CAIRO – Abstaining from food and water for 15 hours a day, German Muslim athletes are taking the challenge of observing the holy fasting month of Ramadan and keeping their training courses.
“I always hear the same sentences, like ‘Don't you need a drink?' or ‘How can you do it?'” Süleyman Baysal, a 21-year-old Muslim soccer player at YEG Hassel team, told Deutsche Welle on Thursday, August 1.
“I don't need to drink right now. Really, I don't,” he responds as usual.
Like other German Muslims, the 21-year-old student of English and philosophy is observing the holy month of Ramadan by fasting from sunrise to sunset.
Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, started in Germany on Wednesday, July 10.
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.
Baysal breaks the fast with his family around 9:00 p.m. and sets an alarm for 3:00 a.m. to drink another liter of water before dawn.
Baysal coaches a team of nine- and 10-year-olds, and the kids respect his commitment and try to hide water bottles, so he won't see them drinking.
“I say, ‘You don't need to do that - just drink, it doesn't matter,' but they are so friendly,” he said.
In 2010, the German Football Association (DFB), The German Football League (DFL) and the Central Council of Muslims declared that professional soccer players were exempt from fasting during Ramadan.
Some Muslim stars chose to fast, including Bayern Munich's Franck Ribéry from France, who sets inspiration for other athletes.
“Those are players who are in the top leagues, in the top clubs, earning a lot of money, doing what every other professional football player is doing and they are fasting, and training three times a day,” Baysal said.
“They are like idols for me.”
While Baysal choose to observe Ramadan fasting, Oguzhan Batar who is training to compete in a professional bodybuilding competition in April choose not to fast this year.
“Because [the competition] has been a childhood dream of mine, I've decided not to fast for one year,” the 23-year old Batar, who trains members in the art of self defense, said.
“I've always fasted in past years and observed the dates, and I'll make up for it by fasting after the competition.”
Half of his clients observe Ramadan, so he prepares a special workout for them that focuses on technique instead of strength.
“There's less strain on the circulatory system and more focus on motor skills and the brain,” he explained.
Yet, soccer player Baysal overcomes fasting challenge by focusing on the spiritual experience.
“Fasting is some sort of a prayer, and you are doing it for 15-16 hours. So you are connected to God for 15-16 hours,” he said, pausing.
"Just thinking about it, I have goose bumps right now, because it is really a great feeling."
Germany is believed to be home to nearly 4 million Muslims, including 220,000 in Berlin alone. Turks make up an estimated two thirds of the Muslim minority.
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