would i even get the impression in the Quran that the author knew such a problem existed?
Here is a fatwa mixing some of above ideas.
Again a simple question:
If the purpose of fasting was to cleanse oneself, if it was to purify, to be religious, to share belief, to be spiritual ... if that was the purpose
If Islam was for all of mankind, regardless of location and regardless of the time you lived in (well of course after 620AD) ..... if that was the religions target group
why the heck didn't we get a ruling that stated "fast for x hours", why didn't we get a ruling that took into account the simple and obvious fact that seasons and the sequence of day and light differ on earth?
Why didn't we get any ruling that in modern times most 6th graders could have formulated in a better and more concise way than what we would expect from a desert merchant in the middle east some 1400 years ago?