Mon, Aug 08, 2011 - Page 13 News List

Nothing under the sun

One week into Ramadan, it’s a good time to lay to rest some of the common myths about one of the five pillars of Islam

By Mehdi Hasan  /  The Guardian, London

Some of the world’s leading athletes and sports stars have managed to fast while performing at the highest levels. Next year, Ramadan starts in July, and will cover the whole period of the Olympics. East London will be home to Muslim athletes from across the world, fasting, competing and — I guarantee you — winning medals.

It’s nothing new. In the 1990s, Hakeem Olajuwon, a devout Muslim considered to be one of the greatest basketball players of his generation, would often play in the NBA for the Houston Rockets while fasting. “It made me stronger and my statistics went up,” he later remarked. “I was better during Ramadan, more focused.” In February 1995, Olajuwon averaged an impressive 29 points per game and was named NBA Player of the Month, despite the entire month coinciding with Ramadan.

More recently, Manchester City’s Kolo Toure, also a practicing Muslim, has had no qualms about fasting and playing top-flight soccer. “It doesn’t affect me physically,” Toure argued during last year’s Ramadan, which happened to correspond with the first month of the Premier League. “It makes me stronger. You can do it when you believe so strongly in something.”

Ramadan becomes an unparalleled, month-long opportunity for personal and spiritual growth — and the fast is a deeply private act of worship. “Of the five pillars of Islam, the fast of Ramadan is perhaps the most personal expression of self-surrender to God,” the American writer and convert to Islam, Jeffrey Lang, argues in his book, Even Angels Ask. “We can observe a Muslim performing the other four pillars, but, in addition to himself, only God knows if he is staying with the fast.”

As of Thursday, I’d managed three. Now, what time is it? Noon. Hmm. Just eight hours and 55 minutes to go.

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