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In Arabic, Ramadan means “the hot month”, derived from the root word ‘ramida’, meaning “scorched”. It is the holy month of fasting when keen and enthusiastic Muslims abstain from food, drink and sex in daylight hours until dawn.
Undoubtedly, it was a physical trial for the first Muslims living in the roasting heat of Arabian Peninsula 1,400 years ago. Since then, Islam went incredibly gone global.
As the holy month sets in, the vagaries of latitude mean that some will be hungrier and thirstier than others.
Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, the month of Ramadan falls about 11 days earlier each year, completing a full orbit through the seasons every three decades or so.
In certain locations, the long endless hours leave Muslims in northern latitudes facing dauntingly long days of fasting which, in fact, last a bit longer than from sunrise to sunset: they extend from fajr, the pre-dawn prayer, to maghrib, the post-dusk prayer.
The length of a fast is not the only difficulty. Daytime temperatures can soar as much of an ordeal given that observant Muslims may not drink water during fasting.
In our survey of the world’s cities with populations above 300,000 people of Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, with an average temperature of 35°C (and an average high of 44°C) in June, stand out as one of the most incredibly challenging cities in which to observe Ramadan.
Nonetheless, Muslims adapt to difficulties in countless ways. In hot Muslim-majority countries, many people remain dormant for part of the day and are less active when they are awake.
Economic output tends to suffer as a result. The United Arab Emirates (a rich country with lots of air conditioning) legally limits work during Ramadan to no more than 6 hours a day. In northerly places with long days, some Muslims opt to follow the fasting hours of Mecca.