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."

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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. ArtInChicago

    Somehow, I think Allah would tell you to eat.

    July 22, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Dave

      Or blow up a car.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Jon

      Seems like somebody wronged Dave in life lol, and he chose to take it out on Muslims.

      Grow up Dave.

      (If your'e a twelve year old with a CNN account, my mistake, accept my apologies, you're acting precisely the way you should)

      July 23, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  2. Phil in Oregon

    There is religion, then there is Christianity. All the other religions have rigid sets of laws and rules that have to be followed, sometimes under the threat of death. Then Jesus comes along. When asked about his disciples collecting and eating grain on the Sabbath, He told them the Sabbath is for you, so you can rest. It's not a law. MEN made it a law, so they could push each other around.

    July 22, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Dave

      Oh, and "christianity" doesn't have rules? Your dear and fluffy "jesus" commanded his "disciples" (enforcers) to round up and murder anybody who wouldn't worship him. Even your silly spellbook says that anybody who doesn't slavishly follow ten arbitrary rules supposedly scribed by some semiliterate desert barbarian will be tortured forever...because your "god" "loves" them. Wake up and smell reality...you have the same evil, vicious, and barbaric "god" that the "muslims" and the "jews" have.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Pumbaa

      Men made everything written in the Bible. The tablets with the ten commandments are lost along with the golden tablets of the Mormons. God does NOT write books but he/she is always on the best sellers list.

      July 22, 2012 at 12:08 pm |

    Someone writes somethink like that eating and drinking are forbiden, but killing is not in islam. this is one of the biggest deceit in the space, because Holly Quran says that killing a person same sin as killing all of the people in the world.

    July 22, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  4. nottolate


    "What you're failing to understand is that Fasting is not carried out while you're locked up in your bedroom. You go about your daily lives (work, school, kids) while incorporating the essence of this holy month into it."

    Did I not say as much by posting the scripture verses? So what are you talking about?

    July 22, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  5. JIm

    They've got bigger worries than fasting. They're slaves to the cult of pure evil.

    July 22, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Dave

      As are "christians" and "jews".

      July 22, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Thomas

      I agree. These Islamic cult members shouldn't even be allowed in the Olympics.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Dave

      @ thomas...why ban only one cult? I say ban them all.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Charmin'

      Dave: if you I decide to not be a Christian at this moment...no one will come for my head. Big difference.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Dave

      No, there's just people who'll try to prevent you from marrying, adopting children, serving in the military, purchasing a home, living in certain communities, etc. What's worse, beheading, or a life of being treated as some sort of criminal outcast?

      July 22, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Dave

      Oh, and it wasn't all that long ago that deciding not to be a "christian" would get you a celebrity roast a la Joan D'Arc.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Dave

      Oh, and let's not forget there are several states in which atheists are forbidden to hold any sort of elected public office. Which is kind of a shame. If an atheist were elected President of this nation, maybe we'd stop kowtowing to religion and kissing it's behind, stop sending huge blank checks to Israel when we've got a mind-blowing deficit, and actually make a little progress.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  6. Colin

    The mere fact that they have to wrestle with the question demonstrates again the poisoning effects religion has on our society. All athletes from Muslim countries have to overcome the ingrained (and completely absurd) superst.ition that a being that created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies 13,720,000,000 years ago is watching them and what they eat for the purposes of reward or punishment in an “afterlife”.

    Completely ridiculous nonsense.

    The female athletes also have to overcome the additional superst.ition that this being cares about how conservatively they dress!!

    That we still give any credibility to religion, be it Islam, Christianity or any other, in the 21st Century, will be looked back on by future generations with jaw-dropping amazement.

    July 22, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Dave

      Nah, some other, equally absurd religion will come along to supplant the current ones. The sheeple can't function without some imaginary disciplinarian.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      And notice the apparent confusion over the requirement and rules about how it might be evaded. You would think an omnipotent god would keep things simple, even if he chose to have multiple brands.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Colin

      Let's hope not Dave. For the first time in history, the percentage of non-believers in the USA hit 20%. The only reason it isn't larger is the influx of Hispanics who tend to carry the Catholic superst.ition. Unfortunately, Latin America is behind the curve in emerging from the nonsense of religion.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Dave

      Colin, much as I hate to say it, it's a historic pattern. A cult rises, the powers that be try their best to suppress and destroy it, only to see it achieve martyr status. The cult eventually grows until it supplants the established religion, and becomes the established religion. It then focuses on suppressing and destroying other cults.

      And like the old proverb says; we haven't learned from history, and thus we are doomed to repeat it.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Jeff

      Well stated. Religion is nothing more than some wise people's understanding that mere mortals will only answer to a "higher" being when being intimidated and manipulated. The hoax continues.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  7. nottolate

    Think I 'll start a real fast to show these muslims how its really done. A 10 dayer should do it....LOL!

    July 22, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  8. Mohammad Shrahiem

    Which way is East?

    July 22, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  9. Mohammad Shrahiem

    They need to be wipped if they don't fast. Mohammad will punish them with the smell of curry

    July 22, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Dave

      Curry's got to smell better than the goat butt that's usually on their breath.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  10. NAAJ

    Another propaganda article by CNN, in attempt to try to show Islam as a over-bearing, extreme, evil faith.....Its funny how they don't seek out any other religion to criticize except for the obligatory worship acts of Islam, and I did say OBLIGATORY. Fasting is one of the main, FIVE Pillars of Islam, one has no choice or say whether he or she fasts or not. They don't go and criticize Jewish athletes who won't break the Sabbath, or Catholics who fast on lint and still compete. There are plenty of athletes in the NBA, NFL, and other sports who have fasted during training, and seasons, and even playoffs, remember Hakeem Olajuwon? He put up high caliber performances even when fasting during the NBA playoffs, because he has principles, he has a faith, and he stuck to his principles and faith and put his trust in God, and what his God told him to do, not sell-out your faith. WHY couldnt they TRY SOMEWHAT BALANCED journalism, and interview some of the athletes who are practicing muslims, who are fasting and competing?? The only sports related person in the article who said absolutely that fasting Ramadan is obligatory and you don't have a choice, is a coach, just one coach. Some 'dilemma' doesnt seem like one for the sell-outs CNN always seems to find and champion on their front page, 'LOOK, LOOK!, YOU SEE, WE FOUND SOME MUSLIMS WHO GO AGAINST ISLAM, YAAAAH, THEY ARE OUR FRIENDS, THEY ARE MODERN!' SMH

    July 22, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Mohammad Shrahiem

      They lied and didn't fast and or had intravenous therapy

      July 22, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Dave

      Having principles and having faith are mutually exclusive concepts.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • really

      Jewish observer athletes refuse to play on the sabbath. Sandy Kofax gave up a World Series me and Art Shamsky constantly missed games on high holy days due to religion. Why is it that the world must bend to Muslim beliefs because they are religious, but Mulims themselves may throw off those beliefs when convienient These athletes are choosing, which you say they can't, to ignore their relion for a gold medal.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Mort Sahl

      Grow up

      July 22, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Lisa

      I guess you were absent the days they posted articles about the hating Christians or Koran burning pastors.

      July 22, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  11. kerry

    Fasting for religion is nonsense anyway. One more reason to stay away from organized religion.

    July 22, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  12. Rainer Braendlein

    Dear Muslim, before your fasting could please God, you would need to receive the Holy Spirit of God who makes your fight against your own sinful body meaningful. Does a caterpillar become a butterfly by fasting? No, it doesn't. It becomes a butterfly by the marvelous metamorphosis, and you, dear Muslim, need a divine change of your heart by God's Son before your fasting makes sense.

    Doesn't Ramadan show us the backwardness of Islam?

    Of course, fasting is actually a good thing, but the Arabic Impostor ordered a fasting which has nothing to do with right fasting.

    Right fasting, according to the intentions of Jesus, the Son of God, simply means to eat less or to eat modestly. Of course, sometimes a Christian can voluntarily eat nothing for some days, if he wants to gain again control of his body or if he has a serious prayer request. Seemingly, the more a Christian "neglects" his body concerning food the more the Holy Spirit prevails. Yet, it is crucial to eat little altogether; that is much more important than to eat nothing at all some days. The sinful body is the enemy of the Spirit and the more we don't feed him the more the Spirit will rule us.

    What about Ramadan?

    Ramadan is a distorted fasting. First, they don't really fast, but only eat nothing by daylight. At dark they fill their stomaches up to a maximum which is not very healthy. Possibly during Ramadan a Muslim eats more altogether and on average than during the rest of the year, because his carnal desires like gluttony increase at Ramadan.

    Furthermore, fasting is only meaningful, when someone has yet received the Holy Spirit by faith and baptism. If someone who has not yet received the Spirit fasts, he will only incite his carnal desires like gluttony.

    Hence, Muslims should at first believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and receive the Spirit. After that they may start to fight against their sinful body and weaken it by fasting.

    We cannot earn God's favour by fasting. We gain God's favour by faith and baptism. After that fasting is meaningful, but not before.

    Ramadan is absolutely meaningless, it only increases the malaise of the Muslims.

    July 22, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Dave

      Got news for ya..."islam" is no more or less backwards than "christianity" or "judaism". All three are mindless, barbaric and cruel religions based on fear and bloodshed.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  13. Dave

    If they want to partake in a contest with civilized nations, they can't live by barbaric religious rules.

    July 22, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  14. Hmmm

    You want to know the true religion? Look at those who are faithful and descreet and dont partake in any of this worlds traditions. Jesus himself warned the scribes and pharasees about their tradiotions. Traditions dont become about God they become events to feed the egos

    July 22, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  15. really

    Sandy Kofax refused to pitch even during the World Series on a Jewish Holiday. So muslims are so strong about their religion that they kill anyone who insults it, but they can discard it when it is convenient? Really? A religion of convenience.

    July 22, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Mohammad Shrahiem

      Sandy also refused to pay lunch that day and didn't leave a tip at dinner

      July 22, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Jon

      Mohammed Shrahiem,

      If you are a Muslim, stop making us look bad. Shame on you.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Who invited me?

      No really...
      the muslims have enough trouble looking bad all of the time anyway.
      After all its about appearances ..isn't it Jon.
      Stop trying to preach.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • Jon

      Well, it's the 'appearance' of the Muslim that is the issue.

      if you talk to a Muslim, or go to a mosque, you'll see and feel more love, pacifism and humility than you will anywhere else.

      Ten people decide to blow themselves up, therefore all Muslims are ready to blow themselves up.

      So CNN posts an article about a guy who decides not to fast in the Olympics, and of course because the anonymity of the internet affords all cowards to hide behind a lame screen name (who invited me?), on comes the onslaught of bomb jokes, racist remarks and ignorant, uninformed anti-religion speak.

      If the face of Islam wasn't Osama, 9/11 terrorists, or the jerk posting about jewish stereotypes, we wouldn't be having these issues, now would we? So yeah, it's a bit about appearances.

      Lovely though how no atheist on CNN cares about how their appearance comes off lol.

      Read a Qur'an, know what Islam is about, then open your mouth. I'm not telling you to convert, I'm just telling you to have an informed clue.

      July 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  16. matreyia@yahoo.com

    If any Muslim thinks this is a dilemma, that Muslim hasn't read the Quran...which clearly states that it is acceptable if an occasion arises wherein fasting is not possible. The sick and weakened elder are exempt, people in situations where they must not fast -such as an olympic event where they are not in control of the scheduling and they represent their kind...that would certainly be exempt from Ramadan.

    In any case, Abrahamic traditions (yes, I count Islam as coming from Abraham) as well as most religions of the world are ludicrous and have little to do with reality in my opinion.

    July 22, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Mohammad Shrahiem

      They still will get less virgins

      July 22, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  17. Mohammad Shrahiem

    If they do not fast then Mohammad will be angry and punish them. They will get no virgins! You must fast.

    July 22, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  18. dd

    There seems to be a problem with this practice. Why isn't it covered in this news report as it is obvious. What does a Muslim do who is living in the Arctic region during the summer months of endless sun? Must they refrain from drinking and eating for an entire month? I think the religion needs a wee bit of updating since science has established the tilt of the earth's access and the extent of solar exposure. Obviously, these were unknowns in the 7th century. Would someone please explain how Islam deals with this requirement over the entire earth. Maybe Muslims should go to the Antarctic during this month and they could eat and drink all day in the darkness.

    July 22, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • matreyia@yahoo.com

      eh...it's not as bad as they make it out to be. Those dudes eat after 7pm... I do that all the time since I work nonstop during the day. No big whoop.

      July 22, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • matreyia@yahoo.com

      or technically, when the sun goes down...which is around 7pm in Mid Eastern countries.

      July 22, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • paperjihad

      @DD There are concessions for these situations. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, the first Muslim in space and who spent time on the International Space Station had this problem as well as how to face Mecca during prayer. The Malaysian Fatwa Council (Shukor is from Malaysia) issued the following ruling, which you can read here:


      July 22, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  19. Rainer Braendlein

    "3) The Bible (Old Testament) prophesied the coming of Prophet Muhammad (saw); the Prophet of Islam.", a liar said.

    This also belongs to the core tenets of Islam to claim that Jesus and Christians had forged the Old Testament by removing the prophecies about Muhammad. Of course, this is ridiculous.

    The fact is that Muhammad was never predicted by nobody. Muhammad was not sent by God. Either he was obsessed by a demon, or he was simply a cunning warlord which wanted to unite the Arabs by a new religion for a war against the Christians.

    It would be more appropriate to call Muhammad Apostel of Satan than Apostel of God.

    July 22, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      Rainer, you know how certain you are that your viewpoint is correct and the muslims' viewpoint is wrong? Many of them are that certain about their viewpoints being correct and your viewpoint is wrong. Just think, you could have been born and raised in Saudi Arabia and brainwashed into their religion.

      July 22, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • matreyia@yahoo.com

      You are either very bad in grammar or you are not a native speaker. In any case, All three Middle Eastern religions claim to be true and to have the truth. If this were so, why do you think nobody as ever seen a real live talking snake or burning talking bush, or a humanoid with wings, or an old man in the sky?

      So we have reality in front of us, yet some people insist on looking inside ancient books which describe a reality quite absurdly different. Do all religious people think it is fair expect non-religious people to agree with things which have never been seen, caught, heard, or touched? Besides the accounts in these books, NOBODY IN HUMAN HISTORY has EVER caught an angel, spirit, demon, talking snake etc....

      Wake up. All compounded things decay. True realization of this fact brings you closer to peace than any bed time story could ever hope to do.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Dave

      *LOL*..."god"..."satan"...same powerless fictional wimp.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @Moby Schtick

      Indeed, I feel for the ordinary Muslims which were raised in Islamic countries. However, the still have a reason and should use it.

      In contrast to Jesus Muhammad worked no miracles. Muhammad was simply a human being telling some fairytales.

      Jesus was very peaceful, but Muhammad used the SWORD to spread his supersti-tion. Can a divine prophet be violent.

      Who are the suicide bombers? Muslims or Christians? Obviously Islam can make people fanatical and terrorists.

      The most established divine service was that of Israel up to the coming of Christ. Christ simply continued that good old religion of Yahwe, he invented nothing new.

      If Islam would be the true the religion that would mean that the mankind had no true religion up to around 600 years after Christ. Impossible, of course. Islam is a supersti-tion.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Dave

      @ Rainer Braendlein – Your "jesus" commanded his followers to commit mass murder, as well.

      July 22, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  20. Diane Smith

    So they're supposed to be ambassadors of their faith? What about their frelling COUNTRY? Oh...yeah...right...it's one and the same thing. Jeez...why even try to compete?!?!?

    July 22, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Just saying

      It is hilarious that people called each other names and fought over whose God is right. It is called FAITH and none of us know 100% sure about it. Some will say, no I know 100% sure about this and that. But the reality of it, there is no way they can be 100% sure about it. None of us live during Jesus or Muhammad time. What we have is what is written down by other who lived years and years before us. Also, all of us are still alive and not dead yet to find out whether there is God or not. We all gamble by choosing which faith we want to follow. Just chill, love each other, help each other, be good to each other. I am sure no matter which God you choose, if you do those all will be ok. And if you do not believe in God, if you do those, you will benefit humankind. Peace to all!!

      July 22, 2012 at 7:29 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.