Muslim Olympic Athletes and Ramadan Fasting


BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: The world’s more than 1.5 billion Muslims have begun observing the holy month of Ramadan, when they fast every day from dawn to sunset and offer special prayers and gifts to the poor.

But what about Muslim athletes at the Olympic Games, which are set to open in London this coming week?  Should they participate in the fast?  And if they do, will it affect their chances of winning a medal?  Kim Lawton reports.

KIM LAWTON, correspondent: Muslims observing the month-long Ramadan fast are not allowed to eat or drink anything at all—even water—from sunrise to sunset. All Muslims who are able to do so are supposed to fast. But the Quran does allow for some exceptions.

MOHAMED ELSANOUSI, Islamic Society of North America: There are verses in the Quran that talk about people who are sick, or people who are traveling. So, within that period of travel or people who are sick, they are actually exempted from fasting.

LAWTON: Many Muslim Olympians believe they come under the travelers’ exemption. Judo champion Maher Abu Rmeileh is the first Palestinian to qualify for the Olympics. He says, “We asked religious scholars and they said that if we’re out on a mission like this, out on a national mission, there is no problem with not fasting, on the condition that when you return, you fast the days you lost, because fasting, like prayer, is obligatory.”

Religious scholars have said there are several ways Muslims can make up for not fasting during Ramadan.

ELSANOUSI: You know, if you are able to fast on different days, you are able to do that. If you are not, you can also pay a kind of charity instead of fasting.

LAWTON: Mohammed Sbihi on the British Rowing Team says he’s decided not to fast this year.

MOHAMMED SBIHI, British Rowing Team: The decision was made very early on that I shouldn’t fast. It was a personal decision that I made between myself and my family and then I informed the coaches of this.

LAWTON: Instead, Sbihi says he’ll be making extra donations to needy families. Still, many other athletes say they will observe the Ramadan fast, and they’re not concerned about how it may affect their performance. In 2008, Saudi Paralympic triple jumper Ossemah Masoud Alshinqiti fasted and he won the gold medal. He says, “You can play while you are fasting without any problems.” And some Muslim Olympians are hopeful they may even get a special Ramadan blessing for doing so.

I’m Kim Lawton reporting.

ABERNETHY: An estimated 3,000 Muslims will be competing in the Olympics, but no American-Muslims this time.