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. Obamabus


    July 22, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  2. mork

    here, let me sum up religion in one simple line:

    Bla blabla bla bla, bla bla bla, blablabla, bla, bla bla bla bla, blablablabla, bla.

    July 22, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  3. Rob

    Religions are so f******* dumb

    July 22, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist


      July 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  4. Adam979

    These comments are amusing. I think CNN is playing a clever game letting all the stupid but oh so righteous comment so much.

    Your hateful comments say more about yourselves than anyone else. Did most of you even bother to read the article. I suspect you go trawling for Muslim articles on a daily basis. Not good.

    July 22, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      When muslims start abusing their kids, other non-muslims, animals etc we will stop thrashing Islam, the religion of genital mutilation...er I mean peaces.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  5. truthordare7

    If Allah was all that, you know, the creator of the universe and such, then Allah should alter the movement of the sun to make it possible for Muslims to enjoy their meal at the proper time. Every 4-5 hours, take the sun out of the picture for 30 minutes and then we wont have a problem. Oh wait! Allah can't do nothing because he doesn't exist. LOL!

    July 22, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      When Muhammad can plit the moon, imagine what Allah can do on his own.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Adam979

      Ok genius. I hope you are a teenager, I really do otherwise the prognosis is pretty bleak.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • truthordare7

      Adam: You don't have to be a teenager to understand religion is stupid. If this Allah can divide the earth and heaven, and create the whole universe, why can't he just make it easier for the Athletes to observe the stupid fast. It should be quite easy. Oh, I forget logic is not part of religion.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  6. sean

    Introduce them to Christianity. This will do two things, firstly, save their souls and secondly allow them to train for the olympics.

    July 22, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      @sean Its people like you that's wrong with the world. Stop your evangelising and get out of here. We've had enough of your Christian BS too. This world has had enough religion already.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • sean

      ex – you are kidding, right?

      July 22, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • mork

      F*** christian child molesting bull crap.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      No sir, I'm not kidding . I'm dead serious.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • kiwilogic

      yea sean introduce them to christianity then they can worship the same god in a slightly different way. you realise islam is the continuation of christianity? Jesus is a prophet in islam as well. and lets not forget christianity is as backwards as islam. Ramadan what a joke. what does fasting during daylight hours achieve? Out of all the things your god could ask you to do its fasting during the daytime, why not go build homes for the homeless during daylight hours why not go help plant a forest to replenish the trees we chop down. but no fasting is somehow important just like women having to be completely covered coz men have no self control in the muslim world.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  7. nadinesh

    The Bible allows Jews to break the Sabbath in times of dire need. Perhaps there are similar allowances made in Muslim customs.

    July 22, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • paperjihad

      Yes, actually there is. Muslims are not required to fast if they are travelling, which Olympians surely are. They can simply make up the fast some other day.


      July 22, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      The travelling rule does not apply here. It was applicable in those days of travelling by camel . If the journey takes more than 8 hours you can do jamm and qasr for the prayer,. same regarding fasting, it can be kept another day. but when the journey ends you should resume fasting at your destination. Doesnt mean you go on a holiday to Hawaii on Ramzan and you can forgo the fasting there because you have arrived there by travelling a long distance!

      July 22, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • truthordare7

      ex-muslim is tearing a new hole in anyone who practices taqkir (is it spelled this way?). If I was muslim, I wouldn't lie around him because he will call you out.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      No,its spelled taqiyah. Sometimes with a double y, as taqiyya. (for the stress on y when pronouncing)

      July 22, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  8. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    The World's religious scholars are from all religions and I totally agree with their understanding of God's purpose for different religions. We could all learn something from them.

    July 22, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  9. Mal

    Cuz we know God, in his infinite wisdom, decided that man should not eat during daylight hours during this particular time of the year to show how much you love him/her/it. I mean, nothing else makes sense in life, but this is obviously God's will and not some made up, random, crazy ramblings of the religious nut jobs that are Muslims.

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

    I wonder if we'll be able to see muslims playing in the fields during recess. Or do they think the mandatory fardh prayers are a waste of time during the Olympics. My guess is we will be seeing quite a few bums pointed skywards, bowing down to Allah and his messenger Mo.

    July 22, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Adam979

      Hey genius LOCOG has specially designated prayer facilities for all major religions. You know they're not as bigoted as you so you're going to be a little disappointed.

      Ex Muslim eh? Usually when I see that kind of nick it usually belongs to very Zionist folk. It's been used so much it doesn't really work anymore. They like posting a hell of a lot of comments and spending lots of time doing it too. Can't really imagine that would feel all that great.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  11. Bob

    We should change the dates for the Olympics so it doesn't conflict with Islam. Perhaps we can just all covert so as to not be in conflict with Islam.

    July 22, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  12. idiotic

    eating and drinking during ramdan is least sinful act these muslims conduct. How about killing americans during ramdan? will allah be merciful ? This is nothing but BS

    July 22, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • snowboarder

      It is religion. What do you expect?

      July 22, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      Well it is mentioned in the Quran to halt all jihad acitivtes during the holy month of Ramadhan. I am a former muslim. I know my religion inside out. There is also a concept called taqqiya which basically permits muslims to lie to non-muslims if it helps the cause of Islam. So you are never going to get the right answers from the muslims mouths. I can assure you that.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • LP

      I'm pretty sure none of "these" muslims have killed anybody. And how about spelling Ramadan correctly?

      July 22, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Mo

      Do I need to abstain from sleeping with my 7-year old wife this month?

      Your loving prophet, Mohammed.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      That's outrageous! Ayesha(RA) was at least 8 years old when the marriage was consumated. And the groom was 54 years old at the time, already married to 9 other women.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • truthordare7

      Ex-Muslim: I thought Muslims can only have 4 wives. How come Mohammed can have 9!!!

      July 22, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      Muhammad is exempt from this rule. Muslims can have 4 wives at a time, plus "right hand possessions" which are basically women captured in war.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      Verily, We have made lawful to you your wives, to whom you have paid their Mahr (bridal-money given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage), and those (captives or slaves) whom your right hand possesses – whom Allah has given to you, and the daughters of 'Amm (paternal uncles) and the daughters of your 'Ammah (paternal aunts) and the daughters of your Khal (maternal uncles) and the daughters of your Khalah (maternal aunts) who migrated (from Makkah) with you, and a believing woman if she offers herself to the Prophet, and the Prophet wishes to marry her; – a priviledge for you only, not for the (rest of) the believers. Indeed We know what We have enjoined upon them about their wives and those (captives or slaves) whom their right hands possess, – in order that there should be no difficulty on you. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (Quran Al-Ahzab 33:50)

      July 22, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  13. snowboarder

    Any religion which interferes with the way i wish to live my life is the wrong religion.

    July 22, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  14. ja-coffalotte

    Muslims should bathe more often, the ones in my neighborhood smell bad.

    July 22, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Dre

      I think if they bathed more often and didn't smell like pigs, they might enjoy life more and stop desiring to hack people's heads off all the time.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Just saying

      That's what we said about Europeans/Americans who visited our country. I am sure you do not smell. So, be careful when you make a generalization.

      July 22, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  15. Name*Chedar

    In the age of particle physics, quantum mechanics, nanotechnology, and molecular biology, we should be more realistic as to reality. Try to see if you fast a couple of times and if nothing happen. It proof that god does or Allah does not exist to punish anyone.

    July 22, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      Thats not how its meant to work. Allah and his messenger will punish you in the hereafter- for ETERNITY.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Name*Chedar

      All phenomenon exist in the mind. Your consciousness will take you to the place that is called paradise but it only exist in the one's mind. Be real!

      July 22, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • jackjohnson

      @ex-muslims atheist: The fact that you think A messenger of God is going to punish you on judgment day pretty much sums up how much you know about a religion you say you were a part of. its laughable but hey good luck with your new none religion, hope it works out for you

      July 22, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      well theres a hadith that says no one will have faith unless he loves Allah and his messenger more than any other person living or dead, including one own parents. Allah and Muhammad work together, such is their relationship. You will understaind it better if you had only read the Quran. There are several verses which warn people against harassing Allah and his messenger, waging war against Allah and his messenger and so on.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  16. CTaft

    This simply shows the stupidity of Islam.

    July 22, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Egypt 4 ever

      Have to respect your self before you respect more than a billion Muslim around the Globe .

      July 22, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • LP

      I hope you apply the same judgment to the stupidity of Jews who keep kosher and Catholics who avoid meat on Fridays . . .

      July 22, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  17. 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. Islam is for the Insane.

    July 22, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Dre


      July 22, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Lean

      You never was a Muslim AT ALL

      July 22, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Just saying

      You can call me a born again Muslim. Those people in Middle East and how they conduct themselves are not representative of my religion, and I despise them too. I do not have a problem with people's decision to convert from Islam to Christianity or not at all. The practices are common in my country and no one gets beheaded. No compulsion in religion is one of the tenet of Islam.

      July 22, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  18. truthordare7

    Fasting should be optional as should be the need to be a muslim or not. Tenets should be upon the individual to observe or not, not for some grand muffti to determine. What is the point of fasting anyhow? It is a pagan belief system that Mohammed was observing and so it is just another one of the pagan practices adopted in the Islamic faith, such as the going around the meteorite in Kabba.

    July 22, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      Not just going round the Kabba, but kissing the hajr al aswad too, which is another piece of rock. When they are done with that they throng to stone iblees to death at the JAmrat. Yeah right Islam religion of peace...I mean pieces of rock.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • jackjohnson

      who said a mufti or whoever is determining who fasts or not? Clearly the athletes in the article are choosing not to fast, thats their choice, the Mufti is simply stating that being an athlete is not a good reason not to fast, simply because you want to win. Hakeem Alajowan fasted every ramadan during the basketball season, Hussain Abdullah who plays for the Vikings fasted last year when Ramadan fell on the football season, that was their choice, no one forced them, so its clearly possible to fast and be an athlete so its up to the individual if they want to do it or not

      July 22, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • jackjohnson

      p.s Fasting is a pagan practice? Um ok, I suppose Jesus was a Pagan, so was moses and any Jewish prophet. News to me, but hey who knew

      July 22, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      Yes all three monotheistic anti-human religions Islam Judaism and Christianity have pagan origins.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • truthordare7

      yup. Maybe you would like to tell me what Mohammed was doing fasting in the cave before Angel Gabriel choked his monke..I mean his neck three times or two times? His whole tribe believed in Goddesses that were in Mecca and that is also one of the reason why Mohammed uttered the famous Satanic Verses to try to appease his tribe.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      Yes the Lat, Uzza and Manat episode was an embarassment for Muhammad. And to his ummah.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  19. Rafik

    Actually, I am a Muslim researcher and author, and I agree with the religious opinion that they can postpone their past. Islam is a religion that is not dogmatic (in spite of what the Wahabis, Talibans and Islamophobes would say). For example, if someone is working at an extremely labor intensive job in harsh weather, he/she can postpone his/her fast and replace it later. I am sure that God is understanding and would allow them this flexiblity.

    July 22, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • truthordare7

      Islam, not dogmatic, you don't say! Fasting itself is dogmatic.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      You can postpone it for another day, but there is no guarantee from Allah that he will replace you with someone else for that spot in jahannam . Fast and play the sort or risk burning in hell fire for eternity. Ha ha ah . What a moronic religion this I-slam is.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Axiom

      It's allowed to postpone the fast and make it up later if there is a valid excuse, like illness. If someone breaks their fast without a valid excuse, they have to make it up later and feed 60 people for each such day. It looks like that's what Sbhi's doing.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • Ex-Muslim Atheist

      Why does your bloodthirsty god Allah want people to fast in the first place...or mutilate their childrens genitals, or stone people for adultery, or kill the apostates or kiss the black stoine in the kabba or sacrifice animals or shave your heads and a miriad of other nonsensical harmful rituals.

      Your Allah is fake. Leave Islam and embrace humanity.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  20. Bible just a theory

    Good thing the Olympics are not held above the ARCTIC CIRCLE when the SUN DOESN'T SET for a month or more in the summer! Perhaps this is why there have not been too many MUSLIM ARCTIC EXPLORERS?

    July 22, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • mak123

      hahahaahahaha LOLLLLL you aree soooo funnnnyyyy! Mannn where do you pull thatt stufff frommm! LOLLLL -_-

      July 22, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • dion

      I was blind sided by that comment – GOOD ONE!

      July 22, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
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About this blog

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.