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. cadecker

    Quote from wiki

    "The Olympics were of fundamental religious importance, featuring sporting events alongside ritual sacrifices honoring both Zeus (whose famous statue by Phidias stood in his temple at Olympia) and Pelops, divine hero and mythical king of Olympia"

    now should a muslim be participating in a non-muslim event? i have not know a muslim to take up any other religious ceremonies ..wouldnt it be .... you know... against their own religion?

    July 23, 2012 at 2:10 am |
    • Ed T Duck

      That was a few millennia ago for a religion that has long died out. The modern olympics are not a religious ceremony.

      July 23, 2012 at 2:18 am |
  2. Scott

    Exactly how is this a dilemma? Your Muslim, you train to be in the games and know what your getting into, if you have a problem with it don't compete. The next thing you know they will have to stop the games or only hold them a certain times because there religion dictates it and we certainly don't want to offend the poor Muslims now do we.

    July 23, 2012 at 2:08 am |
    • Ed T Duck

      Eurgh, reading that made me want to pull my hair out. *You're. *Their.

      July 23, 2012 at 2:43 am |
  3. WillieLove

    Hope they don't take bugs back to their loved ones s-xually...

    July 23, 2012 at 1:55 am |

    To all the haters out there in this comment section. Muslims are not the problem. Extreme Muslims are. Just like Extreme Christians create car bombs in Ireland, and guys like Timothy McVey who was a christian who killed in Oklahoma. You cannot judge another religion without judging yourselves. "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone".

    I support this athlete, and hope he finds peace in his choice. I hope more that his own people do not get upset with his choice. Some are unforgiving. As some of you might guess.

    July 23, 2012 at 1:54 am |
    • Scott

      Really.....How do you tell an EXTREME Muslim from a REGULAR Muslim? The Muslim cult religion is not very tolerant, join us or we will kill you. If your not Muslim then you are garbage is that about right?

      July 23, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • Cj

      From my point of view, those who don't follow the tenets of their faith or, more specifically, kill innocents, are neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Muslim, save in name only. Those who kill unless in defense of their life or the life of another have betrayed the meaning of the scripture Leviticus 19:18: love thy neighbor as thy self.

      As far as the athlete planning on breaking his fast is concerned, deliberately and knowingly sinning is a sin in its self from a religious perspective, and hard to repent from. Repentance isn't just simply saying "I'm sorry, God." It is the admission of one's errors coupled with a change of heart fueled by a desire to do better next time.

      July 23, 2012 at 2:56 am |
    • Steven

      Really Scott ?

      How ignorant are you really ?

      Go ask the jews why they *followed the muslims* when muslims left Spain.

      Why ? Because they were safer among muslims than among christians, that's why.

      Christians and jews lived among mulsims, on muslim land, for 2000 years, without being mass murdered (like the christians did to people of other religions) and without being forced to convert.

      That is the absolute opposite of what you say: they have 2000 years of history of accepting people of other religion.

      July 23, 2012 at 3:46 am |
    • Ira

      Steven, the Jews left Spain because the king expelled them. They didn't follow the Muslims anywhere.

      What history back are you reading?

      July 23, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  5. WillieLove

    w h or es in the village ....

    July 23, 2012 at 1:52 am |
  6. Ed T Duck

    "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."

    Ah, we see now the root problem of Islam exposed. If feeding 1,800 hungry people is the recompense necessary for breaking a holy fast, what then is required of a more serious sin, such as adultery or theft? How can you be sure you have done enough good that the scales will tip in your favor? You surely can not. The muslim is therefore condemned by their own conscience. Never fully free to live. Always in fear of retribution.

    There is another way...

    July 23, 2012 at 1:52 am |
  7. WillieLove

    Jesus is the only to heaven....No other way

    July 23, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • falsehoodwinsovertruth

      YOU SAID : Jesus is the only to heaven....No other way
      ME : Yes,Yes,Yes ,you are right.
      Your JESUS followers- after destroying a rich and prosperous nation called Iraq to find weapons of mass destructions (which never found till today) sent 1.2 million innocent people 40% of them are children to heaven..
      I did watch President Bush was receiving pope's blessings in Vatican City when his troops sending Iraqi children and people to heaven in the name of JESUS.

      July 23, 2012 at 3:49 am |
    • Holy Man

      Too bad Jesus didn't teach you to form a complete sentence. Or God didn't give you enough intelligence to understand how to form a complete sentence. Shameful on their part, really.

      July 23, 2012 at 3:49 am |
    • Ira

      What happened to the souls of all those people who were born and died before Jesus and Muhammed made their grand entrances into the world?

      They don't get to heaven because of bad timing?

      July 23, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  8. N0cturnal12

    All muslims are pos and the world knows it. If this guy is so much of a muslim, then let go of the medal and stop eating. Personally, I wouldn't mind if these animals don't eat at all.

    July 23, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • WillieLove

      His religion controls his every thought and mind to destroy others who don't agree with his religion. He sounds like a catholic sin sin sin then ask for forgiveness.

      July 23, 2012 at 1:48 am |
  9. falsehoodwinsovertruth

    After reading most of the comments by enemies and haters of islam, i came to a conclusion,... "real haters are non muslims and socalled fake ex-muslims" and muslims are trying to retaliate these hate filled sick minds..

    July 23, 2012 at 1:18 am |
    • over it

      hate filled sick minds..... their great prophet married an 8yr old!!??! and they worship him!!! that is sick!!

      July 23, 2012 at 1:26 am |
  10. FYI

    Wow not a surprise...most of the commentators are racist toward Islam

    July 23, 2012 at 1:10 am |
    • over it

      omg they bring it on themselves by always wanting special treatment and please, they are the most racist and intolerant religion out there. Gee muslims just love jewish, hindu's and christians.... look at all the churches they are blowing up around the world at the moment in the middle east, asia and africa.

      July 23, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • FYFI

      Islam is not a race.

      July 23, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • over it

      just to prove my point: http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2012/06/muslim-terrorists-blow-up-another-church-in-nigeria-15-dead/

      July 23, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • falsehoodwinsovertruth

      @over it
      YOU SIAD : oooppss.. that's right it is the prophet mohammed that married Aisha the 8 year old http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aisha
      ME: Sayings in Hadeeth compiled even 200 years after the death of Prophet (s a w s).It is highly possible Enemies, Atheists, People like you and Hypocrites of that time pretending to be one of the real sahaba's (faithful’s) had fabricated that particular incident (ayesha’s (r a) marriage at 8-some haters say 6..some say different age ) and made it look real.
      I don’t mind any Muslim believe in that. But I don’t believe in that particular compilation as I don’t believe in many of the un-authentic sayings in hadeeth.

      July 23, 2012 at 3:30 am |
    • FYI

      So is that it? When a group of Muslim that so called as themselves "Muslim" blow up churches, temples, ect. you can say all the muslims people are like that? FYI, Muslims are not just in Middle East. In Asia, Muslim are very different than in ME. You won't know if you never been there

      July 24, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  11. over it

    why do muslims see them themselves as a nationality...... "we muslims" i never religion was a nation. Muslims love the drama and making it obvious "i am muslim" hence why they wear stupid burqa's when it is culture and not religion, yet use religion as the excuse and fasting. Seriously it is 2012 not 2012BC..... they just want attention and special treatment. go back to the dark ages and take your stupid cult... i mean oops religion or is it nationality according to muslims!?!

    July 23, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • maryam

      Stupid burqas? Everyone has the freedom to wear what they want. why is it that when a woman wants to dress modestly its considered backward? maybe you arent open minded enough!! Catholics all over the world fast during lent...Do you have a problem with that too? You seem to have no klnowledge of Islam and sound like an ignorant fool!

      July 23, 2012 at 1:30 am |
    • over it

      Dressing modestly is one thing, having to cover up from head to toe is another and hide under a black cloth! it is not the woman's choice at all, from the moment she gets her period she has to start wearing it as she is considered a "woman" i have lived in the middle east and know first hand the woman as no choice, you are the one who has no idea about your own religion! woman's choice, what a joke you disillusioned idiot, she would be stoned to death if she disobey her male family members or husband or islam!

      July 23, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • over it

      maryam you are ignorant to think it is a woman's choice, that is the most ridiculous thing i have heard and read in a long time!!

      July 23, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Cam

      Why??? Because we believe we are all one, and often work together to bridge differences within various communities. What's wrong with people coming together and celebrating their beliefs?

      July 23, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • FYI

      FYI to those who are not Muslim, the women doesn't HAVE to wear BLACK veil all the time...just look at SEA, the women in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, etc. they even wear different design/colour for their headscarf, it more like a trend there!

      July 24, 2012 at 12:21 am |
  12. JP0

    I suspect that there are more important problems in the world.

    July 23, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  13. Rebel4Christ

    All Islam is is work! It's like if you don't fast then God won't love you but a According to the Bible he always loves you no matter what you do.

    July 23, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  14. victorleyer

    I guess Allah did not thought about this problem when scheduling the olympics.

    July 23, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      @I guess Allah did not thought

      I guess you did not thought either when you posted that!

      July 23, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • over it

      he was too busy marrying 8 year old girls!

      July 23, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • over it

      oooppss.. that's right it is the prophet mohammed that married Aisha the 8 year old http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aisha

      July 23, 2012 at 1:11 am |
  15. Linda

    Oh for God's sake give me a break...I do not give a damn if the eat or not ! This is the Olympics.....Muslims need to get a grip, or go home ! Do you think the WORLD gives a – – – t....NOT !!!!!

    July 23, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  16. Tina J.

    "Muslim athletes must also observe the fast because they are representing Islam at the Olympics, Al Haddad said." And here I thought the athletes were representing their countries. So, I'm wondering who is representing Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism etc.?

    July 23, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • over it

      i can't stand how they all think they are a "nation" all around the world they refer to the religion as a nation. i think they all need to read more books than just the one they are brain washed on.

      July 23, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  17. DolphT

    Convert to the worship of Daffy Duck and none of this is a problem. We Daffiests get to eat whatever we want wheneveer we want.

    July 23, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • Tina J.

      Isn't Daffy Duck the god of frustration? I could get into that.

      July 23, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  18. Pull My Finger

    Here's an observation for all of you who are trying to marginalize the issue of islam by saying "no big deal."

    When your head is stuck in the sand, your tender little ass is stuck up in the air.

    July 23, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  19. mike keys

    wow,you people have toooo much time on your hands............................................peace muslim,jews and christians

    July 23, 2012 at 12:07 am |
  20. Some dude

    I don't see the big deal. In Islam, when one is travelling, that person doesn't fast. These athletes are travelling, therefore they don't fast.

    July 23, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • Mickey1313

      That pertaines to the traveling, once at the destination they are required to continue the fast. But in my opinion they are still brutal hypocrites. They are also supposed to denounce any activity including women who do mens work.

      July 23, 2012 at 12:31 am |

      Dude if travelling is a part of your job, fast is must for you. Travelling became your life style, because it is not a tempopary situaiton. There are rules which must not be seen less important than they are, because of more flexible islam for other believers or unbelievers.. people except how islam is, and they try to live as Quran say..

      July 23, 2012 at 12:33 am |
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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.