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. snowdogg

    "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.

    Reasonable solution.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:14 am |

    Then you'd have a funny life again! 🙂

    July 28, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  3. Moe

    while its true the Muslims have far more days to worry about this time around Jewish athletes face the same challenge – at least any observant ones (I assume non-observant muslims have no problem either) as from saturday night through sunday evening is the fast of tisha b'av a full day fast in commemoration of the destruction of the first and second temples in Jeruslem. In addition to not eating or drinking Jews are also not permitted to wear things made of leather which eliminates most of the top sports shoes (a problem for many athletes) or to douse oneself in water beyond hygeine purposes (and of course not for swimming) just as on yom kippur (the day of atonement).

    July 28, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Moe

      forgot to mention that I was referring to TODAY

      July 28, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Moe just shows how insane religions are..all this to please an alien that they have no idea even exists or gives a dam...

      July 29, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  4. Kindness

    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    I Accepted Jesus christ as my lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners. Even once we are saved by christs merciful grace we will still experience adversity to mold us to adhering to the truth.
    We will slip... But not fall of the ship ...carrying us onward to perfection in christs grace.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from some other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith ....above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read romans or corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are by faith above reason in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

    July 28, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • snowdogg

      lost in the ozone again?

      July 29, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  5. skeptic56

    Always downsteam, these issues that come from the original statement that there is a god (ours of course, the right one) and specific rules proves that it must be true, because well, there's the rule! Therefore god exists, because the rule is proof, and proof that god exists because there is a rule.

    Totally man-made, and everthing that comes from it downstream is misguided. What pitiful god would require such a stupid clause in his contract to prove to humans that he exists? Surely he can do better than that. How can humans ever get better by clinging to such stupid beliefs? Starving yourself to impress god. Absurd. Wait! I just had a message from my god. I'm to stand one one foot for a month, never letting the other touch the ground, but only during daylight hours. Problem is I live in the summer of the arctic circle. I am in for a long month.

    July 28, 2012 at 3:39 am |
  6. Jack

    Good evening folks. Everyone is cordially invited to visit ... thestarofkaduri.com

    July 28, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • AusieSceptic1

      I'd prefer mcdonalds.com with their easy to negotiate drive-through

      July 28, 2012 at 8:29 am |

    .Dear Lord!
    .Shall we pray with the brain-dead?

    July 27, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • mafia don

      Please do! 🙂
      God particles just got their way! 🙂

      July 27, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  8. K from AZ

    Life is Tough! But, who cares about their problem?

    July 27, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  9. gliese 42

    Its a sad to see sports being infiltrated by the religion of peace

    July 27, 2012 at 7:32 am |
    • I AM

      yES, you are right. After the olympics all the muslims that didn't fast will be murdered by some extremists.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  10. eville11

    all this about having breakfast?

    July 27, 2012 at 1:40 am |
  11. Ryan

    I teach English to international students, many of whom are Saudi or from the UAE, Kuwait, and Egypt. As they have explained to me, again and again, including when I went on a visit to their mosque, there is no such "dilemma." As "paperjihad" said below, the Qur'an very expressly allows Muslims who are travelling and away from home to make up the days at a later time. I encourage CNN to get better information on this issue instead of spreading misinformation about Islam.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • secret agent man

      ryan from horseheads eh

      July 27, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  12. yneeemee

    Let devout Muslims make their choices based on their religion and stop making such a big deal out of everthing CNN

    July 26, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • PAUL



      July 26, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  13. Jay

    I am not Muslim but I really like Mohamed 'Mo' Sbihi's approach to the dilemma. He spent a lot of time searching and came up with a brilliant solution. Thumbs up to him! I couldn't imagine having to perform like these athletes do without eating or drinking during the day.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  14. OOPs

    Who's happy he's not going to Olympics to be sacrificed and has two thumbs... This guy. I'll be watching as governments execute another false flag attack and blame it on Iran, Muslims or even Christians now that media have been propagating that way recently. The preemptive programming has been on your tv for awhile, your subconscious has noticed... Have you.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • ThatDCGuy

      can i have some of whatever you are on? my contact is out here is dry

      July 26, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  15. kediacorporation

    Reblogged this on Kedia.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  16. Ka Boom

    Any of these 'muslim' olympians gonna go ka-boom, esp. at the israelis or US or UK olympians? Sure hope the security is strong.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:06 am |

    .I ask all to remember what BEAUTY is!
    .You see so much beauty!

    July 25, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • ThatDCGuy

      Good Acid?

      July 26, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  18. y

    does God get mad at everyone...even if they aren't Muslim...if they don't celebrate Ramadan??
    Is he mad at me. Is he really that narrow minded??? If so...he must be human! Scary thought!

    July 25, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  19. Susan

    I think it is funny how your God in your imagination has left you with this dilemma. If you could only communicate with him I'm sure he would give you permission to maintain your health during the Olympics.

    July 25, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • paperjihad


      There's no dilemma. There is an express dispensation for Muslims who are travelling and away from home. They don't have to fast and can make it up some other time. So I'm not really sure why CNN decided to print this.

      July 25, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • paperjihad

      (Fasting is prescribed for you) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (Should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will,- it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew.(Qur'an 2:184)

      July 25, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  20. Thwee saching marma

    if anyone do fasting he will not wind any gold medals ....that's it ....!!

    July 25, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Muhammad

      The idea of fasting and other good deeds is to please God not Gold. Its another matter that God will allow exceptions as in Quran 2:184.

      July 26, 2012 at 12:40 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.