Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Olympics & Ramadan: How do Muslim athletes do it?

 Ramadan, Islam's holy fasting month, rams right into the Olympic games.

Islam is showing Olympian-style flexibility when it comes to the holy fasting month of Ramadan and London's Summer Games.

During Ramadan, Muslims are called to fast from food and drink during daylight hours, "no easy task at a latitude where summer daylight hours are between 4 a.m. and 9 p.m.," noted NBC.

Physical contact between the sexes is also limited, which explains why a video showing a surprise kiss being bestowed on a Muslim reporter at the games immediately went viral.

Smooching aside, the fact that the two events have coincided for the first time in 32 years has lead to much discussion. But it is worth noting that major Muslim leaders have for the most part refrained from issuing a sweeping directive on the matter.

True, Muslim leaders in Bahrain and Egypt made a point of saying their athletes are not compelled to fast -- citing a Koranic provision for those who are traveling, sick or pregnant -- but they still left it up to a personal choice.

Authorities in strict Saudi Arabia, where even non-Muslims are expected to respect the fast (or risk being expelled), have also been noticeably quiet.

That leaves the estimated 3,000 Muslim athletes and officials taking part in the London Games doing their own private soul-searching on the matter.

Some have chosen to observe the 18-hour fast, like Milad Agila, head of the Libyan weightlifting team. "My breakfast will be after 15 minutes, about 9 o'clock at night," Agila told China Radio International. "The last meal is about 3:50."

Others, like Indonesian weightlifter and bronze medalist Irawan Eko Yuli, plan to postpone it a month, according to CRI. Many of the Saudi athletes are also observing the fast a month later, reported the Associated Press.

Then there are those opting out entirely, have appealed to various interpretations of the Koran or fatwas -- such as the 2010 directive issued by the German Central Council of Muslims for Muslim professional footballers, reported Middle East Online.

But for Muslim athletes, since Islam lacks a central authority, to fast or not to fast "is a matter of personal choice," Dr. Muhammed Abdul Bari, former head of Muslim Council of Britain, told NBC, adding, "for example I believe that [British rower] Mohamed Sbihi has agreed to feed 60 poor people in [his father’s homeland of] Morocco for every day he does not fast during Ramadan."

The fast this year is an Olympian-style challenge for all Muslims because the fast dates, which rotate on a lunar calendar, have come in the summer, when daylight hours are longer.

"You know what that means?" Salman Farsi, the media officer for the East London Mosque, asked The New York Times.

"That means eventually, it will probably coincide with the Winter Olympics, too.”
Muslim athletes, are you ready for round two?