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In the Name of God: the Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate Beloved Lord

Although the number of Muslim football players participating in this year’s FIFA World Cup has dwindled considerably, there are still a number of players who are slated to play this weekend in the Quarterfinal matches. A number of them have already indicated that they will not be observing the fast of Ramadan, due to health reasons.

As a physician, I completely understand this stance. It is quite dangerous to play a fast-paced football game without the ability to hydrate oneself (if the game is before sunset). A couple of years ago, I simply played golf (riding in a cart, no less!)  in a hospital outing on a very hot day and nearly collapsed after six holes. I vowed never to do that again, and that sort of “physical activity” pales in comparison to a football game in the World Cup.

And the players have received scholarly support from Al Azhar University in Cairo, one of the oldest Sunni Islamic institutions in the world:

[German player Mesmut Ozil] has been backed by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, who reached an agreement with the German FA in 2010. The Central Council had asked for an expert opinion by the Islamic Al-Azhar academy in Cairo, which came to the conclusion that fast-breaking is allowed for professional footballers.

Of course, for some Muslims, this may be seen as controversial, as the fast of Ramadan is one of the most important rituals in Islamic practice. Yet, there really should be no controversy at all. The Qur’an gives Muslims “an out,” so to speak, with respect to the fast of Ramadan:

 Whoever of you is ill or on a journey, [shall fast instead for the same] number of other days… (2:184)

In other words, if you are traveling, you are exempt from the fast of Ramadan, although you must make up the days at a later time (before the next Ramadan).

Thus, there should be no controversy about whether a player should fast while playing a game in the heat and humidity of Brazil. Since they are traveling, they are allowed to break the fast. It is true that whether or not a person chooses to fast is personal, and it should not be the subject of international media attention. Nevertheless, the Muslim players should have no anxiety about not fasting during the World Cup at all. They are traveling.

Of course, the fast of Ramadan is more than just abstaining from food and drink: it is also about upright moral conduct, self-reflection, self-discipline, charity and concern for the poor. I would hope and pray that the players keep this in mind as they rest and recuperate before the games tomorrow and Saturday, even if they are not fasting.

It would be great, in fact, if they would all get together to pray the nightly Taraweeh vigil, as a show of religious solidarity and keeping in the spirit of this blessed month. It would go a long way to show that, even if they are on opposing teams during the World Cup, they are still brothers in faith and can stand side-by-side in prayer to God. We will have to see, I guess.

But, they don’t have to fast, regardless of the medical reasons, because the Qur’an allows travelers to break their fast. And they can make up those days missed in the winter…when the day is much shorter.

A most Blessed and Happy Ramadan to all!

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