The Common Good

Praying, Fasting and…Competing?

Muslim athlete Ilias Fifa of Morocco prays before of 5000m Event of Barcelona Athletics meeting at the Olympic Stadium in 2011.

It’s just 10 days until the biggest show on earth begins.

No, not Lady Gaga’s new tour. It's the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

The timing of this year’s Olympics has put thousands of participating athletes in something of a quandary.

Writing from TIME Magazine, Aryn Baker explains
:

When an estimated 3,500 Muslim athletes come to the London Olympics this summer, the pinnacle of their athletic careers will directly coincide with one of the most important periods in their spiritual calendar. This year, all 17 days of athletic competition take place during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims are required to fast and refrain from drinking water from sunrise to sunset. The overlap of Ramadan and the Olympics may prove a physical and spiritual challenge to many of the observant athletes–but in many ways the Olympic spirit and the holy month share a core essence that makes the overlap somehow appropriate and harmonious: sacrificing the self and practicing self-control in the bid to achieve perfection.

Many of those participating in the games are consulting with their religious leaders to seek guidance on how to balance their unique opportunity to display their God-given talents, with a true respect for the holy festival of Ramadan:

British rower Moe Sbihi … consulted with religious leaders (and a Moroccan goalkeeper for Real Mallorca who never fasted during his time playing for Spain’s La Liga), to come up with his own solution: he will donate 1,800 meals to the poor, 60 meals per day of not fasting, to fulfill his spiritual obligations.

To Fawaz A. Gerges, Director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, the varying approaches to the Ramadan fast are a demonstration of Islam’s inherent dynamism. “The element of practicality and flexibility is really fundamental to how Islamic scholars deal with difficult situations. The Olympics are no different – what we are seeing here is the rule, not the exception,” he says, pointing out that out that most Muslim athletes have said in interviews that they will not fast while in London. “They are finding ways and means to compensate, whether it’s doing charity work, feeding the poor, or postponing their fasts.”

It is encouraging to read that many athletes are taking this opportunity to bless their communities, at the same time as taking their vocations and religious beliefs very seriously.

And let the games begin!

Jack Palmer is Communications Associate for Sojourners and during the Olympics will be telling anyone who will listen how glad he is to not be home in London during the Games. Follow him on Twitter @jackpalmer88

Image: Muslim athlete Ilias Fifa of Morocco prays before of 5000m Event of Barcelona Athletics meeting at the Olympic Stadium on July 22, 2011 in Barcelona, Spain. Photo by Maxisport/Shutterstock.

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