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Friday, Nov 21 , 2014 ( Muharram, 1436)

Updated:10:00 PM GMT

Ramadan Fasting Divides Muslim Olympians

OnIslam & News Agencies
Olympians Divided on Ramadan Fasting
British Olympic rower Moe Sbihi decided to break Ramadan fast and make it up after the Olympics
Ramadan, fasting, Olympics, Muslims

LONDON – As the clock ticks towards the start of London Olympic Games, Muslim athletes are divided on the tough choice of fasting or not as the tournament coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"God is merciful and compassionate, even when our sins are many," Olympic judo competitor Hemeed Al Drie told CNN.

Like three thousand athletes competing in London Olympic Games, Al Drie is facing the dilemma of fasting or not during his London competition.

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Competing against the best athletes in the world, fasting for almost 17 hours from dawn to dusk might affect the Muslim champion’s chances to win in the competition.

"If you don't eat and you enter a competition, you might faint," he said.

That would leave Al Drie at the risk of losing the competition. So, the Muslim athlete is going to stick to his normal competition diet.

"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.

British Olympic rower Moe - for Mohamed - Sbihi took a similar decision to Al Drie’s.

After consulting imams, he decided to break fast during Ramadan and feed 1,800 hungry people in Morocco after the Games as compensation for not fasting during the holy month.

"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.

"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.

Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, started in Britain on Friday, July 20.

In Ramadan, adult Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset. The sick and those traveling are exempt from fasting especially if it poses health risks.

The holy month coincides this year with the London Olympics, which is scheduled to start on July 27 to August 12.

An estimated 3,000 Muslim athletes will be vying in the world event.

Medical experts have long said that Ramadan fasting could lead to drop in performance due to a reduction of food intake that could deplete an athlete's liver and muscle glycogen stores.

Dilemma

Some Muslim athletes, however, are still undecided on Ramadan fasting during the Olympics.

"Both are important to me. Fasting is a must," Emirati weightlifter Khadijah Fahed Mohamed said.

Fahed is participating for the first time in the Olympics.

"This is our chance,” she said.

“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.

The 17-year-old weightlifter is the first woman from the United Arab Emirates ever to qualify for the Olympic Games.

Yet, her coach favors the fasting decision for the young athlete.

"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."

The confusion over Ramadan fasting during the Olympic Games was enhanced as countries issued different fatwas on the issue.

In Egypt for example, a fatwa was issued exempting athletes from the need to fast when competing.

The decision was not the same in United Arab Emirates as Ahmed Abdul Aziz Al Haddad, the grand mufti of Dubai, said Muslims competing in the Olympics should observe the daytime fast.

"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 Al Haddad.

"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."

The Dubai mufti argued that Islamic laws allow competitors to eat or drink if fasting is threatening their health.

"If a person feels extreme fatigue, Shari`ah allows him to break his fast. Shari`ah is flexible," he said.

"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.”

But judo competitor Al Drie still believes that Islamic laws allow breaking Ramadan fast in case of necessities.

"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."
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