London 2012: Islamic Olympians embrace Ramadan fasting despite UK's long summer days making it a gruelling ordeal

More than 3,000 Muslim sporting stars are expected to fast from sunrise until sunset.

For the thousands of athletes hoping to win medals at this summer’s Games, nutrition is of paramount importance.

Competitors are renowned for painstakingly watching every calorie, counting each ounce of protein, as they strive for physical perfection at what is the most important time of their lives.

So spare a thought for the more than 3,000 Muslim sporting stars who are competing in the midst of Ramadan, the holy month where all adherents to Islam are expected to fast from sunrise until sunset.

The timing of London 2012, the first Olympics to coincide with Ramadan since 1980, caused so much concern within some Muslim sporting bodies that they asked the International Olympic Committee to consider moving it. One of their key concerns was the length of the daily fast that would have to be done in Britain where the daylight hours in summer are from 5am to 9pm – a gruelling ordeal for those who live closer to the Equator.

The request was declined but organisers have gone to great lengths to try and make sure Muslim athletes are catered for. The canteens at all the sporting venues are open 24 hours a day so athletes can fill up on halal food once the sun goes down.

For Ahmed Habash, Egypt’s first ever Olympic sailor, the fast in Britain is a considerably longer one than he is used to. “In Egypt sunset is at 19:00 and here in England it is 21:00,” he said. “During the actual races I am not going to fast by using the license. It does mean when I return home I’ll have to re-fast, but only for the five days I miss.”

But others relish Ramadan. “It’s a blessing month,” said Mohamed Mohamed, Somalia’s 1500m runner. “I have been waiting for this month for the past 11 months, it’s a month we are very happy to welcome. As an athlete it can get difficult, but I am ready to fast and train and to get through this difficult month.”

Most athletes have been helped by the fact that their religious leaders have allowed them to avoid fasting using various religious get-out clauses. Islamic law is often flexible. Traditionally the ill, pregnant women, travellers and those who would have their only source of income affected can fast at another time or pay money to charity instead.

There is no central religious authority in Islam so each country makes their own decision. Nonetheless Egypt, the UAE, Algeria, Morocco, Malaysia – and even highly conservative Saudi Arabia – have all allowed their athletes to put off fasting.

Yunus Dhudwala is an imam who normally works as chaplain in Newham hospital. Over the next two weeks he is one of the specially designated imams in the athlete’s village. “Most of the athletes I’ve met are either delaying fasting for a later date. But some are fasting on all the days except on the day they have to compete.”

Nonetheless there are those who still chose to go ahead with depriving themselves of food throughout the Games. Many of Morocco’s football team have insisted on fasting even though their muftis have given them permission not to. At their first game against Japan over the weekend they lost 1-0 and were forced to defend themselves against the suggestion that Ramadan might be to blame.

Moroccan forward Noureddin Amrabat was substituted after 70 minutes. “Ramadan has little effect,” he insisted. “I have less power. It’s my religion and for me the only way is that you do Ramadan. It’s not an excuse to play a match. I have my religion and I do 30 days Ramadan”.

The team’s Dutch coach Pim Verbeek added: “Of course [Ramadan’s] difficult. Physically they cannot be 100% fit, but mentally they have to be a little bit better than they are.”

Many of the scientific studies commissioned to look into the effects of fasting and sport have found little evidence to suggest it has a detrimental impact on performance.

“People often assume it will affect an athlete’s performance but it’s not as simple as that,” says Professor Ron Maughan, an expert of sporting nutrition who has studied  fasting. “Many athletes say they actually play better when they fast, they feel more focused, more in tune with their bodies.”

Somali 400m runner Zamzam Moahmed Farah would agree. “Ramadan is something we have to perform,” she said. “I’m just as fast and I will run and I don’t think it will affect me as an athlete.”

Thursday night the East London Mosque is holding a large iftar celebration for Muslims and non-Muslims which will be attended by the Palestinian Olympic team and other athletes. Iftar is the evening meal that marks the break of each daily fast and is usually celebrated communally.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?