The London 2012 Olympic Games, which run from 27th July to 12th August, coincide with the Muslim month of Ramadan in the Islamic calendar. One of the five pillars of Islam is to fast during this holy month. All able-bodied Muslims are expected to fast, unless they have a valid reason not to, for example those that are travelling, sick or facing heath risks.
There is a lot of interest and questions from not only the Muslims of Britain and across the world, but also from people of all faiths and none, on Ramadan and Olympics this year. LOCOG has worked with the relevant stakeholders, including the Muslim community in Britain, and has made any necessary services available for those who will be fasting in the long summer days. A Multi-Faith Centre has been made available in the Olympic Village and halal food will be provided for Muslim athletes.
It is important to know that when cities were bidding for the 2012 Games, they were all given the same time window in which to host the Games. However, LOCOG has endeavoured to ensure that the London 2012 Games will be faith-friendly for all.
There will be more than 3,000 Muslim athletes in this year's Olympic Games. Like all other Olympians they will try to perform their best to win medals by reaching their highest levels of physical fitness. Naturally, individual Muslim athletes will judge themselves on whether fasting is going to have any impact on their performance. Some will consult their trusted religious scholars for opinions as to whether they can postpone fasting on reasons acceptable to religion. Others may decide to keep on fasting. After consulting a cleric, British Olympic rower Mohamed Sbihi said he would donate 60 meals for every fast he missed to poor people in Morocco. Some Muslims may not like these exemptions for the purpose of winning medals, but others say life is for real people and the religion of Islam is flexible. It will be worth observing this summer how Muslim athletes, especially those who fast during their games, perform compared to others.
Sports is not only a matter of physical fitness, it involves mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions as well. It is about determination and heightened spiritual and emotional resolve. So, it would not be impossible for someone who is fasting to perform better than others if he or she is geared up on all the other drivers. Some medical studies have found that fasting hurts athletic performance; others are inconclusive. Doctors say the impact of fasting also depends on factors like the weather and the time of day. Some researchers have found that sleep deprivation could be more hurting than the lack of food intake. A morning race on a cool day would be easier for a fasting athlete than a late afternoon race on a hot day.
Whatever happens on the track or in the Olympic venues, the Muslim communities, particularly from the host boroughs, have prepared themselves to welcome visitors from other parts of Britain and abroad with open arms. As a vibrant and diverse community, they have come up with innovative hospitality packages in this month of fasting. Mosques will be open throughout the day and for Tarawih (the late night prayer); and offer Iftar (delicious meal for breaking the fast at sunset) to any visitor that comes to them. Major Muslim organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain, multi-faith organisations like London Citizens and major mosques like East London Mosque in Whitechapel have been working with others to show the best of Britain and its Muslim heritage and culture to the rest of the world. Events like 'Iftar 2012' and 'Citizens Iftar' are making positive headlines.
It will be an exciting time for London when we showcase the Olympic Games to the world.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is an educationalist and parenting consultant (www.amanaparenting.com). He is a non-Executive member of the LOCOG Board. Follow Muhammad Abdul Bari on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MAbdulBari
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.