While growing up as a Muslim in Nigeria, we were told whenever we want to pray, we should face the direction the sun rises from. That is where the Qibla (meaning direction in Arabic) is. The Qibla is where all Muslims in the world face while praying. It is the Holy Kaaba, House of God in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. And so I grew up with that knowledge of where my Qibla should be. Wherever I go, just know where the sun rises from and I will find my Qibla.
Over the years, I traveled and lived in both north and south of the equator. It was a learning experience all through these times. I got to experience different climates, weather, time zones and also found out that my Qibla is not always always the direction of the sun. In some regions, I had to adjust my clock to go 6 hours ahead of my current time. That was Japan, Nihon or Nippon in Japanese, which translates to the land of the rising sun.
I had arrived Tokyo early during the day and slept throughout the daytime. When evening came, I awoke and was up on my laptop, chatting with friends on Facebook. Yanking the curtains of my room in Komaba campus in Tokyo a few hours after starting to chat, alas, the sun was already up. I could not believe it. I thought I had been awake for the entire usual long evening of many hours. Worst of all, I missed the Fajr Prayer, which is supposed to be prayed at dawn.
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Immediately I realized it was morning, I quickly prayed the dawn prayer and jumped into bed to have a nap of some of few hours before my programme started. This sunrise, was around half past four in the morning. It then dawned on me that is truly here the sun wakes up. Because Japan was east of China and the sun rose from the east, fueled the reason why the Chinese referred to Japan as the Land of the Rising Sun.
Fast-forward 2 years after, the Central European Summer time caught up with me, albeit in a more fashionable way. It is Ramadan in Germany. According to Islamic rights, Muslims should fast from dawn till sunset till for the whole month of Ramadan. To many, the focus will be on the number of days, 29 or 30. However, to others, it is in the number of hours in the day. How many hours is it from dawn till sunset, the time we are not supposed to eat and drink?
Because the timings of the Ramadhan Fasts and 5 daily prayers are in relation to the movement of the sun, I have to be observant of the time always. Little by little, the time of dawn started going backwards. As of 3 months back, before spring, dawn was at 5.30am. As of writing this post, it is 2.45am. Meaning, the sun wakes up earlier than then. Which brings us to the concept of daylight hours and savings. An idea first written about by American Benjamin Franklin in 1784 when he visited Paris and noticed that the sun rose quite earlier than he thought. He therefore humorously suggested Parisians wake up an hour earlier to maximize the natural daylight and make less use of their candles.
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Years after, the concept became more popular. The argument was to use more natural light (daylight) of the day than the artificial light so that more energy could be saved. In doing so, the clocks are to be adjusted forward by an hour. And when the darker months of winter start to set in, the clocks are adjusted back. Daylight saving was first practiced in a location in Canada in 1908. As a country however, Germany was the first to use it, in 1916. Today, daylight savings or summer time as it mostly called is used in 70 countries and affecting over a billion people. In the last Sunday of the month of March, the clocks are adjusted forward by an hour in what is commonly called spring forward, so that the next day, the sun sets an hour later than the day before. And on the last Sunday of October, the clocks are moved an hour backwards in what is referred to as fall back. Although, the times for adjusting the clocks vary with regions.
As the dawn time changed, so did the sunset time. Earlier, sunset was at 7.30pm, now it is 9.30pm. a clear example of what geography taught us ,longer days and shorter nights. I only had an idea of this concept then on paper, living it was more realistic.
As I tried to make sense of the differences, I reflected on my days studying High School Geography, we learnt about the latitude and longitude. The equator, the tropic of cancer and Capricorn. The Prime Meridian, the East and West Hemisphere, the North and South Pole. We were also taught, with diagrams, the angle of rotation of the sun at different latitudes and longitudes. Little can I remember in the exercises given to us then, to calculate different timings in relation to the angle of rotation of the sun.
People living close to the equator do not experience drastic changes in their dawns and sunsets because the angle of inclination is very little. See image above. The angle of rotation of the sun, the one we fondly draw in our books, to show the sun tilted at a certain angle to the straight vertical line really matters a lot when you are further away from the equator.
This is why Muslims in countries like Australia, Canada, and the rest of the eastern and central European countries fast for at least 15 hours. Muslims in Germany fasts for about 18 and a half hours and eat only for about 5 and a half hours. This gets more interesting during the winter. The reverse is completely the case. Shorter days and longer nights. Therefore, when Ramadhan falls in winter, perhaps in 5 to 6 years, people will fast for about 6 hours or so only and eat for about 18 hours. What a deal you will say. And you are right. It will be worth appreciating when you find yourselves here during Ramadan then.
For countries such as Nigeria and Kenya, positioned closer to the equator, the fasting times is between 12 to 13 hours always. And now Geography makes a lot more sense.
What was the most bizarre geographical characteristic you have experienced? Are you living in Finland where you fast for almost 24 hours? I did be happy to know what geographical shocks you are experiencing?
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