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Many Muslim Olympians Get A Break On Ramadan Fasting

Jul 23, 2012
Originally published on July 25, 2012 8:39 am

Hundreds of Muslim athletes are participating in the London Olympics, which officially begin Friday. But along with travel and other logistics, they're also adjusting to Ramadan, the holy month that requires them to fast.

Many athletes say they'll forego the ban on consuming food and drink, as Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports on Morning Edition. The daylong fast is a threat to a strong performance — and their hopes of bringing pride to their nation, they say.

In most cases, the athletes are skipping or postponing the fast under an Islamic dispensation for Muslims who are traveling. Other athletes have been issued special fatwas, or religious rulings, authorizing them to postpone their fast.

Barbara spoke to open-water swimmer Mazen Aziz, of Egypt.

"I don't think anyone can handle that. Anyone," Aziz says of competing in his event without consuming any water or food. "You may die, because you just don't have anything in your body. Like, empty. So that would be so dangerous."

The open-water swim can last for well over an hour and 45 minutes, Barbara reports.

For most Muslim athletes, the choice to put off the fast disrupts years of tradition that began as early as age 12.

"It was a really difficult decision because I've fasted all my life for Ramadan – it's incredibly important to me. But if I fast, it will be impossible to stay in peak condition and perform at my highest level in the Games," British discus thrower Abdul Buhari tells The Guardian. "I believe God is forgiving, and I'll make up for every single day I've missed."

The United Arab Emirates has sought relief for its athletes, as France 24 reports. The plan calls for athletes to "make up" the fast after they're done competing.

While Morocco is considering joining the practice, "athletes from more conservative Islamic countries, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, will however be expected to stick rigidly to the rules of the holy month," according to France 24.

Of course, Ramadan presents a challenge to all Muslim athletes, not only those who are Olympians.

On her Lifting Covered blog, Pakistani-American weightlifter Kulsoom Abdullah, who lives in Atlanta, has written about the difficulties of training during Ramadan.

Among her recommendations: for the pre-fast morning meal, go light on carbohydrates, which might send blood sugar higher — and increase the urge to eat. Abdullah isn't competing in this summer's Olympics.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.