Since praying times are based on the sun position, I was wondering how they are handled in countries like Finland where the days or nights are very long depending on the time of the year.
Good question! This is at least one scholarly answer to the question:
Whoever lives in a land in which the sun does not set during the summer and does not rise during the winter, or who lives in a land in which the day lasts for six months and the night lasts for six months, for example, has to perform the five daily prayers in each twenty-four hour period. They should estimate their times based on the nearest country in which the times of the five daily prayers can be distinguished from one another
Here is another answer from a moon sighting website:
Polar regions like Norway, Finland, and Alaska have areas where the sun stays below horizon for several months in winter, and stays above horizon for several months in summer. However, there comes a time in every day when the sun is at its highset point (Noon) and at lowest point (Midnight). At temperate latitudes, the highest point is visible but lowest point is below horizon. But at higher latitudes (Polar region, like Norway, Finland, and Alaska) the highest and lowest point occur below horizon in winter (meaning several months long night), and above horizon in summer when the sun never sets for several months (meaning several months long day). But we can calculate those two points and determine Prayer times around those two known times every day.
...We said: Allah's Messenger, would one day's prayer suffice for the prayers of day equal to one year? Thereupon he said: No, but you must make an estimate of time (and then observe prayer)... (Sahih Muslim 41:7015)
Although the above hadith was reported regarding the time of Al-Dajjal, wherein he will walk the earth for forty days, one day like a year, one day like a month, and one day like a week, the ruling made by the prophet in this exchange can also be applied to the so-called "Lands of the Midnight Sun", where the sun literally does not set for days or months at a time.
I know of no hadiths explaining exactly how one is supposed to "make an estimate of time", but two major interpretations I am aware of are as follows:
- Pray according to the times used by the nearest location in which the times of prayer can still be discerned in the traditional way (i.e., by the position of the sun),
- Pray according to the clock, using the prayer times of Mecca.
As for those countries in which the times of prayer can still be determined according to the position of the sun, but in which said times are highly inconvenient due to the sun setting extremely late and rising extremely early during the summer, or vice-versa during the winter, I know of no reason that the same ruling could not be applied. The above report suggests that the exact times of the prayers (in relation to the position of the sun) is less important than the fact that they are still performed regularly.
Alternatively, joining prayers (such as joining the Maghrib and Isha prayers so they are performed at the same time) is another option, as the prophet is reported to have done the same so as to make things easier for his followers (Sahih Muslim 4:1516).
There are different opinions on the matter, some Fuqahā' say for fasting and prayers you should follow your home country times. Some others say the nearest country in which the times of the five daily prayers can be distinguished (as Ansari pointed out).
The European council for fatwa and research (ECFR) has given a fatwa on this very purpose: Saying that one can combine maghrib an 'isha prayer in the summer (when days are long) and dhur and 'asr in winter
حكم الجمع بين صلاتي المغرب والعشاء لتأخر وقت العشاء أو انعدام علامته الشرعية في بعض البلاد.
انتهى المجلس إلى جواز الجمع بين هاتين الصلاتين في اوروبا في فترة الصيف حين يتأخر وقت العشاء إلى منتصف الليل أو تنعدم علامته كلياً، دفعاً للحرج المرفوع عن الأمة بنص القرآن، ولما ثبت من حديث ابن عباس في صحيح مسلم:”أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم جمع بين الظهر والعصر، وبين المغرب والعشاء من غير خوف ولا مطر. قيل لابن عباس: ما أراد إلى ذلك؟ قال: أراد ألا يحرج أمته”. كما يجوز الجمع في تلك البلاد في فصل الشتاء أيضاً بين الظهر والعصر لقصر النهار وصعوبة أداء كل صلاة في وقتها للعاملين في مؤسساتهم إلا بمشقة وحرج. وينبه المجلس على أن لا يلجأ المسلم إلى الجمع من غير حاجة، وعلى أن لا يتخذه له عادة.
And in Germany the local fiqh (?) council announced that this would be applied for the situation where 'isha' prayer time is later then 11 pm, but they -apparently- added that this is only applied for mosques, as the combination of prayers like this was only made in mosques (they apparently did qiyas for the matter if it was raining etc.). But personally I don't agree with this, as the fatwa of the ECFR is providing a general statement. Note that in my opinion and practice I have the feeling that about nobody takes care of the fatawa neither those of the ECFR nor the German council except a couple of mosques who seem to pin them as an announcement no more no less.
The fatwa is based on the hadith of ibn 'Abbass () quoted in Sahih Muslim, Sunan an-Nasaa-i, Sunan abi Dawod and Jami' at-Tirmidhi which is saying that the Messenger of Allah () combined prayers even when there was no fear nor rain (an addition that is not present in all versions of this hadith).