World Cup: Ramadan creates dilemma for Muslim stars
Players must decide whether to fast
Muslim players on World Cup teams that have qualified for the second round in Brazil are facing a thorny question as much of the Islamic world observes the holy month of Ramadan with a dawn to dusk fast.
"We need to discuss it amongst ourselves," said Algerian player Djamel Mesbah, of the Islamic holy month, which started on Sunday. "It's clear that our religion is very important for the team, so we will talk about it and see how to go forward."
Some will postpone
While fasting during daytime over the 30 days of Ramadan, including abstaining from drinking liquids, is mandatory for all able bodied Muslims and one of the five pillars of Islam, there are exemptions, including for the sick, pregnant, infirm or elderly. Those travelling or going to war are also excluded and it is under this provision that most athletes will delay the fast until a more suitable time.
Algerian team captain Madjid Bouguerra pointed out in interviews with the Algerian press that it is a challenge Muslim players in European clubs have long faced and when he was with the Glasgow Rangers, he fasted but made sure he kept his performance up.
"The hardest thing is staying hydrated, but it's OK, the weather's good here," he said. "Some players will postpone their fast for another time, but depending on my physical condition, I think I will do it."
From a religious standpoint, however, it becomes a bit more complex. Islam lacks a central hierarchy like the Catholic church and any imam can issue an opinion that is then obeyed depending on how much respect they command.
Even in Algeria, which has been bathing in the euphoria of qualifying for the second round of the World Cup for the first time in its history, there have been a range of opinions from religious scholars, with some coming out quite strongly against fasting exemptions.
"It is not allowed for an Algerian player to avoiding fasting just for a game — they must fast because God is with those who fast and young people can fast and play at the same time," said Mohammed Mekerkab, the head of Algeria's association of religious scholars.
He also dismissed the exemption for travel claimed by most athletes since the provision was only for voyages undertaken in the search for knowledge, health reasons or fighting jihad.
Algeria's government-appointed High Islamic Council, however, has come down in favour of those wanting to delay their fast.
Algeria's team doctor said fasting wasn't always a total hindrance to players.
"We are often asked to urge players not to fast, but oddly, in some cases, there are athletes that get better results during Ramadan because they are fasting and want to," said Dr. Hakim Chalabi, a specialist in sports and fasting who accompanied the Algerian team to Brazil.
"It can be a spiritual and psychological aid."