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. D. Evil

    Why is it muslims have a problem with everything? Dont they realize the rest of the world doesnt care.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  2. Badar

    "Religious experts in Saudi Arabia determine the starting date of Ramadan each year based on the phase of the moon."

    The above statement is true only for Saudi Arabia. The moon is observed by Muslims in their own countries and they decide when to start the Ramadan. I live in Chicago and a local committee observes the moon throughout USA. Ramadan in USA started on Saturday for all those who followed the moon.

    CNN should perform correct research.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  3. Unknown

    According to atheists,all religions are dumb?

    That makes atheism dumb.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • tallulah13

      You have no clue about what you are talking about or do you? We are fair weather friends . I have many athiest friends who are very nice and considerate to us. Learn more about islam and why it is important to you. Call 866-why-islam and educate yourself

      July 22, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • tallulah13

      There is a person posting here, using the screen name that I have used for years. This person posts pro-islamic posts, whereas I have never made it a secret that I am an atheist. One can only guess that this person either chooses to misrepresent or confuse, or is genuinely too cowardly to invent their own screen name.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  4. Barney

    They are not representing their religion. No religion is fielding a team. They are representing their country.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Badar

      Agree..so true.

      July 22, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Unknown

      Tell that to the dumb ignorant atheist trolls.

      July 22, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  5. jdoe

    Go to any restaurant in America, and you can easily eat 4-5000 calories in one sitting.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  6. Raoul

    Can't we organize the next Olympics in Fairbanks, Alaska, in early July where day length is more than 21 hour! Will they keep on claiming that fasting must prevail over performance?

    July 22, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  7. adam

    who cares, its not like they ever medal anyway.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      Are you suggesting they're not into the chemical culture? If so, good for them! I would rather see an athlete come in last and honestly than first and dishonestly. In fact, mere participation, if honestly achieved, is an honor in itself.

      July 22, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  8. Reality

    Dear Muslim Olympians, (for those Olympians who missed this on p.2)


    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 22, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  9. list of Muslim winners


    July 22, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Ever heard of a Mohammad Ali?

      July 22, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • list of Muslim winners

      Would that be Cassius Clay?

      July 22, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • hossam

      you forgot the worlds strongest man is Iranian. 🙂

      July 22, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • The prophet

      Smell is not a medal awarding category

      July 22, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • tallulah13

      How funny. I actually agree with the troll who is using my name. Muhammad Ali, a.k.a. Cassius Clay, was indeed a champion.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  10. SSampson

    This is a tradition... and a benign one – While I am an absolute atheist, I can understand their issue – we (in America) were brought up one way – they were brought up another..... we are creatures of our surroundings and conditionings....

    There is stuff Scientology does that is ACTUALLY weird.... this is just fasting during DAYLIGHT – bad for athletes, but not for regular people.... There used to be times on the Christian calendar for fasting also....not as long... but still....

    (BTW – and yes – I KNOW there are also Muslims brought up in this country... I WAS generalizing....)

    July 22, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  11. muslims suck

    lol its not like those brown people will be winning anything whether they fast or not

    July 22, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • tallulah13

      This is not about the brown or the black people. Read the article before you comment you idiot. Give some respect to our religious belief.

      July 22, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Darkon

      Your religious belief is not deserving of respect.

      July 22, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • The prophet

      Rag head respect?

      July 22, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Lisa's blog

      they can always stay home if the games interfere with ramadan. it's not like they will be missed by anyone. maybe muslims could start their own games...with such sports as beheading, how far can i run before by vest bomb goes off, how many infidels can i take out etc. all very normal for a muslim goon.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • baby jimmy


      July 22, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • tallulah13

      There is a person here using the screen name that I have used for years. I would like to clarify that this is not me. I am an atheist. This person simply lacks the courage and personal integrity to use their own screen name.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  12. a famous brony

    I go to buffets and nothing but steak, pork, and other meats on good friday, just for the lols

    July 22, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  13. louise

    Brainwashed losers.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  14. Rayan

    Hopefully (insh'allah) a few Muslim athletes at the Olympics will faint or die and help bring attention to the ridiculously stupid tradition of fasting that so many around the world partake in.

    July 22, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  15. Bill

    Here we go again...more nonsense issues from this bizarre "religion" of hate and violence. If they choose to adhere to these silly traditions, so be it! It's their call...wake up!!

    July 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  16. Jesus was a hunchback

    Religion is dumb. All religion.

    July 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Unknown

      including atheism.

      July 22, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  17. jim@technology news

    I support all the Muslim Olympians in their quest for gold medals. Big up you all, eat to your full and win.JIm from http://therumorsource.blogspot.com/

    July 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  18. don

    let them starve

    July 22, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  19. todd geist

    Interesting article. However! Once again CNN's editors live up to their lack of grammar editing! Once I got to the following passage "even thought the Games fall smack in the middle of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan." I laughed and then I stopped reading.

    July 22, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Rayan

      that would be a typographical error in spelling, not grammar.

      July 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  20. jorge washinsen

    If you are religious, pray the British can keep the place safe from religious beliefs and beefs.

    July 22, 2012 at 3:38 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.