Popular American scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson says Muslims are fasting Ramadan 'wrong'

Popular American scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson says Muslims are fasting Ramadan 'wrong'
Popular American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson stirred up a controversial debate on Twitter when he told Muslims they were breaking their Ramadan fasts too early.
3 min read
07 May, 2019
Tyson claimed most Muslims have been breaking their fast half an hour early [Getty]

Popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is in hot water with Muslims on social media after telling them they are breaking their Ramadan fasts 'too soon'.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began on Monday 6 or Tuesday 7 May – depending on the country. During Ramadan, practicing Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, with the exception of the young, elderly and sick, in addition to pregnant and breastfeeding women and travelling people.

Breaking the fast early without a valid excuse, such as illness, is considered a sin in Islam.

Tyson, a popular American science writer and television personality, offered his own interpretation of the Ramadan fast on Monday.

"The Quran says plainly that daytime fasting during Ramadan ends at 'dark' not at sunset," Tyson claimed in a tweet. "'Dark' is a good match for the end of twilight."

He explained that in countries along the equator, this would mean that Muslims were breaking their fast 15 minutes early. In middle latitude countries – including most of Europe and the Middle East – Muslims have been breaking their fasts 30 minutes early, according to Tyson.

Even worse, Tyson said, Muslims in higher latitudes could be breaking their fast 45 minutes earlier.

Tyson's claims – if true – would come as quite a shock to many Muslims, especially the unlucky few who are located in higher latitudes already fasting for around 20 hours a day.

Muslims on Twitter immediately rushed to reply to the tweet, which many found absurd, especially as the astrophysicist is neither a Muslim nor a scholar of Islam.

Some Muslims jumped in to try to offer corrections of Tyson's Quranic interpretation.

"No, professor, it uses the word 'layl', which percisely [sic] means the second part of the day that follows the daytime," replied Ahmet Tunc Demirtas. "It starts with the sunset."

When Tyson doubled down on his interpretation in response, one Twitter user offered a tongue-in-cheek response in classical Arabic: "When did you become a scholar in the science of tafseer [Quranic exegesis], Neil?"

The Quranic verse Tyson appears to have been referring to is located in the al-Baqara chapter of the Quran, in which it is stated: "Then complete the fast up to the night."

Sunni Muslims interpret this to mean they must break their fast at sunset.

Shia Muslims however do wait until the last rays of light have left the sky in order to break their fast, typically around 15 minute after Sunnis break their fast.

Others took to ridicule in their responses to Tyson's claims.

"Rolls eyes in 7th century Hijazi Arabic," tweeted one user.

Sohaib Saeed, an Islamic scholar who specialises in tafseer, hit back with a meme: "Are you even tafserious?"