The prayer and fasting timetables listed in the link above were obtained based on what is now known as the “18 degree formula” along with some necessary amendments to cater for the abnormal circumstances many European countries face due to their high location in the Northern Hemisphere. It is beyond the remit of this article to go through the juristic discussion regarding the correct methodology in formulating a timetable, yet it is sufficient to say that the “18 degree formula” is accepted and used by the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the World and has been used extensively throughout Islamic history. I have not come across any major Fiqh committee that has accepted an angle less than 18o for Fajr or less than 17o for Isha. If such is the situation, then there should be no ijtihaad allowed. Furthermore, as I have explained in another article, Imams or Mosque Committees, Muslim leaders and Muslim scholars who refuse to follow such overwhelming majority, then they should make it clear to their congregation that they are doing so. It is astonishing to see how many Muslims are taking this matter lightly, especially in light of the Fajr time which is also the beginning of the fasting day. We should not burden ourselves with the responsibility of a person’s personal ibaadah but rather we should give them the choice.
The Fiqh council of the Muslim World League, which is one of the biggest Islamic Fiqh councils that have members from all Schools of Thought and experts in many scientific fields, including astronomy have issued numerous declarations confirming that the Fajr prayer time should be calculated according to the “18 degrees formula”. Having discussed this issue a number of times they decided in a meeting held in 2007 to form a committee of scholars and experts in astronomy to produce prayer timetables for all major European cities.
This committee met in Brussels in 2009 and using the “18 degrees formula” they produced prayer times for most European cities of High-Latitude i.e those cities located between the latitude’s of 48.6o and 66.6o. However, as there are some periods in which the Shariah signs for Isha and Fajr disappear, the committee came up with their own ijtihaad on how to estimate the times during these periods known as the period of persistent twilight. However, this ijithaad was not approved by the Fiqh council itself and in fact has many flaws and anomalies.
This committee concluded that the time for Fajr, in particular, during the period of persistent twilight should be calculated according to the aqrab al-ayyaam formula with either additions or subtractions of a few minutes based on the pattern of change in prayer times and the change in length of days and nights seen during the rest of the year. This is totally acceptable as it is goes in tandem with the Shariah. Because, even in normal circumstances, the time of any prayer will be calculated taking into account the time of the same prayer in the previous day taking into consideration the possible change, increase or decrease, between the two days. In Summer, the Fajr time gets earlier and Isha time gets later. But where it seemingly went wrong was when the timetables produced by the committee made a fundamental error and started to add a few minutes to the Fajr time which makes Fajr start later as we move into the middle of the Summer period. This was adapted despite the fact that it should have been made earlier or have been kept at least the same. As a result of this, the shortest night which is known to be the 21st June was not seen in these tables. For example: In some cities such as Oslo, they started to add a few minutes to the Fajr time such that in the Summer, the time for Fajr became very late i.e after 3:00a.m while sunrise was around 4.00am. They had no choice, but to start reducing it again and once it became too early, they started to increase it again. Hence the time for Fajr in this persistent twilight period followed an odd pattern of going up and down. This never happens in real life and can be considered an anomaly from an astronomic perspective. This categorical error has been addressed in this document’s timetables using the below methodology.
How did we calculate/estimate the Fajr time during the period of persistent twilight?
The earliest Fajr for the nearest location which has the visible Shariah sign for Fajr
As we mentioned before that the only apparent and feasible way of confirming the prayer times for a particular day is to compare it to the day before or the nearest location where the times are known. However, on a practical level we may need a combination of both. Let us consider the following scenarios. In London, 51o 30’, the last day in which the Shariah sign for Fajr is visible is the 22nd May and the Fajr time will begin at 1:17a.m. When I was the imam of al-Muntada al-Islami in London, I had to choose the formula of aqrab al-Ayyaam as it along with the formula of Aqrab al-amaakin were the most feasible ones to follow. However, I discovered that this method needs to be slightly adapted as it does create some anomalous results when applied to locations of high latitude. Let us take the example of Oslo, N59o 56’ E010o 45’. The last day in which the Shariah sign for Fajr is visible is on the 21st April at 1:44 a.m. If we fix this time for Fajr throughout the whole period of persistent twilight we will end up with a time for Fajr later than that of Hamburg, Germany which is at a much lower latitude and similar longitude!
For example, mid-Summer, 21st June the time for Fajr for Oslo will be at 1:44 a.m. while the time for Fajr in Hamburg which is of lower latitude will be at 1:33 a.m. Astronomically, Fajr in Oslo should be earlier than Fajr in Hamburg. Other examples reveal further problems and anomalous scenarios, which clearly points to the fact that these formulae i.e. aqrab al-ayyaam or aqrab al-amaakin have to be modified. For example, we have already said that the Fajr timing gets earlier in Summer. So the time for Fajr for any day should be earlier than the previous by a time that is proportional to the average decrease in other periods. However, if we do this for any location, we will end up with a time for Fajr that will have gone back so far that it will join the time of Maghrib of the previous day! Therefore, it is only logical, that we should stop decreasing the time of Fajr at a given point. The real question is at what point?
It is only logical that the time that we need to stop at, is the nearest and earliest visible Shariah sign for Fajr along the same Longitude in the Northern Hemisphere from the place where the visible sign for Fajr disappears. The reason is clear; it is the nearest visible Fajr to both the location and the day where Fajr is invisible. So taking into consideration the formula of aqrab al-almaakin, we find that the earliest Fajr takes place at 48 degrees 33’-35’, however the time varies as the longitudinal position varies. This means that where the Latitude of 48 degrees 33’-35’ intersects a given Longitude, the time here is the earliest visible Fajr and so for any city, lying along that Longitude in the Northern Hemisphere, which undergoes persistent twilight this should be its time for Fajr during this period. Therefore, we should calculate the time of Fajr by either decreasing or increasing the time with a time proportional to the increase or decrease of time in the last few days just before the period of persistent twilight provided that the time does not go earlier than the earliest Fajr and then keep the time for Fajr fixed until just before the end period of persistent twilight when it should start to increase again.
As stated earlier that time for Isha, i.e the absence of the astronomical twilight, should be calculated according to the “18 degrees formula,” (Some Fiqh council’s have accepted 17.5 degrees, however the difference is minimal). In areas of high latitude, the Isha time starts at a very late time; around Midnight). There are two problems here; the real hardship for people incurred when they keep awake until that time whether they need to pray either by themselves or in congregation. As Allah, the Most High, says, “And He has not laid upon you in religion any hardship.” (22:78) Praying Isha in congregation in most European countries becomes a real hardship and may cause some other logistical problems. The second main problem is the fact that Isha may start after the middle of the night, which is the end of Isha time according to many scholars. It is also the end of the best time for Isha according to all scholars.Hence, Isha time should not start after the middle of the night which is calculated by adding half the night length to Maghrib. The night length being the length of time between Maghrib and Fajr for each day.
In this time table, the Isha time is left for the ijtihaad of the masjid once it becomes around 15 minutes before the middle of the night, which is enough time to finish the Isha prayer. We have used a double star ** to indicate that. However I advise the masjid pray Isha at a time consistent with the day before.
Areas above the Arctic:
The committee mentioned earlier did not produce timetables for countries that are located in the Arctic region, i.e. above a Latitude of 66o, where the Sun does not appear for a number of weeks with continuous night, during the Winter and where the Sun does not disappear for a number of weeks as it remains above the horizon continuously, for the whole day during the Summer. Contemporary scholars have given fatwas concerning the prayer and fasting times for these areas. The most common fatwa is to calculate their timings according to the timing of the closest location to them where night and day are distinct in each twenty-four hour period. There is another opinion that recommends using Makkah as a reference point, however, this opinion is totally wrong and it has no basis. It creates a clear conflict between the locations where the Sun appears and disappears for a very short period of time and another area which a few miles away where the Sun does not disappear at all. I believe that this opinion should be abandoned.
As for the most common opinion which is to estimate the prayer and fasting times according to the nearest city where the day and night are distinct. Despite having clear evidence and logic behind it, this opinion is over simplistic and is not practical. It is evident that the muftis who gave such opinion never lived in such places. The nearest place to any place where the Sun does not disappear is a place where the Sun disappears for a few minutes only. The further we go the longer the Sun stays. If we do not accept the nearest place, because the Sun just disappears for a few minutes, then what place can be used as a reference and why should it be taken as a reference? A similar argument can be used against the aqrab al-ayyaam formula scenario. Despite this criticism the formula of aqrab al-ayyaam is still the most practical and feasible.
The timings of these natural phenomena are changing from one day to another and hence we should take the change into consideration when estimating the time for the prayer of any day according to the formula of aqrab al-ayyaam. As was mentioned earlier, during the Summer, the days get longer and hence we should decrease the time for Fajr & Sunrise while we need to increase the time for Sunset and evening twilight i.e Isha time. As we get towards Winter this rate has to slow down and the rate will eventually reverse as Winter begins. However, we can’t keep increasing or decreasing by the same proportion, we need to stop at one point before we reverse the rate. This leads us to another formula that helps us to calculate Fajr, Sunrise and Sunset, which logically indicates a parabolic curve.
The shortest “Shariah” night and the latest time for Sunset
If we take the example of Norway’s town of Bodo, Latitude N67:18 Longitude E14:26 Elevation 50.0 Zone 1.00 we notice that the last day the Sun sets is on the 29th May at 11:35p.m. The Sun rises the next day, or according to the time the same day, at 0:24a.m. which leaves the night to be less than one hour. This length of night is not long enough to carry out the basic night activities that the Shariah directs us to do such as the athan of Maghrib, Maghrib prayer followed by having food and Isha prayer, minimum Qiyamu al-Layl, and very light or small Suhoor (pre-Fajr meal). In that city, the Sun does not set after that until 13th July at 11:55pm
We also notice that the latest Sunset occurs for Latitudes between 65-66 degrees is at around 1:00a.m. and rises a few minutes after that. Therefore the principle of the latest visible sunset or the nearest place where the Sun sets will never work as a criterion for the latest sunset time during these periods of continuous daylight. However, we have seen that using the principle of the earliest Fajr as the criteria for the Fajr timing during the period of persistent twilight is the optimum and most practical solution.
These facts leave us with no option but to modify; the methodology of the formula aqrab al-ayaam and rather to check the length of the night bearing in mind that the earliest visible Fajr along that Longitude is at 1:05 a.m. The criteria for accepting a particular night’s length is 1) the length should be enough to carry out the basic activities that the Shariah approves, in particular, during the nights of Ramadan or, in general, any other night. These activities include: Maghrib athan, Maghrib prayer, dhikr after salah, sunnah prayers after Maghrib, one meal, Isha athan, Isha prayers, dhikr after Isha, sunnah prayers after Isha. (All of these activities should take place in the first half of the night.) They will take around one hour and therefore the whole night should be around two hours. The second half, which is another hour, is long enough to allow the minimum night prayer followed by a light pre-dawn meal (suhoor). Therefore, we can conclude that the shortest night, which we will call as the shortest Shariah night, in all high latitude countries, is around two hours.
Knowing the earliest Fajr time, which was set according to the earliest Fajr criteria, which occurs on the Latitude 48 degrees 33’ 30, and the shortest Shariah night of two hours, will enable us to approve or estimate the Sunset times during 1) the period where the Sun is visible all the time and 2) the period where visibility of the Sun is too long and its absence is too short and hence it should be treated as if it is continuously visible. The change of time during these few days is very rapid in a way that indicates that this period is not a period that can be used as a reference point.