Focused on Faith

Muslim student-athletes work to balance life and religion during Ramadan

Evelina Gaivoronskaia | The Chronicle

Abstaining from food and drink is both physically and mentally challenging, but that demand is enhanced when Muslim athletes juggle the celebration of Ramadan with their beloved sports. 

Ramadan is a religious holiday that is observed during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During it, Muslims fast by not eating or drinking anything from sunrise to sunset. Although this tradition allows Muslims to feel closer to Allah, the absence of food or water can be challenging to Muslim students involved in sports. 

Junior Moazzam Nafees is a sprinter for the Mason High School Track and Field team. To him, the purpose of the Ramadan fast is to be “thankful for the food you have and all the stuff you take for granted.” 

At daily practices, Nafees finds himself alongside his peers who do not participate in the fast and can drink water during practices and eat beforehand, so their performance is not hindered by hunger or thirst. Despite being in an altered state of mind, Nafees said that he still regularly finds “a sort of thrill” within his sport while fasting. 

The month of Ramadan and the customs that surround it, however, differ for all Muslims. Nafees has made a promise to his parents that he will fast daily, except for race days when he needs his strength the most. During these race days, he can “see [his] hard work show up in races,” even if he had to push through days of practice while fasting. 

Although it can be hard for student-athletes to abstain from food and water for a month during their sports seasons, they often find their fast rewarding within social aspects of their life, like friends and family. Nafees said that he finds that Ramadan brings him a sense of community amongst others that choose to observe the celebration. 

“[Ramadan] brings me closer to my family and the Muslim people around me,” Nafees said. 

For many Muslims, Ramadan is celebrated to strengthen their relationship with God. Nafees views the Ramadan period as a time of self-reflection and gratefulness. Nafees said that for him it is an opportunity to thank God for the gifts he has been given.

“I owe everything to God,” Nafees said. “I was in a rough spot one time in my life and all I had was God and he helped me, so [fasting] is the least I can do.”

Senior Mir Ashraff understands the health risks that Ramadan fasting might impose, so his priority during the 2022 spring season has been balancing his fasting with Track and Field. Maintaining adequate hydration is an important practice for athletes, however, students who are fasting cannot drink water during the day. 

Because of health concerns and risks, athletes that find themselves in the same position as Ashraff have to make compromises to both follow their beliefs and be able to safely compete. Some will skip days of their fast and make them up at a later date when the season is done, while others may donate money or food to the less fortunate as a way of giving thanks when they are unable to fast. 

“There will be days where I can’t fast,” Ashraff said. “I’ll make food and give it to the poor. Just last week my family and I made a bunch of dishes and donated them to our local mosque, which is something you can and should do in the month of Ramadan, especially if you aren’t fasting during that month.”

Despite the physical challenges they may face while fasting, some athletes have positive and rewarding experiences with their sports during Ramadan. Junior Tala Hamdan plays for the Kings Hammer 05 Academy Soccer team. She said that while celebrating Ramadan this year, she experienced an increase in her strength and skill in regard to her sport. 

“Sometimes I’ll do better and I really don’t know how it works,” Hamdan said. “I’ve done better at practice when I’m fasting and [my mom] told me that it’s God giving me blessings because I am fasting.”

Even though Hamdan sometimes feels empowered both physically and mentally during her fast, she knows that during the fast a person’s energy is lower than usual and they are “not at 100%”, so she said that she had to be careful about how she uses her energy during practices and games. 

“Soccer is a lot of running, but you also have to read the game,” Hamdan said. “And because I am fasting and I want to run as little as possible, I have to make my runs purposeful.”

For Hamdan, Ramadan is about appreciating the blessings that she has, and she finds that during her fast, she appreciates her food more because “it takes away the one big blessing we consider very small, and take for granted.” Similar to Hamdan, many other Muslims find joy and growth in their fast. Ashraff said that this year’s fast has helped him steady his life to “find a balance between [his] team and [his] religion.” He can extend this experience to aid him in creating a healthy schedule in other aspects of his life such as school, even if that balance involves picking one over the other. 

“I have to pick one,” Ashraff said. ”I wish I could do both, but I simply just don’t have the energy to do both at the same time. It has helped me to find a balance in my life and tune it so that it fits me best.”

Illustration by Allison Droege