A University of Auckland academic wants guidelines on Ramadan fasting observance times to prevent confusion over fasting periods among Muslims.

The month-long Ramadan is set to start today, depending on the sighting of the moon. Muslims in New Zealand will fast for just 11 hours each day - possibly the shortest in the world.

Their counterparts in the UK, who are in the middle of summer, will be required to go without food for more than 20 hours.

Nordic Muslims in the Arctic zone will this weekend witness the longest day when the sun does not set and are at a loss over when to break or start fasting.


Dr Zain Ali, head of Islamic studies research, said he supported having an international guideline for fasting periods during the Islamic holy month.

"I will be comfortable with the idea of a set of Ramadan guidelines, and the Islamic tradition already has a number of guidelines, for example, exemptions of expecting mothers," Dr Ali said.

In the UK, the Independent reported that an Islamic researcher from anti-extremism group Quilliam, Dr Usama Hasan, suggested following Mecca timing, where daylight during Ramadan lasts around 12 to 13 hours.

Dr Ali said it did not mean Muslims who undertook longer periods of fast were making a greater sacrifice. "We can't really measure the spiritual value of fasting in terms of hours spent without food," Dr Ali said.

"Muslim scholars always point toward the intensely personal nature of fasting, in that its value is dependent on an individual's experience."

Hazim Arafeh, newly elected president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, said it had been a tradition that Muslims began fasting at dawn and broke their fast at sunset during Ramadan. Mr Arafeh, originally from Palestine, said it was unclear who would have the authority to issue these guidelines and did not believe it would have widespread support.

"It is a matter for the scholars to discuss, and such a decision can never be made by ordinary people like myself or academics," he said.

"I would think that 99 per cent of Muslim scholars would never agree to such a thing."


For the past few years, Ramadan has occurred during winter in New Zealand, so Muslims enjoyed a much shorter period between their suhour (pre-dawn meal) and iftar (sunset fast-breaking meal).

When Ramadan falls is calculated by the lunar calendar, which moves about 11 days each year.

The 2013 Census reported there were 46,000 Muslims in New Zealand, up from 36,000 in 2006.

Fasting NZ style: you can eat before you know it

Malaysian-born Nadia Najib, 21, says Ramadan fasting in New Zealand is "a breeze" because of the short hours.

"You just don't feel it at all and before you know it, fasting is over and we get to eat again," said Miss Najib, who works at her dad's restaurant, Uncle Man's.

Short fasting hours are also good for business at her family's halal Malaysian restaurant on Karangahape Rd in Auckland.


"Because people break fast around 5.30pm, we get Muslims coming to the restaurant straight after work instead of going home."

The biggest challenge Miss Najib faced was having to work around food during the fasting month.

"It's not about being tempted to eat, but that you have to consciously remind yourself not to taste the food or drinks you are preparing."

When breaking fast, sweet dates are the first food consumed, following a tradition set by the Prophet Muhammad.

Restaurant staff Zuhairah Zulkefle, 22, said Malaysian dishes popular for breaking fast include nasi lemak (coconut rice), roti canai and satay.