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July 22nd, 2012
03:00 AM ET

Muslim Olympians wrestle with Ramadan dilemma

By Richard Allen Greene and Aroub Abdelhaq, CNN

London (CNN)– Olympic judo competitor Hemeed Al Drie plans to sin during the Games in London, he admits with a grin.

"God is merciful and compassionate, even when our sins are many," said Al Drie, kneeling on a mat while martial artists hurled each other to the floor around him.

Al Drie's sin isn't what you might expect. It's that he is planning to eat and drink while the sun is up during the Olympics, even thought the Games fall smack in the middle of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Observant Muslims are supposed to fast during Ramadan, abstaining from all food and drink, even water, during daylight hours, then eating and drinking after sundown. Fasting for the month is a major religious obligation, one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

But Al Drie, 19, knows that fasting on days when he has up to six judo matches against the world's best competitors would doom his chances of winning.

"If you don't eat and you enter a competition, you might faint," he said. That would lead to instant elimination.

So Al Drie is going to stick to his normal competition diet.

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"Maybe some people will fast, and that's good for them. But for me, I can't risk losing any of my matches," he said.

Al Drie, who is from the United Arab Emirates, isn't alone in facing the Ramadan dilemma. It's not clear exactly how many Muslim athletes are competing in the Olympics this year, but more than one in five people around the world - about 23% - is Muslim, according to estimates by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Religious experts in Saudi Arabia determine the starting date of Ramadan each year based on the phase of the moon.

Muslim athletes face a particular challenge because there are so many hours of daylight in London during the Games, says sports nutritionist Hala Barghout.

"It's a 17-hour fast in London. It's not like here in the Middle East," said Barghout, from the United Arab Emirates.

It is "physically impossible" for a world-class athlete to stuff as much food as they need into their body during the seven hours of darkness that remain, she said.

"How much can a person eat in one meal? You can't have, say, 3,000 or 4,000 calories in one meal. You need time to digest," she said. Three thousand calories is the amount that the U.S. government recommends that an active man in his 20s eat in an entire day.

Explain it to me: Ramadan

But one of the leading Islamic religious leaders in the Middle East says Muslims competing in the Olympics should observe the daytime fast, regardless of how it affects their performance.

"Playing sports is not a requirement in Islam. Players become athletes by choice. This optional activity, therefore, does not allow athletes to break their fast," said Ahmed Abdul Aziz Al Haddad, the grand mufti of Dubai.

Muslim athletes must also observe the fast because they are representing Islam at the Olympics, Al Haddad said.

"They must be ambassadors of their faith," he said. "Meaning that Islam must be present in their actions, and they do not fall into anything that Islam forbids."


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Competitors may eat or drink if fasting is threatening their health, he said.
"If a person feels extreme fatigue, sharia allows him to break his fast. Sharia is flexible," he said, using the Arabic word for Islamic law.

"But to immediately break your fast without being hungry or thirsty is the same as submitting to your cravings and lusts, and not putting God's desire before your own," the religious scholar argued.

Not all Muslim authorities agree with Al Haddad.

British Olympic rower Moe - for Mohamed - Sbihi has discussed the problem with his imam, and decided not to fast during the Games.

He plans to feed 1,800 hungry people in Morocco after the Games as compensation for not fasting during the holy month, and will observe a fast later.

"It was a hard decision for me to make," said Sbihi, who was born in Britain to an English mother and Moroccan father.

"When I first started rowing as a youngster, I said that I'd be fasting regardless," he said.

But over time he changed his mind. He did his university dissertation on fasting in sports, and consulted family, friends and coaches in Morocco and Britain before making his decision, he said.

British rower Mohamed 'Mo' Sbihi.

"In the end it felt like I was making the right decision for me, and that's to postpone my fast, to make it up at a later date," he said.

Sbihi has been considering the Ramadan dilemma for years, since it became clear that the 2012 Games would fall during the holy month. They usually don't. The Muslim calendar follows the moon, so Ramadan falls during different seasons in different years.

Members of the London committee organizing the Games this year noted it was not their decision to hold them during Ramadan - the International Olympic Committee sets the date.

The IOC pointed out that the Games "bring together virtually every religion and creed. ... How to deal with religious practices is up to each athlete and his/her personal beliefs."

Sandrine Tonge, a spokeswoman for the IOC, said different countries and individuals deal with the question differently.

"Some countries, like Egypt, for example, issue fatwas exempting athletes from the need to fast when competing," she said, using the Arabic word for a Muslim religious ruling. "At the end, religious practice is a matter for individual conscience."

Interactive: The evolving Olympic athlete

The London organizers pointed out that major international sports events have taken place during Ramadan before, including the Singapore Youth Olympic Games in 2010.

Dining facilities in the Olympic Village will be open 24 hours a day, and athletes observing Ramadan will be able to order "break-of-fast packs that will include water, nutritional bars and fruit," the organizing committee says.

Even with those provisions in place, and with the Games beginning in just days, Khadijah Fahed Mohammed hasn't decided whether she will fast.

The 17-year-old weightlifter is the first woman from the United Arab Emirates ever to qualify for the Games.

Her nutritionist has put together a plan for her to consume 5,000 calories a day - more than twice as much as an active woman her age should normally eat, according the U.S. guidelines.

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She's torn between her obligation to fast and her desire to win.

"Both are important to me. Fasting is a must," she said, even as she recognizes the importance of her first time in the Olympics.

"This is our chance. Ramadan just happened to be at the same time as the competition, so no one knows what to do. Should we fast or not?" she asked.

Her coach says she should.

"Many competitions have taken place during Ramadan," said Nagwan El-Zawawi. "I am not convinced you can break your fast. I mean, fasting is a must. There are no excuses."

But judo competitor Al Drie doesn't believe that.

"God is with me wherever I go, whether I fast or not," he insisted. "The most important thing is to have faith in God and give it your best and thank God, whether you win or lose."

CNN's Christina Macfarlane, Mohammed Jamjoom, Jon Jensen and Nima Elbagir contributed to this report.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Belief • Islam • Ramadan • Uncategorized

soundoff (1,052 Responses)
  1. Unknown

    Not believing I could mow my lawn killed my grass.Not believing does harm.

    July 22, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  2. d

    lol

    July 22, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  3. jdmvimd

    We all have choices to make. Make your choice with no excuses, execute the plan, and move on.

    July 22, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  4. Ex-Muslim Atheist

    I wonder if Jews will forgo any event held on their Sabbath day! LoL This is just too ridiculous. No one should ver have to pander to the whims of any religious group. Period. These retards believe in imaginary sky goose and expect everyone else to believe in thier fairytale and live thier lives according to the wishes of these fairy critters, which are so ofter violent and bloodthirsty. No sir, I do not wan to Believe, I want to Know.

    Proud to be Atheist.

    July 22, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • skr321

      Of course Jews will not play on Shabbat, not even a question on that.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  5. baby jimmy

    in Soviet Caliphate of Britain, baton pass YOU!

    July 22, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  6. Ex-Muslim Atheist

    The problem is easily solved by converrting out of Islam, just like I did and like so many are doing presently. Oh wait, just remembered, apostasy is punished by the death sentence in Islam, the religion of peace.

    July 22, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • abs

      you are so full of it, nobody in its right mind will believe in your story... you have never known religion otherwise you'll never talk like that of ANY religion.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      ake up to reality my friend. Muslims are leaving Islam in droves. Thousands are converting out of Islam every month. Most of them go on to become atheists and lead normal lives. Others join Christianity and such. Thats like jumping from pot into the fire, hey but whatever rocks your boat.

      Who in his right mind would want to remain muslim given a choice. Muslims are genitally mutilated and psychologically damaged for life. Hence the utter dsdain and contempt for Islam by those who manage to break free of its shackes and live to talk about it.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  7. Lol

    They should eat the british royal family and rid the isles of those parasites forever.

    July 22, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  8. Bud Glass

    There are many negative comments on here. I never understand why people want to waste their time writing comments about other peoples' religious beliefs. If you are not part of that religion, why do you care? What is it to you? If somebody wants to fast, so what? How will that effect you? If you are an atheist and somebody else wants to pray to their God, why do you care? It is their business, not yours. If you are not a Christian, don't criticize those who are. If you don't like Buddhist beliefs, then don't become a Buddhist. But, allow them to do what they want to do.

    There is too much religious intolerance in America. The only time you should be concerned about another religion is if that religion should try to force you, through the government or law, to adhere to their religious beliefs. If they don't try to force you to accept their beliefs, then don't try to force them to accept your beliefs. Just leave them alone and let them do what they want to do. You believe what you want to believe. They have their own beliefs. Be tolerant.

    July 22, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Outspoken atheists don't mind if people worship their god and make choices for THEMSELVES based on their belief. We take issue with believers using their belief as an excuse to push their ideas onto people who don't share their god-belief and claim superiority over other "infidels." In America, christianity, in Saudia Arabia, islam, want to get an automatic "free pass" when it comes to legal and social matters. Atheists are simply saying, "Not so fast, jack, not everyone buys into your world-view."

      July 22, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Dre

      Hey bud. People are voicing their hatred of muzzles because they are a psychotic cult hell bent on killing and maiming innocent people. That is why we care!

      July 22, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  9. Shaq

    some benefits of Ramadan
    http://islam.about.com/od/ramadan/a/ram_benefits.htm
    http://www.submission.info/practices/ramadan/medicalbenefits.html

    July 22, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Jon

      Thank you, brother.

      a breath of fresh air in this forum.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Jill

      Shaq, sister, don't equivocate sheep with brown rice. Under the vowels you will find a thematic paint can with global resonance. Such is the apparent mass of the island in the tomato, for if it can be voted on, there is a pork rind.

      And never, never pass up an opportunity to watch an elephant paint Mozart.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • tallulah13

      As-Salam Alaikum brother and thanks for the link. I have found the internet to be very useful and informative to learn more about islam.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • tallulah13

      This person posting as Tallulah13 is someone who has decided to use my name to post pro-islamic comments. They do this every once in a while. I have never made a secret that I am an atheist. One can only suppose this individual is too meek or unimaginative to come up with their own screen name, and thus must use mine.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Tennis Oxbow

      ShaqJon is the same person posting spam spam spam about islam spam spam spam spam odious spam spam spam.

      July 22, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Jon

      lol, are you the same ignorant, racist, uneducated Atheist posting a thousand times over, too? Even though the article has nothing to do with you?

      July 23, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  10. Khalid

    In Islam, travelers are exempt from fasting during Ramadan. So this is a non-issue for almost all of the Muslim Olympians.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Jon

      Good point, forgot about that

      July 22, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Invhalid

      In Greater Porcupine, uncles are exempt from asparagus tasting during Needlefest. So this is a non-issue for almost all of the Deciduous Porcupines.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Mickey1313

      um, only WHILE they travel. They are already in england, so they must fast or burn, if you believe in sutch rubbish

      July 22, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  11. verdoit

    let;s focus on the muslim athelese and how dedicated they are to islam. how did ramadan become anything that people care about.

    Everytime I hear something about muslims, its stilted and contrived.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  12. zippy

    Suprised that muslims haven't demanded that the Summer Olympics be held in Winter to avoid this dilemma. Followed shortly after by blaming the Jews for the whole problem.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  13. Abumuammaar

    When will CNN use a Muslim to explain Islam? Muslims who are traveling are allowed to eat and make up the fasting days later! So fasting is not an issue for Muslims from countries other than Britain.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • chubby them rag heads up

      skinny is a harder target

      July 22, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Mohamad

      I thought that exemption was during the travel not when they arrived at their destination. During your flight to your destination you dont have to fast, but when your arrive you Have to.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  14. Chops

    No. I don't think they should eat or drink...at all...not during the olympics...ever.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  15. Kay

    There are exceptions for fasting during Ramadan. Children,, elderly and ill are exempt if they chose. The solution of the GB rower seems to fit with that.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 22, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  17. Unknown

    Why are atheists so afraid to admit they have faith?

    Come on now.All that logic and reason points to atheism requires faith.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Be Fair

      Why does it bother you so much that people don't belileve as you do or at all? You come out with childish comments. "Athiests are dumb. Why don't they admit they have faith?" I don't give a damn what you believe in. Why do you care if I don't?

      July 22, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Unknown

      I never said i did.I asked a question on why.

      Learn to read.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, ghouls, goblins or guns

      Please explain what you mean by faith and atheists having faith.

      The definition of faith I like the best is "pretending to know something that you do not." I try not to pretend to know something I do not, as in I try not to engage in faith.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Jon

      Well, all theists are under some pretty heavy fire in this forum even though the article does not mention them, or have anything to do with them.

      If the majority of atheists in this forum generalize about all Muslims based on a handful, you have to expect that theistic writers will do the same. Not knowing of your existence, he can't say 'to all people, except 'be fair".

      July 22, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Be fair

      The fact that you mentioned it means something about it bothers you. And please, save the scarcasm for mommy. You can't even make a comment without being a smart a$$.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Be fair

      Jon I'm responding to his comments not the article. He has more comments than just this particular one.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Jon

      oh ok. I figured 'unkown' was the general name assigned to anyone without a screen name or something.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I have no problem admitting I have faith. I have faith that my family will always be there for me. I have faith that my cats will continue to behave exactly like cats. I have faith in myself, that I will do my best to be an honest, responsible adult.

      What I don't have faith in is the supernatural. There is no evidence to support the existence of any god, therefore no rational reason to believe in any god.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Be fair

      Tallulah..........here, here. My father used to say, "There is no God, just small minded individuals who think they are."

      July 22, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Waitaminute

      If atheism is a faith system, then NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  18. Arvoasitis

    God help America if the comments on this posting are any reflection on its people.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Moiphy

      I'll bet if it weren't for America your country wouldn't be free today.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      The "what if's" of history are hypothetical and irrelevant. My point is the att_itudes manifested in some of the comments are inappropriate and would be insulting to any group the people making them may belong to.

      July 22, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  19. history major

    Can you say "Chariots of Fire"? Not only a Muslim thing.

    If one allows oneself to be ruled by the physical minutiae of a religion, one deserves whatever disadvantages come with it.

    Why do we think an all powerful being gives a hoot about what or when we eat? If she is so all powerful, why does she need our obedience. Men are sanctimonious to impress other men.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  20. Geraldo

    i am sure if olympics were on Good Friday, CNN wouldnt care or run a mushy story

    July 22, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • hawo

      What's that suppose to mean?

      July 22, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Mary

      Isn't that the truth!

      July 22, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • verdoit

      Yes, agreed. Alot of coddling of isalm and muslims. We need to revere them and their ridiculous rules and harsh treatment of women

      July 22, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.