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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. tvnutt

    Here's a question I ask to all Muslims. it's a question I've had for a very long time. If all Muslims read the Quran and follow the Quran, then WHY are there so many interpretations of Islam? Shiites, Sunnis, Sufis, Wahadis. Some women can wear just hijab, some require abaya, some burqa. Some women cannot drive, leave the house without a male relative, go to school. Suicide bombings and hatred to non-Muslims yet saying the religion is one of peace? Some say Quran wants Jews and Christians killled, others say that is a mis-interpretation. So what is the truth? Sure, you can easily point to the Bible and say that's one book so why are there Catholics, Baptists, Episcopals, Methodist, Lutheran, etc. Shouldn't it be ALL the same? valid question. However, these religions don't preach hate or killing for non-members or require strict adherence to their guidelines. I'm an ex-Catholic and if I went into an Episcopal church I would not be shunned. If someone outside the Catholic faith came to a Catholic church he/she would not be shunned. He/she would not be allowed to accept the sacrament because they did not receive the Rite of Communion but they are not meant to feel as outsiders. Even if I went to an Amish or Mennonite community which requires strict adherence to certain guidelines based on their interpretation of the Bible, I would not be required to dress like an Amish or Mennonite women while on their property. I just don't get the wide interpretations of Islam. I would sincerely appreciate any help in understanding it.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Chiniquy

      You question cannot be answered here. Newafricaradio dot com may help.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Paladin

      God does not change the state of a people UNTIL they themselves change what is in their selves (character).

      July 22, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  2. Pope on a Rope

    Usually they only have to worry about quitting if they have to compete against a Jew.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  3. Chiniquy

    It was the month of Ramadan in which the Qur'an was [first] bestowed from on high as a guidance unto man and a self-evident proof of that guidance, and as the standard by which to discern the true from the false. Hence, whoever of you lives to see this month shall fast throughout it; but he that is ill, or on a journey, [shall fast instead for the same] number of other days. G-D wills that you shall have ease, and does not will you to suffer hardship; but [HE desires] that you complete the number [of days required], and that you praise G-D for HIS having guided you aright, and that you render your thanks [unto HIM].
    And if MY servants ask you about ME – behold, I am near; I respond to the call of him who calls, whenever he calls unto ME: let them, then, respond unto ME, and believe in ME, so that they might follow the right way.
    It is lawful for you to go in unto your wives during the night preceding the [day's] fast: they are as a garment for you, and you are as a garment for them. G-D is aware that you would have deprived yourselves of this right, and so HE has turned unto you in HIS mercy and removed this hardship from you. Now, then, you may lie with them skin to skin, and avail yourselves of that which G-D has ordained for you, and eat and drink until you can discern the white streak of dawn against the blackness of night, and then resume fasting until nightfall; but do not lie with them skin to skin when you are about to abide in meditation in houses of worship. These are the bounds set by G-D: do not, then, offend against them – [for] it is thus that G-D makes clear HIS messages unto mankind, so that they might remain conscious of HIM.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  4. david

    as a muslim, all i want to say is morons!

    July 22, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • david

      who gives a crap if yo fast or not. just wind the medal, dummy! unless of course they want to use it as an excuse later.

      July 22, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • alumette

      morons or mormons ?

      July 22, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  5. larry5

    Isn't there a story called "God's little acre" that explains a problem like this and how to handle it?

    July 22, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  6. alumette

    With the heat wave we are suffering right now in the US, I hope many of the US Muslims decide to drink water during the day. It is simply too hot not to drink water. Some rules make no sense and are met to be broken to save lives.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • joelli1

      It does not matter if its too hot or what, fast is a must unless you are sick or on menstruation or traveling. Even Christians in other countries do fast , I don't know in US if Christians fast before Easter. Remember Jesus fasted for 40 days, if you read well your bible.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  7. Paladin

    This is so dumb. Fasting can be deferred if one is traveling or sick. There is no problem and no SIN in this. Most of these athletes will be traveling anyway so they can defer fasting to later months when the days are shorter and temperatures are cooler. The authors of this article do not amaze me with their lack of research and ignorance. Typical bafoons trying to sensalize with a misleading headline. CNN, PLEASE GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT AND TELL THE REAL TRUTH FOR ONCE.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  8. CAC

    Islam is a cult – Mohammed was a pedophile

    July 22, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Lean

      And you no doubt were inbred! Pick up a book and learn cultural differences before spouting non sense?

      July 22, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  9. Matt

    Jesus died for Muhammed (false prophet) and for Muhammed's sins. The Father is greater than Allah. Go to God, look to his Son. He loves you.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • yummydrfood

      Amen

      July 22, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  10. He sees the light.

    "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."

    So his judo matches are more important to him than his false religion. Good call. Maybe there's hope after all.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • alumette

      The athlete is right and he can follow his religion, using his best judgment. That's why we have brains. Some rules are meant to be bent as they are the ones that make sense and benefit everyone, overall. To be a good religious person is more like " not to kill, or cheat, or steal " but to drink water when thirsty. Priorities !

      July 22, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  11. Chiniquy

    G-D is not hiding. HE is present everywhere. Within our bodies and everywhere else. We have eyes but we don't see. The disbelievers' hearts are closed and they don't recognize HIS Magnificence. We all have the freedom to believe in HIM or not to believe. That is the unique gift that HE has bestowed on the Human Family. Humanity has been given what none of the creatures in creation have. That is the 'freedom of choice.' All other creatures follow what has been ordained for them by G-D. There is only One G-D. HE is the Creator of everything and everyone. HE is the same Lord-Creator who the Christians, Jews, and Muslims pray to. They may call on HIM by different names but HE is the ONE they are praying to

    July 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Matt

      Yeah, that's only true to you. There is no Muslim, Christian or Jew who would agree with that erroneous statement. What makes Christianity unique is that Jesus claimed to be God. The Bible has historical claims of which can actually be investigated, and the story of the resurrection meets historical criteria of methodology.

      Just like you are not your friends or family – you are your own person – so is God.

      July 22, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  12. Dave Harrris

    Isn't he worried about being murdered by one of his more devout fellow Muslims? They kill women over less than this.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  13. Dan W

    Spelling Nazi says it's 'though', not 'thought'.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  14. The rules are for everybody but him

    "God is merciful and compassionate, even when our sins are many... " The reason they have the idea that they can do anything with impunity, including bombing each other out of existence, and it'll all be forgiven. What a joke.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  15. Robert

    BOTTOM LINE: God will take second place with most of these athletes. That's the way of the world in this age. Nobody puts God first anymore. And that's why people lack spiritual power.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  16. morgan

    He should have kept it to himself.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • alumette

      You may want to respect him for his honesty. It is another virtue. Hope he wins !

      July 22, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Lisa

      Virtue of honesty greater than consistency alumette?

      July 22, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  17. larry

    They weren't bad people until they were brainwashed with the hateful and bigoted teaching in the koran.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      And the same can be said about christians and The Babble.

      July 22, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Unknown

      The same can't be said of atheism and the damage it has caused mankind.

      July 22, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • z-j

      hmmm 🙂 we are not brainwashed Allah told us in Koran to respect people and the most important thing is Respect 🙂 and love,, Islam is form the word Peace , ^__^ Peace with god, people , ourself

      ive read Bible and its way similar to Koran ^__^

      and i find so much good things in Bible who most of christian people i met do not follow , but not all christian people for sure .

      my christian frnds used to think before they come to our country that we live in a desert and all muslim people are bad 🙂 tell me who is brainwashed now ?

      you wont ever find a perfect community ^__^ but you could give yourself a chance to interact with a good sample of muslim people who really represent Islam as i did and found a good sample of christian frnds .

      July 22, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  18. taz111111111

    Yes, they fast during the day, but then make up for it by gorging themselves at night.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  19. cronewinter

    Religion seems to make every aspect of life so complicated. Seems reasonable, that if we believe that god gave us a body to use then god would want us to take care of it and fuel it and cherish it. It is very hard for me to understand why starving oneself on purpose, in a world where people are truly starving to death,brings glory to god. Religion just makes no sense and complicates what should be simple.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Robert

      So you think indulging oneself in everything the body craves makes one more spiritual, and closer to God?

      July 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • alumette

      It has been the perfect control of the masses and still is. The sheep population is exploding.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  20. z-j

    i do respect people whether they are christian / jewish and muslim 🙂
    i believe that all people in the end are good ^__^ and the environment they interacted with created them and made them the "current" people .. there is no right or wrong here . lets just share our views with respect .

    Z.J / UAE

    July 22, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • alumette

      well said.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Zu viel

      Very well said. This message thread isn't going to be full of 'thoughtful' commentary, it's just a launching pad for emotional and ad hominem tirades.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
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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.