(Great Britain’s Mohamed Sbihi, above left, and Greg Searle celebrate after winning a bronze medal in men’s rowing. Sbihi decided not to fast during the Olympics.)
Competing in the Olympic Games. Can you imagine it?
Can you further imagine competing as one of the Muslim athletes in London while fasting from food and water for up to 17 hours a day – from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.?!
These Olympics are the first Summer Games to coincide with Ramadan since 1980. It has posed quite a dilemma for the estimated 3,000 Muslim athletes who want to remain true to their faith but need to consume a certain amount of calories before their events and drink to avoid dehydration.
It has been a time of private soul-searching as well as seeking advice from Islamic scholars for these athletes. How does one balance sport and faith? Is that even a legitimate question?
Some Muslim Olympians have chosen to observe the 17-hour fast, like Milad Agila, head of the Libyan weightlifting team.
Others are opting out of fasting entirely, having appealed to various interpretations of the Qur’an. Leaders of the faith in Egypt (the fatwa committee at Al Azhar University in Cairo) and Bahrain have issued fatwas stating athletes would not have to fast, citing exceptions already made in the Qur’an for those who are traveling, sick or pregnant.
Still others, like Indonesian weightlifter Irawan Eko Yuli, plan to postpone fasting a month. It is reported that many Saudi athletes are also observing the fast a month later. They have reached this compromise by consulting Islamic scholars who have allowed them to fast or do charity after the Games are over:
“It is a matter of personal choice, for example I believe that (British rower) Mohamed Sbihi has agreed to feed 60 poor people in (his father’s homeland of) Morocco for every day he does not fast during Ramadan,” Dr Muhammed Abdul Bari, former chair of the Muslim Council of Britain, told NBCNews.com.
Some Muslims have criticized these kind of exemptions as excuses to shirk obligatory responsibilities. But many others say they demonstrate Islam’s flexibility and undermine perceptions of the faith as rigid and dogmatic:
“If you’re chosen to represent your country, that is a huge responsibility, and to jeopardize that is almost un-Islamic,” said Zahed Amanullah, an American Muslim who has lived in London since 2003.
I spoke to one of my Muslim friends about this issue. He emphatically said that Muslim Olympic athletes should fast during Ramadan. He said, “They should be more concerned about the Day of Judgment than the Olympics! Fasting is mandatory.”
To my Muslim readers, what do you think of this Olympic sized dilemma?
To fast or not to fast during the Olympics. That is the question!