Athletes and Other Workers During Ramadan: This Non-Muslim Woman Takes Her Hat Off To You

“Come in here and take a look at this,” The Mate called from the living room where he was watching the NBA finals from the seat of his exercise bike.

“That guy,” he indicated one of the Toronto Raptors jockeying for a shot, “is Muslim. He’s doing all this while fasting. He’s not even drinking water!”

“That guy” is Enes Kanter, a Turkish player born in Switzerland, who’s been playing in the NBA since 2011. Kanter is a devout Muslim. This time of year, that fact carries extra meaning.

The holy month of Ramadan began on May 5. During Ramadan, devout Muslims refrain from eating or drinking anything, even water, from before dawn to after sunset. Since Ramadan is a celestially-based holiday, its dates rotate around the calendar. Sometimes Ramadan falls in the winter, and the fasting period is relatively short. But sometimes–like now–it falls in spring or summer, when daylight can last up to 18 hours.

Eat up! This has to last you 18 hours.

I watched, fascinated. All the athletes were sweating profusely, as athletes do. During breaks, they sat on the bench sucking from their Gatorade bottles. All but one. 

I’ve often wondered about people who work in the hot sun at jobs like construction, landscaping, or road work. How do they get through their challenging work days, day after day, for a month?

I haven’t yet taken the time to pursue the question as it relates to workers per se. But since I started with professional athletes, this article by Shireen Ahmed for Buzzfeednews.com, “Here’s How 15 Hardcore Athletes Train During Ramadan,” provided some answers. 

All the athletes focused on preparing their bodies carefully during suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, and iftar, the post-sunset meal. Protein and potassium were the main components, along with necessary sugar. Hydration was, as you might imagine, absolutely essential.

Get in there, vitamins! I need you!

Take a moment and think about that: not only are you going about your day of hot, sweaty, exhausting work with zero drinking, you are also getting up at four a.m. in order to prepare your body.

Besides the actual diet, however, the most striking theme from the 15 interviewed athletes was the power of their faith to get them through each work day.

Ahmed’s article features Indira Kaljo, a former Division 1 NCAA basketball player, describing the difficulty of playing while fasting:

“The biggest challenge was waiting through the water breaks. Those minutes were very difficult. The second [most difficult] thing was the late nights and then having to practice daily feeling exhausted.” The most powerful thing that helped her get through the month? “Prayer. I used prayer.”

Nadia Nadim,  a professional soccer player in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) with the  Portland Thorns FC, who also plays for Denmark’s national women’s team, :fasts on training days but not on match days. ‘I know my body can’t handle it,’ she says, because hydration and nutrition dictate her performance.”

I KNOW, right??!!

And yet: athletes do fast on game days. Workers do fast on work days. Instead of nutrition and hydration each day, they take prayer, and faith. And they give faith back to the rest of us who watch in awe.

Manal Rostom, a professional mountaineer from Egypt,

“sees Ramadan as a month to push through with a positive mental attitude. She says that colleagues praise her efforts to teach and work out during Ramadan, but she remains grounded. ‘[They] don’t get how easy it becomes once you reset your mind to literally just do it. You will survive. Fasting trains you to become a better human being.'”

You guys are my heroes. Need some pie for iftar?

I’m not Muslim. But I recognize strength and goodness when I see it. And I mean this with all intended ironic humor when I say, “My hat is off.” Thanks for the example.

God Willing, Everyone Should Be Able To Say “God Willling”

Have you heard the one about the university student thrown off a flight for saying “God willing”?

Sorry, this isn’t a joke and there isn’t a punch line. Unless you count this: our country is now so Islamophobic that saying “Insha’Allah” (God willing) in a private phone conversation can a) make one’s fellow passengers so nervous that they b) call the flight attendants who c) escort you from the plane for interrogation by the FBI.

This is what happened to 26 year-old Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, an Iraqi who had refugeed to the U.S., on a Southwest flight last week. According to Al Jazeera English,

Makhzoomi said he was excited after attending a conference that included a speech by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, so as soon as he got on the plane, he made the call to talk about him.

“I was speaking Arabic with him. Explaining the details about the event,” Makhzoomi told Al Jazeera. “All of a sudden a lady in front of me started staring at me and I got off the phone. My uncle told me to call him when I land and I said, ‘inshallah, inshallah, I will call you’.”

He told the Associated Press news agency that most of the conversation was mundane, covering subjects like who was there and what the food was like, but at one point he said someone had asked Ban about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

A woman sitting nearby reported him to Southwest staff and he was escorted from the plane.

According to CNN, after his questioning ordeal, Southwest gave Makhzoomi a refund, and he flew back home to Atlanta on Delta. Once recovered from the shock and humiliation, he contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Since then the story has taken off. But in all the articles I’ve read, the chief question seems to be, “Is keeping your mouth shut in public the new normal for Muslims?”

Insha’Allah, it is not. Because, insha’Allah, there is something we non-Muslims can do to register our refusal to play along with this new brand of racist xenophobia: we can start speaking Arabic ourselves.

My suggestion: every time you want to say, “hopefully,” or “I plan to,” every time you feel the urge to knock on wood, slip an “insha’Allah” in there. You don’t need to be Muslim, or Christian to say it…in fact, I don’t think you really need to be particularly religious at all. If what you really mean is, “I sure hope whatever powers out there that are larger than I am will heed my humble wish,” then–yeah. In my book, “insha’Allah” covers that pretty well.

Insha'Allah and the Creek Don't Rise...whichever

Insha’Allah and the Creek Don’t Rise…whichever

Might some Muslims argue with me about this? Probably. Some Christians too, I expect. But, insha’Allah, the more my suggestion gets put into use, the fewer Americans will be demonized by their fellow citizens.

“Dyslam”? When Good Faith is Hijacked by Bad People

We need a word. I’ve been struggling to describe the awfulness of when a belief which is pure of spirit and ennobling to the world is claimed as motivation by evildoers.

If it pains me to hear “Islamic terrorist,” how much worse must it feel to a good-hearted Muslim? Well, I can quote the long version, from Omid Safi, weekly columnist of Onbeing.org, as he discusses 9 responses to the attacks in France:

8) Muhammad’s honor.
The shooters are reported to have shouted that they were doing this to revenge the honor of the Prophet. Let me put objectivity and pretense towards scholarly distance aside. The Prophet is my life. In my heart, Muhammad’s very being is the embodied light of God in this world, and my hope for intercession in the next. And for those who think they are here to avenge the honor of the Prophet, all I can say is that he is beyond the need for revenge. Your actions do not reach him, neither did the profoundly offensive cartoons of Charlie Hebdo. That pornographic, violent, humiliated and humiliated figure depicted in Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons is not and was not ever my prophet. As for the real Muhammad, neither the cartoonists nor the shooters ever knew him. You can’t touch him. You never knew Muhammad like we know Muhammad.

And as for the shooters, they have done more to demean people’s impression of the religion of the Prophet than the cartoonists in Charlie Hebdo ever did. If the shooters wanted to do something to bring honor to the Prophet, they could begin by actually embodying the manners and ethics of the Prophet. They could start by studying his life and teachings, where they would see that Muhammad actually responded to those who had persecuted him through forgiveness and mercy.

 Those shooters were, in my eyes, “dyslamic.” Just like those “Christians” who harrass gays at military funerals, or who fought in the Crusades, are “Dystians.” It’s a stretch, I know. But I don’t want to cede the name of a real, peaceful faith to people who use it to justify evil.

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

Now I’m wondering what you think of my word.

(Thanks to Iris Graville for sending me the link to “9 Points to Ponder”)