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.

Out of Ashes, Hope: US Muslims Support Black Churches

The day after the Charleston Church Massacre, my personal media hero, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, was unable to tell a joke. He spent the opening of his show expressing his grief, and also his soul-sickness at the inability of the U.S. to “heal this racial wound,” or even to acknowledge its existence. (That’s why he’s my hero.)

It’s Jon Stewart’s job to rub Americans’ noses in painful truths. Since I couldn’t possibly improve on that job, I’ve taken on a different, but related assignment: to highlight small signs of improvement wherever I can find them.

This week’s sign of hope comes courtesy of Al-Jazeera, which published an article last week detailing how a coalition of U.S. Muslim groups has been spending Ramadan fund-raising to rebuild Black churches victimized by arson:

The coalition — which consists of U.S. organizations Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and the Arab American Association of New York as well as digital startup Ummah Wide — has so far raised over $23,000 in five days. After the campaign ends on July 18, the money will be given to pastors of the burned churches that need it most, the groups said.

Like black communities in the United States, the coalition wrote, American Muslims are also vulnerable to intimidation, though not to the same extent as African-Americans.

“The American Muslim community cannot claim to have experienced anything close to the systematic and institutionalized racism and racist violence that has been visited upon African-Americans,” organizer Imam Zaid Shakir wrote on the campaign’s website.

However, Muslims can understand the “climate of racially inspired hate and bigotry that is being reignited in this country,” he wrote, saying the American Muslim community should stand in solidarity with African-Americans.

Racism, bigotry and violence are not going away any time soon. Blessings be upon those who stand up to them by reaching out like this. I don’t know any of these people, but I take comfort, for myself and for my country, in their existence.