Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, is a time when Muslims all over the world refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. This year, Ramadan begins on July 20 and continues for 30 days, which overlaps with the Summer Olympics.
As many as 3,500 Muslim athletes will be competing, and abstaining from food and water for 16 hours a day could affect their performance. (The U.S. Olympic Committee does not have a breakdown of team members by faith.)
So what will Muslim Olympians do?
Sara El-Bekri, a Moroccan swimmer entered in the 50-meter and 100-meter breaststroke, told The Egyptian Gazette that she decided to forgo fasting this year. “Our physical ability is undoubtedly impaired,” she told the Gazette. “We are split between the desire to respect one of the five pillars of our religion and the need to arrive in London in the best possible physical condition to compete at the Olympics.”
“I could not fast. I need all that stuff, like protein, carbs, and minerals,” Egyptian kayaker Mustafa Saied told the Associated Press. “I can do it after Ramadan, and Allah will accept it because there was an important reason.”
Others are still considering fasting.
Seventeen-year-old weightlifter Khadijah Fahed Mohamed is the first woman from the United Arab Emirates to qualify for the Olympics in any sport. She is enthusiastic about the possibility of winning but conflicted by the expectations of her faith.
“This is our chance,” Fahed Mohamed told OnIslam, an online publication covering Islam and Muslims. “Ramadan just happened to be at the same time as the competition, so no one knows what to do. Should we fast or not?” she said.
As for her, she told the news outlet, fasting is essential. “Both are important to me. Fasting is a must.”
Yet others are finding creative ways to observe Ramadan and compete. Ahmed Habash, an Egyptian sailor, told Reuters he plans to keep his watch on Egyptian time.
“I can't eat during the day, and I can only eat after sunset, but I choose to fast according to Egyptian time, which makes it easier,” Ahmed, who will compete in the men's RS-X fleet, told the news agency. The time differential is one hour between London and Cairo.