Saturday, July 14, 2012

To Fast or Be Fast: Muslim Athletes in Ramadan

Asalamu Alaykom,
I am honestly scared this Ramadan to deal once again with the heat of the Egyptian day while fasting.  I try to remember my day of fasting while touring EPCOT in Orlando, Florida...with a toddler!  That actually gives me strength.  You grow a little braver with each hard experience you survive.

Sometimes, Non-Muslims don't understand what our fasting entails. It's not what my mom likes to do with a fruit juice fast to lose weight. It's not what my earthy friend likes to do with only drinking water to cleanse her body. It's not obstaining from red meat like during the Catholic's Lent. It's not having ANYTHING enter your body during daylight hours. When you set your mind to fast as a Muslim, you refrain from food and water, and even medicine.

It's not easy.

I sincerely welcome any Non-Muslims who are reading to spend one day fasting as we do. You will never understand Muslims without understanding our Ramadan fasting.

There are some rules to fasting. You cannot be under a doctor's care for anything (high blood pressure, diabetes, depression) without consulting whether or not you are able to fast. If you need to take medicine during daylight hours, then you cannot be fasting. You can't be menstruating while you are fasting because it is not healthy. Likewise, women who are pregnant or nursing a baby are exempt if they feel unable.

I think of the Muslim atheletes who will soon travel to London in order to compete with the Summer Olympics.  This year the games start on July 27 which is five days into the month-long fast.  That is a very dramatic story:  athletes must chose between faith or fame.  It's getting a lot of press.


Even from last year, the BBC News began reporting on it.  Watch this video to see what they had to say.  Two of the men I list below are mentioned in the clip.  I am, however, disappointed that the Islamic representative was so quick to find compromise (so as to not seem too strident in his beliefs).

Here is the official stance of the Islamic Society of Britian on Ramadan and the Summer Olympics coinciding.

Click here to read how a Muslim reports on the Olympics being held during Ramadan.

By contrast, Kate Kelland from Reuters made the assumption that "...many Muslim sportsmen and women from cultures or countries where not fasting is frowned upon may well honour the holy month." 

Comments like hers are upsetting.  While it good that the Ramadan fast is getting some discussion, I don't appreciate her leap in thinking.  She went from objective to subjective faster than a sprinter.  Ms. Kelland, couldn't it be that those Muslims will choose to fast because of an inner pull to their faith?  Honestly, it doesn't have to be public backlash which pushes an observer to participate in an annual religious rite.

Later, in her article she quotes The British Journal of Sports Medicine.  According to a study of Muslim athletes who are fasting, "There are often small decreases of performance, particularly in activities requiring vigorous and/or repetitive muscular contraction.  Ramadan observance has had only limited adverse consequences for either training or competitive performance". 

However, Ms. Kelland spend the next two pages quoting others for their ancedotal evidence about feeling weaker as they play sports in Ramadan.  She hears from many atheletes who are not going to fast in order to grab the gold.

That really is disheartening.  I wonder how many of those athletes were keeping their prayers as they were fasting.  Without our prayers asking for strength from Allah, we will fail.  It isn't our body which prevents us from fasting; it's our ego doesn't want us to feel weak.  If we were to honestly trust in Allah we could make it through and science proves that out.

More studies

This study one was on Judo performance during fasting. It measured the amount of swaying in athletes before Ramadan and during.  "The results of the present study showed that the sway velocity during bipodal and unipodal stance and the percentages of the body weight were significantly lower during RIF [Ramadan Intermittent Fasting] in comparison with that before RIF."

This study was on an elite group of youth soccer players .  They were separated into two groups of fasting and non.  The researchers found, "There were no significant differences between groups' post-exercise ratings of perceived exertion in all sessions. There were no significant differences between groups for Beep test performances at pre- and post-Ramadan. There was no adverse effect of fasting on perceived exercise intensity in Ramadan fasted players, and also no impact on their maximal aerobic performance post-Ramadan."

This study was on the effects of fasting athletes in general which found that, "Current evidence from good, well-controlled research supports the conclusion that athletes who maintain their total energy and macronutrient intake, training load, body composition, and sleep length and quality are unlikely to suffer any substantial decrements in performance during Ramadan."

This study about athletes' nutritional needs during Ramadan says, "Muslim athletes who fast during Ramadan should use overnight opportunities to consume foods and drinks that can supply the nutrients needed to promote performance, adaptation, and recovery in their sports.

Some are viewing Muslim athletes in the Summer Olympics as a kind of ethical conundrum.  Click here to see an activity which aims towards introspection and dialogue about the issue.  It focuses on Moe Sbihi.

Ethical Dilemma

The Daily Mail reports that Britian's first Muslim rower, Moe Sbihi, will not be fasting.  He will be paying for 1,800 meals.  The article gives the number of Muslim athletes competing in the Summer Olympics at 3,000.  Though everyone is free to make their own choices for their religious life, can you imagine the huge impact on the world if 3,000 Muslim athletes were fasting while they were competing? 

Moe Sbihi, who was probably, "Mohamed" before getting his Anglicized nickname, could have been a role model for a little Mohamed somewhere in the world.  He himself looked for a role model on this issue and found that, "Moroccan goalkeeper Badou Zaki, who though a Muslim never fasted during his time at Real Mallorca."  The influence our actions have our others either adds or subtracts from our deeds.  For a well-known athlete, the influence is more powerful and the additions or subtractions are that much more.

When we wish for gold on earth, we might get it but lose the chance for eternal peace in Jannah.  I hope and pray that there are athletes strong in both body and faith who can perform their fasts and win medals.  This would be a huge win not only for them but for the entire ummah.

Remember:  our place in the world is as Muslims first and foremost.  Whatever else I choose for my life, I chose to submit to Allah before anything else; that is Islam.  Read here to get more scholarly reasons why sports are not to be placed above our religion.

What's interesting to me is that at the exact same time Muslim athletes are questioning whether or not to fast, NON-Muslim athletes are finding the benefits of fasting.  Intermittent Fasting is not exactly the same as our fast but it shares the belief that a full stomach is not necessary.  The Intermittent Fasting has been used by cyclists, tennis players, and fitness coaches.  I especially like that last link which succinctly outlines the reasons why people should fast for a healthy body and mind.

I am making the choice to fast.  My husband has made the choice to fast.  My seven-year-old will be fasting part of the day.  Are you fasting?

Fasting Muslim Athletes

Read about the many Muslim athletes who have chosen to fast for Ramadan.  From them we can gain strength---not from their muscle power but their from their powerful belief that since God wills Muslims to fast then we will.

American Football

Could fasting actually kill an athlete?

“If it’s my time, it’s my time,” Ahmed Elshaer said. “If not, God watches over me.  Millions of people on earth don’t have food or water.  It puts you in their shoes.”

Read this article about Ahmed Elshaer No compromises on faith or football for Wesley Chapel lineman from Tampa Bay Times.  What's great about it is that the whole team rallied around him.

" 'A lot of people may look at things differently, but I feel it is required for us to fast,' Husain Abdullah said, basing his conviction on his reading of the Koran. 'And we’ve been fasting my whole life, pretty much. I try to protect my fasting because it really means a lot to me.' "

Read more from this article about Husain Abdullah In the Heat of Camp, Hunger of Faith from The New York Times.

Here's an audio file and transcript of Football Players Tackle Ramadan from NPR.

You can watch a video of  Muslim Football Players Fasting During Ramadan from an NBC affiliate in Ohio.


Hakeem Olajuwon actually welcomes Ramadan. “I find myself full of energy, explosive. And when I break the fast at sunset, the taste of water is so precious.”

This is a great article from with the former NBA star.  Hakeem Olajuwon: A Ramadan Interview is a "must-read."  It's a dozen years old and the player has since retired and moved to Amman, Jordan.  However, this remains a very meaningful interview.  If you don't feel the power of Islam working in his life, then you are not tuned in.


“This is a month of blessings and this victory is truly a blessing.  This was really tough both mentally and physically. You feel like you are doing two things are the same time when fasting and playing golf. It is a very special victory,” added Mardan Mamat, who dropped to his knees in prayer after holing the winning putt.

Here is the article about Mardan Mamat  Fasting Mardan Wins in Malaysia  from Golf Digest.


Darren Cheesman, will be fasting.  He has a great way to think, saying, "The fact that you will never have a Ramadan, and Olympics, in London, at the same time, ever again. It's a great way to use something that the whole country is going to be focused on, and saying: 'Hold on, there's another big event going on this month -- Ramadan."  

He goes on to say, "I love the challenge of waking up in the morning, having suhoor, being with my family and starting my day ... Ramadan a a whole, take away the fasting -- it's a beautiful time and it enhances your sporting ability rather than takes it away."

Read more here about how British Muslims will be using this challenge as an opportunity.  There is also a video report.


Noor Al-Malki is a teenage girl from Qatari who plans on fasting but might stop if her trainers advise against it.  She has the added responsibility of wearning hijab as she runs.  “They might say: ‘She’s covered up’ but this is our religion, " Noor explains,  "I am very proud of it and I will not listen to what people say.”

You can read about her here in an article from the Shia International News Association.

She follows in the very fast footsteps of Ruqaya Al Ghasara. who in 2004 was the first female athlete to wear hijab.

This is a Runner's World forum on which ordinary people discussed fasting for Ramadan while still going out for runs.


Here is Frédéric Kanouté.  This world-class soccer player was quoted as saying, “Personally, having faith helps my football and football helps me to be healthy and strengthens me. There is no conflict because people who know about Islam, they know that fasting empowers and does not weaken the Muslim.”

You can read more about him in this article, I Can Keep Fasting In Ramadan Even When I Am Playing an exclusive interview at
He is also mentioned in this article  Fasting and Football. How do top-flight Muslims cope?  in The Independent Newspaper from the UK. 

There are, to be sure, millions of other soccer players all around the world who aren't as well-known who will be fasting, praying and thanking God.


Actually, this sport seems to be one of the toughest to participate in successfully during a Ramadan fast.  I read about the Islamic rulings on it here.  One important part of our fast is not allowing water to go inside our mouth or nose and enter into our stomach.  That's really hard when you are swimming!  The other difficulty is not showing or seeing the awrah; private areas of others during the fast.  Since Western swimsuits leave vast areas of skin uncovered, the awrah is visible and a haram action when you are supposed to stay pure.

The BBC reported two years ago how Stoke-on-Trent printed an 11-page guide for schools on how to be sensitive to their Muslim students (including not having swim classes during the month-long observance).  I believe that their information came from the longer 72-page guide "Meeting the Needs of Muslim Pupils in Public Schools."

If you come across other information, let me know.

While we remember the athletes competing in the Olympics, please also remember the average workers who are fasting.  There are many men and women who are going to be earning money for their families by serving and protecting others during the games.  They are struggling because they can't pay for 1,800 meals.  They are just trying to pay for the meals on their own table!  Pray for Allah to ease their hardship.

May Allah accept all our efforts this Ramadan and increase the knowledge and faith within our ummah and in the world.


Um Dayo said...

mashallah, thanks so much for posting this! It was a Muslim soccer player in India fasting his Ramadan while playing hard under the heat of the Indian sun, when all his non-Muslims friends were telling him "You're gonna die, Sayeed!" that inspired me to consider Islam. Subhanallah, it really can be (and has been) dawah and usually the Muslim has no idea the good impression he is giving, just by living his life for Allah!

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom UmDayo,

It's nice to hear from you! I hope you and babykins---Ayah?---are doing well.

Good, good thought you've told me. Alhumdulillah for those who hold fast to their beliefs. They truly do inspire us. I am SO GLAD that man was fasting! He helped bring you out of an old life and into a new :)

It was depressing me how often the non-fasting Muslims were getting press (because that is who is more relatable to the non-Muslim reporters). Honestly, there are SO MANY athletes who strive while fasting and they are my inspiration to fast these long, hot days in Egypt.

Gotta run to yet another doctora appointment---did you read about my experience?

Inshahallah, Ramadan will find us both healthy and sane.

My Best Wishes to YOU.

Love and Light!