Popular American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson stirred up a controversial debate on Twitter when he told Sunni Muslims they were breaking their Ramadan fasts too early.
Popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is in hot water with Sunni 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 Sunni 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.
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 Sunni Muslims were breaking their fast 15 minutes early. In middle latitude countries – including most of Europe and the Middle East – Sunni Muslims have been breaking their fasts 30 minutes early, according to Tyson.
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 Sunni Muslims, especially the unlucky few who are located in higher latitudes already fasting for around 20 hours a day.
Sunni 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 Sunni Muslims jumped in to try to offer corrections of Tyson’s Quranic interpretation.
“No, professor, it uses the word ‘layl‘, which precisely [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.