The 2014 FIFA World Cup coincides with Ramadan this year, an extremely rare occurrence by all accounts. Not since 1986 have the two occasions coincided with one another. While this will no doubt be a testing time for the Muslim fans who will have to keep their football fever in check, one must also think about the Muslim players participating in the event.
At the time of writing this post, all of the quarterfinal slots have been filled and a number of players whose teams have advanced to the next level will be facing a bigger challenge off the field than on it. Teams like France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland have Muslim players on their roster and they will have to decide how to balance religious obligations with the physical demands of the sport.
A 90 minute football game is exhilarating cardio and demands a lot from the human body. Muslim players need to be in peak condition in order to perform well in the knockout matches. To add fuel to fire, Brazil is seeing record high temperatures this year. The heat and humidity alone can severely impact performance which is why players take breaks every 30 minutes to rehydrate their bodies with water. However those who are fasting won’t be able to do so, putting more strain on the body.
Four players from France, three from Belgium, two from Germany and one from Switzerland will be affected by this dilemma. Algeria and Nigeria have also qualified for the quarterfinals and they too will be affected, but they have yet to reveal how they plan to handle the situation.
Fasting is an important Pillar of Islam; a compulsory act that calls on all adult Muslims to fast. Certain flexibilities are there for those who are disabled, elderly or have a medical condition. If someone misses a fast, they can make it up later or pay the price in the form of Kuffarah. The idea is to encourage people to fast because it teaches Taqwa; because it teaches restraint and control of the five senses , showing obedience in following the commandments of Allah (SWT). Apart from religious significance, there are health benefits to fasting as well. Study after study has proven that fasting one month out of the year improves the body’s digestive system and strengthens its endurance among many other things.
Sheikh Juma Momade is the South African representative for Kuwait’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs. According to him, fasting can actually enhance a player’s performance.
“We have examples of athletes in several European clubs, who fast during Ramadan and continue playing well.”
Ultimately the decision rests with the player. The one positive from this is that there are only about 11 hours of daylight in Brazil meaning the duration of fasts will be much shorter compared to other countries like UK and the USA where fasts are as long as 17 hours.
Ramadan brings challenges and blessings alike. Fasting is not easy but it’s not impossible either. This Ramadan let’s keep these players in our thoughts and prayers. Balancing real life and religious obligations, particularly in non-Muslim countries, can be a tedious task at times. However, the rewards for going through with it are enormous.
Ramadan Mubarak from everyone here at Muslim Aid. May we all get to fast this Ramadan.
And may the best team win!