Does Ramadan only affect Muslim athletes?

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, began Thursday evening and lasts for a month. During the month, participating Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. Muslims believe Ramadan was the month during which the first verses of the Koran were revealed to the Islamic prophet Mohammed. The month is based on the Islamic lunar calendar and moves back about 11 days each year.

I don’t imagine that most Muslims are athletes, but whenever Ramadan comes around, it seems that Muslim athletes get all the attention. That’s true in most years. See, for example, this 2010 coverage of Muslim football players during Ramadan. Or this 2009 look at Ramadan coverage focused on Muslim football players. Or this 2008 look at Muslim football players during Ramadan. Or another 2010 story about Ramadan and football.

This year is no exception. It’s Ramadan and much of the coverage we’re seeing deals with Muslim athletes. At least this year we’ve moved a bit off of football and onto the Olympics! Here’s the Associated Press:

With the London Games fast approaching and the Islamic holy month of Ramadan already here, Muslim athletes are faced with a dilemma of Olympian proportions.

Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk during the 30-day month of Ramadan, which began Friday in most countries.

During long summer days in London, that translates into 18 hours of fasting — something that many Muslim athletes consider impossible to do without losing their competitive edge.

And here’s the top of a Religion News Service story:

Winning an Olympic medal is hard.

Surprisingly, winning one when you’re fasting for Ramadan is not that much harder.

At least, not for Suleiman Nyambui of Tanzania, who took silver in the 5000 meters at the 1980 Summer Olympics while fasting for the Islamic holy month.

The AP story focuses on Egyptian athletes who have been given a sort of exemption from fasting and it also mentions Nyambui and how the Olympic village handles those fasting.

The RNS story is very interesting. We learn that more than 3,000 Muslims will compete in the Olympics this year but that many won’t fast and have been given exemptions. There are no Muslims on the U.S. team. There’s some technical discussion about the effect of fasting on the body, including this perspective:

Nyambui said the hard part about track is training. Competing is easy. Had Ramadan occurred before the Olympics, when athletes prepare their bodies for competition, then his performance would have suffered, he said. He acknowledged that fasting can present difficulties for athletes, but usually only during the first or second weeks of Ramadan when the body is still adjusting to the rigors of fasting.

I also liked the way the RNS story included a variety of perspectives on the exemptions:

Some Muslims have criticized the exemptions as cop-outs. 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, and plans to take his daughter to the tae kwon do and volleyball events.

“Extremism is built on the sense that you always have to do the maximum,” Amanullah said. “This demonstrates that Islam is not about doing things to the maximum all the time. It’s about being balanced and moderate and reasonable.”

And for a non-athlete story, here’s something on how Muslims north of the Arctic Circle handle Ramadan when the days last so long as to make the fast nearly non-stop.

Not that I don’t love the Ramadan-athlete stories — I do — but looking at the way the holy days are celebrated by non-athletes is key, too. From past years, we saw some good examples. I liked this story from Milwaukee on the work of a hafiz. And there was this piece on a woman who prepares food all day during Ramadan … but does not eat it.

Let us know if you see any particularly good or bad coverage of Ramadan.

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  • The Old Bill

    The Alaska Dispatch story was a great angle. I never thought of that. If I had to fast sunup to sundown, I’d be hoping for Ramadan to fall in December. OTOH, Muslims in Tierra del Fuego have it much easier.

    I liked the comment that the important thing is to be aware of why you’re doing what you’re doing. I have to remind myself of that constantly in Lent.

  • Jerry

    The Old Bill wrote what I was going to write. It was a great story because it asked a good question most would not have thought of and allowed various perspectives to be heard. And I especially liked what The Old Bill liked: the part about being aware of why you are doing a religious practice not just doing it mechanically.

    I do understand why the media focuses on athletes because it’s a natural question. A religious practice might be difficult for many, but what about those who find it especially difficult? I’m not denying other stories would be interesting, but I’m more inclined to give the media a pass on this one.

  • dalha farhan

    i would like to comment that talking Muslim athlete that Ramadan is difficult for them. of course this is true but when it comes the religions point of view Ramadan is one of the five pillar of Islam and if any one breaks this rule deliberately . he will be considered is not Muslim and will face harsh punishment both this world and hereafter. to fast this month is mandatory for every one except if the person is sick or old and cannot fast this month he can postpone it and fast other normal months repay the holy month of Ramadan.

  • dalha farhan

    i would like to comment that talking Muslim athlete that Ramadan is difficult for them. of course this is true but when it comes the religions point of view Ramadan is one of the five pillar of Islam and if any one breaks this rule deliberately . he will be considered is not Muslim and will face harsh punishment both this world and hereafter. to fast this month is mandatory for every one except if the person is sick or old and cannot fast this month he can postpone it and fast other normal months to repay the holy month of Ramadan.

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    I suspect that Muslim athletes only get press when Ramadan falls during warm months. And it is an obvious angle when it happens to fall during the summer Olympics (which probably only happens every couple of decades).
    My favorite Ramadan impact story of the past few years was one I did on the woman who presides over the kitchen where a mosque’s iftar meals are prepared

  • The Old Bill

    Ann Rodgers wrote:

    My favorite Ramadan impact story of the past few years was one I did on the woman who presides over the kitchen where a mosque’s iftar meals are prepared.

    I like stories like this. No controversy, no one’s ox being gored; just a look through a window into someone else’s life. I learned something. Thanks, Ann.

    Funny line about Subway.

    There’s a Moroccan restaurant not too far away from me. (Well, about an hour and a half, but this is the west.) I should check on what they do during Ramadan.

  • Mollie

    Yes, Ann, that’s one of my favorites, too. I actually linked it in the post above. It was a keeper.

  • http://catherineguiles.com Cathy G.

    When I read this headline, I thought it meant “athletes who aren’t Muslim” :)
    That could be a whole other angle on Ramadan!

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Here’s a great angle (and one that I have always wondered why is absent from Lenten stories): fasting for women who are nursing, pregnant, etc.

  • sari

    These same questions can and should be asked of any belief system which has well defined and seemingly rigid behavioral expectations. The questions you pose–observance under stressful conditions, in Alaska, when pregnant/nursing/ill–should also be applied (and contrasted) to all rather than the more exotic or less known faiths (e.g., Islam is interesting whereas Judaism and Christianity are ho-hum). You might be surprised to discover that many of these same questions have been asked and were answered centuries ago. Others, like observing the Sabbath in Alaska, are more recent. An interesting article might contrast how different faiths observe their fasts, for instance, or what kinds of exemptions are offered for the same problem (e.g., athletic competitions and fasting).

    Because many Christian denominations lack a defined code of behavior, even those reporters who are religious Christians fail to understand the import of Sharia Law, the Halakhah, or even Catholic Canon Law. To those who believe, failure to observe has dire consequences.

    Lastly, given that Ramadan is on the calendar, why didn’t the Olympic planners take the dates into account? Surely the games could have been completed before or afterward. If I were Muslim, I’d feel slighted. We don’t see winter games scheduled during Christmas, do we?

  • http://catherineguiles.com Cathy G.

    Interesting point, sari!
    I used to work for a paper where we covered a figure skater who was competing for Russia and had a competition there on Dec. 25. At first I thought, “Why are they having contests on Christmas?” but then I remembered that in Orthodox countries, Christmas isn’t until January :)

  • John M.

    Sari,

    That scheduling question crossed my mind also. I can’t imagine that the Muslim countries didn’t object when the dates were published. I’ll bet there’s a story there.

    -John


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