Amidst political furor in Middle East North Africa, civil wars in South Asia and impending recession crisis, the 2012 Olympic is finally here. Tonight Billions across the world will be watching much anticipated opening ceremony of London’s 2012 Olympics games. However, for Muslim countries and its Olympians, the 2012 Olympics presented a unique challenge in the face of a religious month of fasting (called Ramadan in Arabic).
This will be second time in history that Ramadan has coincided with the world Olympics event. The last time two events clashed was during Moscow games in July 1980. On 19th July from sunrise till sunset, more than 1.5 billion Muslims of the world started observing the 30 days of fasting period. During the period of fasting, Muslims refrain from eating or drinking, and are encouraged to offer extra prayers and give to charity.
Due to long British summer day hours, the observance will last for 18 hours each day for British Muslims. Many of the 3000 Muslim Olympic athletes from 200 countries will be paying a duty to their legions of fans and will also be fasting during the legendary game competitions.
For decades the United Kingdom (UK) has waited for its turn to play host to International Olympic Games. The British nation is looking forward to the most anticipated event of the year, which will revive the local economy and bring in much needed revenues. The tourist spending will certainly benefit businesses across the county and will give recession-blighted London businesses much needed economic boost. From Harrods in Knightsbridge to small cafes in Greenwich, British flags and Olympic symbols are gracing the display windows.
London was awarded an honor of hosting Olympics in 2005. However, the realization that Olympics will be clashing with Ramadan had participating Muslim countries such as Turkey, Morocco and Egypt calling for the dates to be changed in order to accommodate its Muslim Olympians. In 2006, the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London argued that “It’s not only going to affect the participants it’s going to affect all the people who want to watch the Games.”
In order to unite everyone in the spirit of sportsmanship, the game organizers have tailored certain provisos to accommodate Muslim participants by providing round the clock halal meals at Olympic village dining halls. Mosques across London, such as Regent Park Mosque, East London Mosque, Packham Mosque and many others have made preparations for extra food to be made available for athletes and Muslim tourists.
Across the Muslim world, local religious bodies made special provisions regarding athletes who were participating in games. Prince Feisal Bin Al- Hussein of Jordan, a member of the International Olympic Committee, said that Muslim athletes should be excused from fasting during the London games. According to Islamic guidelines, Muslim men and women are exempted from fasting if they are travelling away from home. Malaysia, Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt’s religious councils have therefore placed their atheletes under the exempted category of travelers.
The decision of whether or not to fast has caused conflicting emotions among Muslim Olympians. Libyan swimmer Sofyan Fathi Aljaddi is among many Olympians who will be keeping his fast during the game period. In an interview with 7M sports, Aljaddi said, “Honestly, some people say that you are allowed to break your fast on the day of the race, but to be honest this is between you and your God. I say fasting for God is more important than any sport or anything in this world.”
Algerian runner Mohamed-Khaled Belabbas said, “I will fast like I always have. It will not be a novelty for me. ”
But British discus thrower Abdul Buhari, Moroccan swimmer Sara El-Bekri, Qatari sprinter Noor al-Malki, French Boxer Rachid Azzedine, judo competitor Hemeed Al Drie, British rower Mohammed Sbihi, and many others will be adjourning their fast till the end of competition. In 1980, Tanzanian Suleiman Nyambui won a silver medal in the 5,000 meters, while observing the fast.
Even though, the present month of Ramadan has come with its numerous challenges for Muslim Olympians, but with the abet edict of ruling religious authorities and effective cooperation from Olympics committee, the Olympians will be able to overcome these challenges and hopefully will win some medals to take back home.