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. government cheese

    Muslims also have to get used to the starting gun. In training, they used a starting bomb.

    July 22, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  2. tk007e

    Muslims are not good in sports anyway, with or without food! BTW, they still blow themselves and others even while fasting.

    July 22, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • sam stone

      the world record holder for the 1500 meters is a muslim

      July 22, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  3. Don Canard

    seriously ? I'd expect this kind of story to come from clowns like the Iranian mullahs or the Taliban, not from modem people who expect to be taken seriously. (And to argue on the religious plane: if faith is not first a question of personal confession as one of the people quoted above, then it's worthless.)

    July 22, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Excuse me? Personal confession?

      July 22, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  4. Meki60

    its not a delemma, its their own stupidity

    July 22, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Thank you for being sane!

      July 22, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  5. mike martin

    i see that there are many ignorant people replying to this story its sad to know my fellow americans could be so narrow minded.I myself am a christian but i would never disrespect some ones religion no matter what religion....... that does not include atheism i hope all atheists would die and be reincarnated as tree's that are then cut down to print 'Quran's and bible's on =D that would be awesome that being said i dont beleive god (meaning the "one" god that is in many religions)would condem postponing your fast untill after the games ive never put much stock in what so called holly men have to say its all about your perseption of your holy book

    July 22, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Hey Mikey, you're the ignorant one or really drunk, same thing.

      July 22, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • mike martin

      Thanks bro lol from reading your recent posts i wouldnt expect an intelligent responce so the things your saying comes as no suprise im not saying you should beleive in anything thats your choice im jst voicing my opinion and i am neither ignorant or drunk all though on a diffrent day i might be smoked out thats a diffrent story to be ignorant is to be uninformed which i am not since i research daily also to be drunk would mean i drink which i dont so i guess your the one who is uninformed or "ignorant" =D but hey its the net no one really cares anyway

      July 22, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Hey Mikey, it's all good! No bads here, you're cool! Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

      July 22, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  6. Colin

    Can you even imagine the number of otherwise bright, articulate, wordly Muslim kids whose developmets have been retarded and stultified by the poisoning effects of religion! There are hundreds of millions of Muslims living in the Middle East whose lives have been totally screwed up by having to dumb themselves down to the simple minded religious majority.

    The sooner the Middle East throws off the shackles of religion, the better they will be.

    July 22, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Colin, thank you so much for making sense!

      July 22, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  7. ishiibrad

    I` m surprised the muslims didn`t ask for the days to be changed from the opening to closing ?

    July 22, 2012 at 10:12 pm |

    Well....we simply MUST change the dates that the Olympics occur on......

    July 22, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  9. Voice of Reason

    Why in the world does there have to be a god? Why can't we just be? There doesn't appear to be a real good answer from any of you believers. I wish there was but unfortunately nobody has stepped up to the plate and hit a homer. What's the problem there?

    July 22, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      That is a very deep philosophical question you ask VoR.
      There are no good answers coming from anyone on that one – including the unbelievers....

      July 22, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      I know b4 you have the answers but you can't articulate them to make any sense. I know, god doesn't make any sense, right?

      July 22, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Oh, I almost forgot to mention, philosophy is a crock too.

      July 22, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Unknown

      The religion of non-belief has zero proof.Why can't there be a God? Because you throw fits?

      Grow up.

      July 22, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      "The religion of non-belief ..."

      That's an oxymoron. I'll take the oxy you take the moron, thank you very much!

      July 22, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "The religion of non-belief has zero proof.Why can't there be a God?"
      Is it really that hard to grasp a simple concept?

      Very few atheists claim that there are no gods with 100% certainty. They simply don't believe any do because there is no rational case for any. Provide a reasonable hypothesis and evidence to support it, and most atheists will believe. The problem is, of course, that there is no evidence, nor a rational narrative in favor of belief.

      July 22, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • Voice of Reason


      Your diplomacy is envious, I wish I was a better person, seriously, I'm new to being an atheist and I'm still honeymoonin'

      July 22, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  10. Jedi master

    This guy is screwed. Even if he wins gold.....he wont be an instant celeberity like a suicide bomber is among Muslims when they blow away innocent people.

    July 22, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • dre

      you got that right!

      July 22, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  11. Oragami

    Wouldnt they be able to fast at another time when they're not competing? Like people who are traveling, sick, pregnant...

    July 22, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  12. Muhammad

    Bismillah, a religious fast is different from a medical fast to reduce blood sugar for diabetics. The religious fast in Islam and as well as Jesus Christ was for daylight hours only for 30 days. - no food or liquids.

    Medical fast vary in type and you should consult your doctor before you do any fast: be it religious or medical. There is a medical exemption in Islam for the religious fast.

    July 22, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • NotA Hater

      To Muhammad, in regards to your comment about Arabs and coptics in Egypt...that is such a backhanded ignorant comment. You call yourself Muslim while insulting coptics in Egypt ???? I hope you read our Quran one day and see that god preaches respect to ALL regardless of belief. Your beliefs are a disgrace to islam. #whenwilltheylearn

      July 22, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
  13. IslandAtheist

    They could just give up that nonsense and become atheists, we would be glad to have them.

    July 22, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • dre


      July 22, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  14. tcaros

    Smelly stinking Arab sand rats.
    They think because they don't bathe it pays tribute to the false god MooHamad, but all it does is stink up the place.

    July 22, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Muhammad

      In Islam you wash yourself 5 times a day before we pray. Arab who are Muslims are quite clean, not all Arabs are Muslims, such as the Coptics in Egypt.

      July 22, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • xxray

      to Muhammad:Not true, muslims don't 'wash' 5 times, they rinse their face, hands, feet absolutely uselessly, and honestly, most of them stink since they barely bathe once a week!!!

      July 22, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Puckles

      I cannot wait until God smites you.

      July 22, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Az

      Did you know you ignorant, hate spreading, closed minded so called human being that "the soap" that you and i take for granted to clean was invented by muslims not long after the birth of Islam. Now you tell me who was the smelly one before the spread of Islam. Plus your pea brain doesn't know that practicing muslims are supposed to wash themselves 5 times a day so they are much cleaner than the regular and normal non muslims. I m a proud American Muslim and i just wish that we take a little time to study and understand and respect other cultures and religions that we don't understand and this goes for everone i.e muslims, christians, jews hindus and everyone else. We can have peace and harmony on this planet if we show mutual respect, understanding and compassion. Imagine what we can accomplish if we put our differences aside and put our resources together to irridicate hunger, disease, famine and poverty.
      Thank about it!!!!

      July 22, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  15. david

    all you undisciplined muslim haters quit crying like little gaybots

    July 22, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  16. Jez

    I love religion. The dictates of "god, allah, whatever" are always negotiable.

    July 22, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  17. Jez

    Who cares? Its not like they are going to win anything. If its such a big deal, create the Muslim Olympics – see who shows up. The Olympics are not concerned a muslim creation.

    July 22, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  18. bear foot bill

    where did god come from ????????????

    July 22, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      It always was and will always be. Yeah right! Not!

      July 22, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  19. The prophet

    Muslims have an edge in the bomb vest competi tion. No meals required afterwards.

    July 22, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 22, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • t3chn0ph0b3

      Theism is not healthy for children and other living things.

      See? Has the same impact. And a period.

      July 22, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • anniebird

      Prayer changes nothing; action does. Religion will be humankind's downfall; already on it's way.

      July 22, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • blessedgeek


      July 22, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!|

      July 23, 2012 at 10:24 am |
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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.