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.

CNN's Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the big stories

"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."

How Olympic athletes rose from the Arab Spring

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. james

    This is so disappointing that everyone here is name calling, using foul language and demonizing one others faith or lack of it. Grow up people. Get over the high school mentality. Is this what we want our kids to learn, hate one another without ever giving a chance. I know a lot of Good/bad Christians,Jews and Muslims. And from what i learned is there are only 2 types in this world GOOD and BAD and they are in every faith and non-faith. So respect one another and give humanity a chance.

    July 23, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  2. Jen in Texas

    I think Hameed Al Drie is right when he says "God is merciful and compassionate, even when our sins are many." There is language in the Koran that allows exceptions to fasting and ways to make up for it. I can't imagine God would want me to train most of my life for an opportunity like the Olympics, only to perform poorly. I would offer my apologies to God, make arrangements to feed the hungry and fast at a later time, and then do what I needed to do to turn in my best performance.

    July 23, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • TruthBeTold

      You are right here. Remember Hameed talked to his Imaam to get an opinion before coming to his decision. You will find the majority of Muslims will debate the choices, but ultimately leave it up him and respect his decision.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  3. anon

    With our worlds weight problem, I'd say MORE people need to fast.

    July 23, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • TruthBeTold

      LOL...would probably also solve our food shortage issue too.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  4. Religion of peace?!

    Quran says to kill Christians and Jews unless they convert according to Sharia Law.
    Anyone who leave Islam and don't believe in Allah will burn in hellfire and should be killed.

    July 23, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • cleareye1

      Just imagine what a wonderful world it would be without religion.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Jon

      Muhammed (SAW) would actually use the mosques to harbor poor, sick and travelling Christians and Jews, feeding them also.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • TruthBeTold

      So why does Egypt, one of the oldest Muslim countries, have a 10% Christian population?
      Why does India (formerly Muslim governed country) have a 50%+ Hindu population?

      On the flip side, why doesn't Spain have a Muslim population anymore?

      Please grow beyond cut & paste....

      July 23, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • ME II

      @Religion of peace?!
      I doubt that... cite the verse please.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  5. Quran is BS

    Muslims may learn during Ramadan to stop blowing themselves and innocent people off

    July 23, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • Jon

      It's actually in the Qur'an not to blow yourself up and kill innocent people.

      That's why all Muslims hate al-qaeda and Taliban.

      If you researched anything you said, you'd know this instead of looking ignorant.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Who invited me?

      clearly not ALL muslims hate the taliban or al-queda.
      Otherwise ALL muslims would do something to stop them, but clearly many support them. Also, the members of those groups are muslim, and they like themselves just fine.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • TruthBeTold

      Then all we'd be left with are the Sandusky's and Holmes' of the world. At least the one's blowing themselves are doing it against what they perceive as persecution. In some cases accurate, in some cases not. Also in many cases the people are uneducated.

      What philosophy do the Sandusky's and Holmes' of the world follow??? Self gratification!
      What excuse do they have?? I guess an almost PhD and being part of a university isn't enough education.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Ken Margo

      Blowing people off? Is that some sort of adult activity?

      July 23, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  6. Islam = Poop

    Thank God us Christians are not required to any laws to follow!!!!!

    July 23, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • Jon

      Even grammar doesn't apply! Woo hoo!

      July 23, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Abdul

      that means you are not reading your own bible.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • TruthBeTold

      Ask any true Christian what laws there are to follow.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  7. Ira

    The Hutterites are cool.

    They dress funny like the devout Muslim women, and use iPhones and everything!

    Plus, they eat pork.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:40 am |
  8. Ira

    Jews are supposed to fast for 24 hours one day a year–Yom Kippur.

    This doesn't pose much of a problem for us however, because we're not exactly known for our athletic prowess anyway.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • Religion of peace?!

      Fvck Judaism as well...

      July 23, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  9. FB

    Its sad that people are misunderstanding Islam and omit important factual information about this faith. During the holy month of Ramadan, if one is travelling from his or her home country they are allowed to not fast. The only restriction is they make up for these days before next years Ramadan. The same compassion applies if one happens to fall sick during this month. Also, if the actual act of fasting brings harm to ones body, then they are to feed one poor person per day during the holy month. All this is backed up in the Holy Quran (Surat Al-Baqarah 2:183-185) These athletes fall under the category of "travellers" as their intention is to compete and go back home. Hence, its NOT a sin, (as the article states) for these travelling athletes should they choose not to fast so long as they make it up before the arrival of next Ramadan the following year. The whole purpose of fasting during Ramadan is not to just refrain from food or drink, but to remember those who are in need and feel for them as well as be grateful for what we have in things we take for granted everyday.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:10 am |
    • Chris

      Pure vanity.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • elpj

      Good to know that sharia law is flexible on its rules for fasting. If only they were as flexible when they are stoning women for adultry.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Who invited me?

      Your religion is just as man-made, unreasonable and illogical as all of the others.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • joe

      I see Islam is just like any other religion. Interprit or change the rules however you see fit. Just like the Imam changing the date based on a moon phase. A moon phase? Really?
      The world would be a much better place without religion.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  10. Mohamed Kamal

    Why is everyone acting like muslims are the ones creating drama here. I'm seeing people left and right talking about "who cares if you eat or not?!" or "Muslims demand to be treated special for their beliefs". First of all, do you really think it's these muslims who went out of there way to talk to CNN about fasting during the olympics?? How are they seeking attention when all they're doing is answering a question?? And second, someone please point out to me, which part of this article says that muslims asked to be treated differently? Not one of these athletes said anything other than how he/she will deal with it. There is so much cowardly hatred going on on the internet. Everyone hides behind the tiny screen and acts all big.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:02 am |
    • d

      People have right to form an opinion and express that it's stupid.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:48 am |
    • Reality

      A solution to the problem in less than two minutes for those Muslims who are not suffering from the Three B Syndrome i.e. Bred, Born and Brainwashed in Islam.

      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 23, 2012 at 7:33 am |
    • Chris


      You seem confused. No one hides in these on-line discussions. What you see is the real them. They hide when there's any chance of a personal relationship.

      In other words, it's a true paradox. You get real actual people online. In the real actual world, you get acting.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Ken Margo

      Don't let what others say about Islam bother you. The same thing applies to Christians. If your gawd is as powerful as you say he is, these words won't matter one bit. Freedom of speech works both ways, nice and nasty talk.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  11. Easy way Out

    The bible speaks of the coming of the Messiah and the Prophet. Christians believe that Jesus was a Mesiah and the prophet while Muslims believe that Muhammad who came later was the prophet. When Jesus said I go now but I send the comforter they take that as him referring to the coming of Muhammad. Problem is Muhammad is a contradiction in everyway to Jesus and the least comforting indivifual who ever lived. Islam is a lie, a curse on man. All Muslims of victims captive to a lie that is destroying nations all over the world. Muhammad is not "the comforter", he denies the son of God, he is an anti-christ.

    July 23, 2012 at 4:58 am |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      trouble is Jeebus ain't no "son of god". Do you even know 1 thing about ancient Hebrew culture ? There were many many "sons of god", and Jeebus never claim to be one of them. They were generals, politicians, famous guys etc etc". So before you do your sermons, old man, maybe take a class in w t f your blabbin about.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:24 am |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      your = your're

      July 23, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  12. Devon

    Well at least if their fasting, they cannot be bombing other people so that is a positive...unless its ok not to fast from killing non muslims during ramadan........lol.....such is islam....

    July 23, 2012 at 4:58 am |
    • Jon

      read a book.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  13. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 23, 2012 at 4:38 am |
    • 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 10:23 am |
  14. jackiesmith890

    and this is why i'm an atheist. all of these idiotic people wasting their time on this stupid crap over something that doesn't even exist. then we wonder why the middle east is so backwards.

    July 23, 2012 at 4:29 am |
    • billyschmilly

      couldnt agree more

      July 23, 2012 at 5:54 am |
    • Chase



      July 23, 2012 at 6:04 am |
    • Ira


      And agreed.

      July 23, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  15. beeneebaybee

    i have heard that ramadan can be ignored if one stands on ones head for 3 minutes when the moon is full. i swear. god told me.

    July 23, 2012 at 3:50 am |
    • Ira

      You have to rub your stomach while standing on your head.

      July 23, 2012 at 7:27 am |
    • herbie hancok

      let's not forget reciting the alphabet in reverse to the tune of 'Twinkle twinkle little star'

      July 23, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  16. Holy Man

    If your god needs you to jump through hoops and perform petty tasks to please him, then you need to stay home and let the rest of the world pass you by. We don't need you in intelligent society.

    If your god wants you to live a good life, being kind to others, helping the poor, tending to the sick, that sort of thing, then please join us in the world.

    July 23, 2012 at 3:44 am |
    • Jon

      The second part is actually what Islam teaches.

      As per the first part, that's like saying asking your child to do homework, eat vegetables, and keep his/her body clean is 'jumping through hoops'.

      Really, atheists don't help their causes by making such uninformed remarks. I know you don't feel it, but i'm embarrassed for you.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  17. Rev. Tyrone Pope

    The ragheads should just go on a permanent fast.

    July 23, 2012 at 3:42 am |
    • dsavio

      you should

      July 23, 2012 at 3:55 am |
    • glub, glub, glu...


      Sure thing... and christards should be held under the water a bit longer during that dunking ritual.

      July 23, 2012 at 4:01 am |
  18. Macho

    Oh my god! This is completely ridiculous. Which God tells you to fast in his name? How is it that if you don't fast, you are committing a sin? How is eating proper food in order to compete same as temptation for alcohol, drugs, or lust? This is completely beyond logical. Cannot believe that in this day and age, people still believe in such a Stone Age mentality. Grow up People.

    July 23, 2012 at 2:37 am |
    • Mohamed Kamal

      I can't tell you if that is the actual reason for fasting, but for me personally, It gives me a chance once a year to be able to relate to the millions around the world who can't afford 3 meals a day. It might not be a big deal to you but that's no reason to mock it. Believe it or not, being able to relate to the less fortunate can do wonders for a human being.

      July 23, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Mohamed Kamal

      If i may also add that being able to detach every now and then from the lifestyle most people have become used to in 2012, might just make it easier to realize that not being able to get a super sized soda is not that big of a deal.

      July 23, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  19. sccmstl

    This is a non-issue. Muslims do not have to follow Ramadan restrictions if they are traveling. These people do not live in London, they have traveled to England. They are travelers.

    July 23, 2012 at 2:20 am |
    • haru

      I agree with this not being an issue unless they are British Muslims. When the Prophets wife asked him if one must fast when travelling, the Prophet told her that one could fast if they wanted to, but could also not fast if they wanted to. There are also other statements attesting to this as well.

      July 23, 2012 at 3:14 am |
    • journalismgeek

      If one is planning on staying in said location for more than 10 days, it is recommended that he/she fast

      July 23, 2012 at 5:26 am |
  20. Rachid

    Islam or Muslims are not racist. We love everybody either your agree or disagree with out faith. You can worship a cow a human being or Call Jesus God that is your belife. we call you to islam to discuss not to argue or fight. Muhammed the Prophet is not our God and we dont worship him. He is a prophet like Jesus and Moses and Noah and Ibrahim...etc.
    women are free to go to school drive get elected....hopefully these lines will speak to you some of the truth about Islam because I am a Muslim and I dont hate you and I dont seek attention. If you think that praying for me will help me go ahead I pray for all of us to be good humans and treat each other with respect.

    Salam Alykoum everybody Muslim or none

    July 23, 2012 at 2:15 am |
    • Pull My Finger


      Obviously this young man has stumbled into the wrong Islamic school. Quickly now – all you non-racist Muslims – go talk to this boy and tell him the "truth" about Islam 😆

      Here, young man – we love the Jews just like we love the Christians. Now off you go to your explosives class, that's a good little fighter.

      July 23, 2012 at 2:29 am |
    • Shon

      Rachid, Jesus isn't considered a Prophet in the Christian faith. He is the son of God and many Christians worship him the same as they worship God. Some believe he is God reincarnate and others believe he is Gods son sent to spiritually save humanity and put them back on the right track.

      July 23, 2012 at 2:33 am |
    • 1a2rd2

      You are so full of yourself it's not funny.....comparing JESUS to moham ...........

      July 23, 2012 at 3:42 am |
    • Jon

      Well, every religion (or non-religion) has its crackpots. This kind of talk is severely frowned upon, and I know that whenever I go to mosque everyone views it as a disgrace.

      I'm not saying Atheists are immoral, but some lack a moral compass. I am not so ignorant to base my perception of an entire group of people, which is why so many atheists in CNN comment sections are so embarrassing. "Ugh, I hate them, how can they be so intolerant!"

      No irony in that.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:51 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.