Does Ramadan only affect Muslim athletes?

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, began Thursday evening and lasts for a month. During the month, participating Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. Muslims believe Ramadan was the month during which the first verses of the Koran were revealed to the Islamic prophet Mohammed. The month is based on the Islamic lunar calendar and moves back about 11 days each year. I don't imagine that most Muslims are athletes, but whenever Ramadan comes around, it seems that Muslim athletes get all the attention. That's true in most years. See, for example, this 2010 coverage of Muslim football players during Ramadan. Or this 2009 look at Ramadan coverage focused on Muslim football players. Or this 2008 look at Muslim football players during Ramadan. Or another 2010 story about Ramadan and football.

This year is no exception. It's Ramadan and much of the coverage we're seeing deals with Muslim athletes. At least this year we've moved a bit off of football and onto the Olympics! Here's the Associated Press:

With the London Games fast approaching and the Islamic holy month of Ramadan already here, Muslim athletes are faced with a dilemma of Olympian proportions.

Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk during the 30-day month of Ramadan, which began Friday in most countries.

During long summer days in London, that translates into 18 hours of fasting — something that many Muslim athletes consider impossible to do without losing their competitive edge.

And here's the top of a Religion News Service story:

Winning an Olympic medal is hard.

Surprisingly, winning one when you're fasting for Ramadan is not that much harder.

At least, not for Suleiman Nyambui of Tanzania, who took silver in the 5000 meters at the 1980 Summer Olympics while fasting for the Islamic holy month.

The AP story focuses on Egyptian athletes who have been given a sort of exemption from fasting and it also mentions Nyambui and how the Olympic village handles those fasting.

The RNS story is very interesting. We learn that more than 3,000 Muslims will compete in the Olympics this year but that many won't fast and have been given exemptions. There are no Muslims on the U.S. team. There's some technical discussion about the effect of fasting on the body, including this perspective:

Nyambui said the hard part about track is training. Competing is easy. Had Ramadan occurred before the Olympics, when athletes prepare their bodies for competition, then his performance would have suffered, he said. He acknowledged that fasting can present difficulties for athletes, but usually only during the first or second weeks of Ramadan when the body is still adjusting to the rigors of fasting.

I also liked the way the RNS story included a variety of perspectives on the exemptions:

Some Muslims have criticized the exemptions as cop-outs. But many others say they demonstrate Islam's flexibility and undermine perceptions of the faith as rigid and dogmatic.

"If you're chosen to represent your country, that is a huge responsibility, and to jeopardize that is almost un-Islamic," said Zahed Amanullah, an American Muslim who has lived in London since 2003, and plans to take his daughter to the tae kwon do and volleyball events.

"Extremism is built on the sense that you always have to do the maximum," Amanullah said. "This demonstrates that Islam is not about doing things to the maximum all the time. It's about being balanced and moderate and reasonable."

And for a non-athlete story, here's something on how Muslims north of the Arctic Circle handle Ramadan when the days last so long as to make the fast nearly non-stop.

Not that I don't love the Ramadan-athlete stories -- I do -- but looking at the way the holy days are celebrated by non-athletes is key, too. From past years, we saw some good examples. I liked this story from Milwaukee on the work of a hafiz. And there was this piece on a woman who prepares food all day during Ramadan ... but does not eat it.

Let us know if you see any particularly good or bad coverage of Ramadan.

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