Whoever can see the sun while he or she is in a high place such as a plane, a lighthouse, or a very high building, is not permitted to break the fast until the sun completely sets, and similarly when abstaining from eating and drinking. This applies also to times of prayers. As there are differences in time between the towns distant form each other horizontally, there should also be differences in time between the places distant from one another vertically.
The eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states the following: In Islam, fasting means abstaining from whatever spoils one’s fast, such as eating, drinking, having sexual intercourse, and whatever related to this, from dawn until sunset. In this regard, Allah Almighty states: (So hold intercourse with them and seek that which Allah hath ordained for you, and eat and drink until the white thread becometh distinct to you from the black thread of the dawn. Then strictly observe the fast till nightfall) (Al-Baqarah 2:187).
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also explained the phrase “till nightfall” by saying “When night falls from this side and the day vanishes from this side and the sun sets, then the fasting person should break his fast”(Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
It is also well known that the sun does not set at the same time all over the world, the same as it does not rise at the same time all over the world. As the earth is spherical and rotates on its axis, the sun sets at a specific time in each country, according to its longitude. In fact, cities and towns within the same country differ as regards the time of sunset. So, for example, there are 6 minutes difference between Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt, and about 20 minutes between Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
That is why television and radio channels always declare after announcing the MaghribAdhan that the Adhan is according to the time of Cairo, Doha, or Riyadh, and that those who live outside this city should have the difference of time in mind.
This difference in time in sunset and sunrise is perfectly clear as regards the horizontal distances, but what may be unclear to many is the vertical distance, or the altitude of a place.
When I was staying on the 14th floor in a building in Alexandria, I noticed that the MaghribAdhan was being announced while I could still see half of the disk of the sun. So how about those who live in the 30th or the 40th floor or higher? So I said to the people with me, “There should be an addition to the important caution said to those who live outside the city, that those who live in high stories should pay attention to the difference of time between them and those who live in low stories.” This also applies to those who live on mountains and so on.
I found that jurists clarified the ruling of this issue. In his famous hashiyah (marginal annotation), the prominent scholar Ibn `Abidin Al-Hanafi quoted the author of the book Al-Fayd saying, “Anyone in a high place, like the Alexandria lighthouse for instance, is not to break his fast until he sees sunset, but the people in the city are to break their fast when the sun sets in the city. The same is applied in the sunrise as regards the Fajr (Dawn) Prayer and the predawn meal.”
No doubt that the same ruling should be applied to plane travellers who fly many miles away from the earth, as well as to those who live in mountains and high buildings. They have their own dawn time, sunrise time, and sunset time. Therefore, when dawn appears to them on the horizon, they must begin fasting and pray Fajr; they must not pray Fajr before that or eat or drink after that. The same is applied in the sunset: airplane passengers are not permitted to pray Maghrib or break their fast according to the time of the country over which they are flying. But they should eat, drink, and pray Maghrib after seeing the sun setting with their own eyes.
Some pilots in some Arab countries declare the time of sunset, allowing the passengers to break their fast if they are fasting and to pray Maghrib Prayer according to a fatwa they have heard from some sheikhs. But this is a common mistake that must be corrected. The sunset time of the passengers of a plane differs from that of those on earth. This is certain. We have clarified the main point of the issue: As time differs according to horizontal distances, it also differs according to vertical distances.