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. JK

    who cares.....................

    July 23, 2012 at 12:07 am |
  2. Bull in the China Shop

    Soldiers in battle are permitted to eat during Ramadan. While Olympiads are not at war they are competing for the glory and honor of their countries, and therefore an Olympian should be exempted from the requirement to fast during Ramadan just as a soldier is.

    July 23, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  3. Christopher

    Who cares?

    July 22, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  4. Peter H

    More than Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Bush....

    July 22, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  5. Islam = Poop

    Muhammed was so ugly that Muslims do not want any images of him... and he killed more people than Hitler did.

    July 22, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  6. Julie7491

    I think the Olympic should always be declared a religion-free zone.

    July 22, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      A big thank you for being sane!

      July 22, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
  7. Salim Hassan

    May Allah lead everyone to Islam. Islam means peace.
    Ramadan mubarak to all brother and sister Muslims in the world. Islam will insallah one day take over the western world

    July 22, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • Pull My Finger

      Aren't you the people that actually believe you'll be in charge of the entire world "after" the nuclear holocaust?

      Good luck with that.

      What maroons.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • Peter H

      Keep it to yourself Salim... May God grant you the power to wake up and smell the coffee...

      July 22, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
    • SalimBaz

      Dear Salim,

      Islam means surrender; Salam (which technically comes from the same root as islam – and salim :)) means peace.
      Second, "peace" and "take over" give opposite meanings, if you know what I mean. A religion of peace simply does not "take over".

      July 23, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  8. Jenn

    Thank God for being Christian where there are no laws for anything!!!!!!

    July 22, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Ali G

      Have you heard about Bible by any chance? If you proclaim yourself as a Christians. There are rules, actually...

      July 23, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  9. Abdul el Hassan Mohammed Johnson

    As a devout member of the Coptic Vision of Kamal we are forbidden to eat fried boloney and Clark bars during the hours of 2AM until 4AM. If it wasn't for this i'm sure i would have been a great Olympian

    July 22, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  10. The Ghost of Joe Paterno's Statue

    F uck. They cut me down. After all I did for them. All those years I thought silence was golden. Oh well, guess I'll have a meltdown. What's that? Graham Spanier bought me to use as a giant s ex toy? He gonna do -what- with my finger?

    July 22, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  11. mmi16


    July 22, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  12. Jenn

    LOL let those silly Muslims who worship a devil die from starvation and lack of water 🙂

    July 22, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • sam stone

      jenn.....still begging to jeebus for your salvation?

      July 22, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Pull My Finger

      samstone, you're my heeeeero. Make sure you stay after them ignorant Muslim haters.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  13. OMG

    Muhammed was a fake prophet who did nothing but kill and rápe girls that möron!

    July 22, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • sam stone

      and the christian god knocked up a 13 year old without her consent

      July 22, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  14. Missile Battery Echo, deployed on the North Lawn

    Standby, mates! The damned muzzie nuclear-tipped javelins and discuses made out of C4 will start flying any day now! Steady on now, boys! Take aim!! Lunch! er, I mean, LAUNCH !!

    July 22, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  15. load of crap

    Just another case of religous conveinience....

    July 22, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  16. Steve the Goat

    If all people who believed in space ghosts would just grow up, they would realize they wouldn't get themselves stuck in this sort of situation. allah is just as BS as jesus and all other space ghost stories.

    July 22, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Steve the goat! Bingo!

      July 23, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  17. Reality

    Dear Muslim Olympians, (for those Olympians who missed this on p. 9)


    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi––

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

    July 22, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  18. IAteABaby

    If all muslims would fast day and night for 41 days, all their hopes would be satisfied. All of our prayers would be answered.

    July 22, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  19. Roger

    OK, Muslims (and all other theists) doesn't this just perfectly demonstrate how utterly ridiculous your religious rituals are?

    July 22, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  20. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    My religion is VERY important to me ... uhhh ... but only when convenient.

    July 22, 2012 at 10:32 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.