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. Tutuvabene

    Seems to me Allah/God would be flexible because he wants his squad to win. Why don't they ask him directly.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  2. Jo

    Actually they are fasting. 17 hours is a good stretch of time to go without anything. My ex is Muslim and diabetic and when it came time for Ramadan he would go without, even though he didn't have to because of the diabetes. It takes will power and a strong belief. Also, how many times have other non Muslims out there been told to "fast" for 10 hours before blood work? And you get to drink water! So don't tell these folks it isn't fasting. You just prove your ignorance.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Lisa

      I'm married to a Muslim. It isn't fasting.

      July 22, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  3. Greaser

    I find it hilarious that intelligent, modern humans are constantly searching for loopholes to rationalize theirselves as still being good muslims or christians. Why not just be a good person? We don't need fairy tales and oppressive rituals to do that. Evolve.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  4. Marshall

    Time sure has changed things haven't they? Fifty years ago this kind of article in any newspaper would not exist. The vast majority of Americans who read this really don't care about this at all, we just don't want our boys and girls blown up this summer because some Muslim terrorist wants to make a statement. We got enough of this crazy stuff happening right here in our own backyard: Colorado. Senseless killing no matter who does it remains a threat to humanity. All of us including our Muslim brothers and sisters, we need to pull together to be overcomers of the senseless killing going on including Syria.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  5. south4evr


    July 22, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  6. Toohottofast

    God forgive me for I have sinned bad thoughts ....but the British rower is HOT HOT HOT HOT HOT!!! Time for a cold shower.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  7. Lisa

    I am not Muslim but Ahmed Abdul Aziz Al Haddad's explination is valid. As an observer it makes sense to me that if you are true to your beliefs you will place your beliefs above all else. If you can't compete because you pass out so be it. If that is what you believe, be consistent, no matter what religion or what happens because that's what gives validation to any system of beliefs. "Agreeing to sin" with the blessing of your imam undermines you and your faith.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  8. Chiniquy

    And G-D sends down water from the skies, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless: in this, behold, there is a message indeed for people who [are willing to] listen.
    And, behold, in the cattle [too] there is indeed a lesson for you: WE give you to drink of that [fluid] which is [secreted from] within their bellies between that which is to be eliminated [from the animal's body] and [its] life-blood: milk pure and pleasant to those who drink it.
    And [WE grant you nourishment] from the fruit of date-palms and vines: from it you derive intoxicants as well as wholesome sustenance -in this, behold, there is a message indeed for people who use their reason!
    And [consider how] your Lord-Creator has inspired the bee: "Prepare for yourself dwellings in mountains and in trees, and in what [men] may build [for you by way of hives];
    And then eat of all manner of fruit, and follow humbly the paths ordained for you by your Lord-Creator." [And behold!] there issues from within these [bees] a fluid of many hues, wherein there is health for man. In all this, behold, there is a message indeed for people who think!
    And G-D has created you, and in time will cause you to die; and many a one of you is reduced in old age to a most abject state, ceasing to know anything of what he once knew so well. Verily, G-D is all-knowing, infinite in HIS power.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  9. Mo

    There is no dilemma here. He is travelling so he is exempt from fasting. He will make up when he returns to his home. That simple it is.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  10. JJ

    Muslims are terrorists and should be completely banned from participating in the Olympics. Olympics are a time to bring the world together, Muslims want to tear it apart! There needs to be a big fence built around the middle east to keep those little idiots in their own territory and not do anymore damage to the world.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Lean

      you are the idiot!

      July 22, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Lean

      how crontradictory of you! You truly are the narrow minded idiot! #idiot

      July 22, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Mo

      What is wrong with you JJ. See a psychiatrist to your illness and Muslim's bigotry. There are more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and most of them are not in the Middle East.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Toohottofast

      If the "terrorists" you claim are so bad all look like the British rower in the photo above .... I'll take some terrorism with my breakfast thanks 🙂

      July 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • JJ

      Mo, I realize there are others around the world... I would like to see them rounded up and put in with the rest of them behind the fence.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • bondera

      And what are you?

      July 22, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Dre

      Leave jj alone. My only criticism of his comment is that he forgot to mention how nasty it would be to be wrestling opponent of, or be downwind to a muzzle non showering nasty athlete. Yeah, real convenient to avoid ramadan...a real holy religion. As long as ultimately innocent people are blown up and beheaded, you can put off fasting for a few days. Lol

      July 22, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • JJ

      bondera, better than every muslim on the earth... they are an awful people

      July 22, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • JJ

      lol Dre, that's for completing my thought... there's so much to hate about muslims that it's hard to include it all in one post 🙂

      July 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • JJ

      lol Dre, thanks for completing my thought... there's so much to hate about muslims that it's hard to include it all in one post 🙂

      July 22, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Thomas Henley

      Wow what kind of lunatic do you have to be to believe that nonsense JJ? Seems like the moon does a lot more to some people than signal religious holidays!

      Shame on you!

      July 22, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  11. alumette

    well you all, religions and customs apart, this guy is certainly a great looking dude ! I am sure we can all agree on that one.

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

      Come back down to earth....he hasn't showered in years.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  12. ICStupidppe

    All of these religious customs are just plain stupid regardless of whether it's Ramadan or Lent.

    I'm sure your omnipresent, invisible friend(s) will be OK. Go Ahead and Eat.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  13. Tamashi

    Power to people who want to practice their faith, but when u have to do stuff , you just shouldn't worry abt it. Besides, think abt this, if this rule of fasting until sundown was truly an edict from God, why did he not say anything abt what do to in the arctic or Antarctic where future generation of Muslim scientists could potentially go and starve for a month! could it be that people in the middle east of 700 AD did not know that there was truly a place like this and didn't factor it when they and not God made up this rule? Questioning everything is a basic human instinct, why suppress it?

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

      Tamashi, Muslims live all over the world. Muslims who live in those areas will fast following the nearest location to where they live that has regular daylight hours.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  14. zenith

    Holy crap, the comments on this. You're all so unaware of how self-righteous and ignorant you sound. Sad.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  15. Ibraham

    I hope he do not even make it to the fourth place. Judo stop you from fasting really?

    July 22, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  16. Meki60

    it isn't really fasting, after sunset they eat and drink like pigs until dawn and then lay around all day claimig weakness from fasting

    July 22, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Lean

      are you capable of fasting? I'd love to see what you are like two weeks into an 18 hour a day fast! #Idiot

      July 22, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • JJ

      lol Meki60, they are always the victims. I'm a nurse... one of my coworkers is fasting right now. She is very overweight, and all she could talk about was how much she was going to eat when the sun went down. She told us we were going to hell for drinking alcohol, but gluttony is perfectly ok. I hate that religion and everything it stands for.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • paperjihad


      Not at my house. And let's talk about the commercialized excesses at Christmas! Muslims. Christians. Both human and fallible.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Meki60

      thanks,JJ. their religion is designed for people who live in caves and have nothing better to do than reproduce

      July 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  17. Salad Spinner

    I can tell you that I do not give a hoot. You knew it beforehand. It was your choice for this dilemma.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  18. T.D.

    As a 16 year old Muslim teenage boy, I laugh at these immature comments of "Muslims blowing themselves up" and everyone making fun of fasting and religion in general. It seems so immature, how old are most of you? Grumpy old men in their 30s and 40s sitting in front of their computers? This article is mostly concerning the Muslim youth. In the end, the youth don't care for your old point of views. Everyone hear just sounds like bantering idiots. I'm not angry because of the things being said about Islam, I'm angry to see that this is what society has come to. Idiots. Everyone. Of course some smart mouth will reply to me though with some 5 worded sentence that sounds like it came from a 5 year old. If you have a problem with a religion, face them with COMPLETE knowledge of that religion, and approach with respect, not with this. You're doing it wrong.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Oops

      What is "COMPLETE" knowledge of Islam? or Christianity/Judaism/Hinduism etc....? Do I have to be an adherent to that religion in order to criticize it? I agree that equating terrorism with islam is messed up, but why is it disrespectful to find fasting for any religion, specifically this one per what the article is about, when the idea of worshipping any god is ridiculous when you stare it at head on? For the record, I grew up jewish and find Yom Kippur also incredibly stupid and pointless.

      Tell us TD, why islam and why not christianity or judaism, or even buddhism or zoroastrianism? After learning about all religions completely did yo make a well informed decision about why you want to be a muslm, or is it that you grew up in a muslim household and everything just seems natural to you?

      July 22, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • P

      There is no God. Sorry, that was a four-word sentence. No but really. This is all quite amusing to us atheists. The things people will say and do in the name of their imaginary friend are just hilarious. Well, until they turn violent.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • damo12345

      No proof has ever been found that any god exists, and your holy books make many claims that have been scientifically proven to be false. I have given a good deal of study to the major world religions in order to better understand the effect they have on their followers and thus on the world I live in, but ultimately a "complete" knowledge of any religion is a waste of time, since they are all nonsense.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  19. Allah Akhbar

    "I won! I WON!" BOOOM!

    July 22, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  20. Deweycheatemandhowe

    The jihadi "Ambassadors for Islam" are already in place in England, & I'm sure they'll make their presence known before the games are done. Stay tuned!

    July 22, 2012 at 1:01 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.