For Ramadan, Muslim athletes make sacrifice to compete

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Chad Courrier, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·4 min read
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May 2—Yahya Bashir wakes up every morning around 4 a.m. and eats a meal.

He goes back to sleep for a couple of hours before attending classes until 2:30 p.m. He has soccer practice from 4 to 6:30 p.m., then returns to his room and waits until sunset, when he breaks his fast and does his daily prayers.

The daily routine for Muslim athletes during Ramadan is anything but routine.

"It's a time for me to connect with my religion," said Bashir, a first-year student at Gustavus Adolphus. "I learn more about my religion. It's about sacrifice and relating to people who don't have enough food."

Ramadan is in a monthlong period of fasting, prayer and community observed by Muslims. It's one of five pillars of Islam, along with declaration of faith, prayer, alms-giving and pilgrimage.

It's a chance for spiritual reflection, self-improvement and heightened devotion and worship.

During Ramadan, which runs from April 12 to May 12 this year, Muslim families have a predawn meal, then don't drink or eat anything until another meal after sunset.

Bashir, who attended high school at Columbia Heights, is the only player on the Gustavus soccer team that is fasting, but his roommates have tried to abstain from food and water, also. Bashir has lost 12 pounds in the last two weeks.

"They're being supportive and trying to experience Ramadan," Bashir said.

When Omar Abdi was first introduced to Ramadan, he was as skeptical as any younger person would be. But as he's learned more about the virtues of Ramadan, he's realized the value of sacrifice and importance of bringing awareness to those who are less fortunate.

"I didn't know why I was starving myself," the Mankato East sophomore said. "But it's really given me an appreciation for doing good deeds. (Ramadan) helps me be closer to my religion. It makes me a better person and do more good things.

"Some people don't have anything to eat, and this helps me to know how they feel. It makes me appreciate things more."

His day begins with food and water at 3 a.m., trying to get enough nutrition and hydration to make it through the day. It's especially tough when he has track practice in the afternoon, followed by track practice in the evening.

He tries not to think about food or water, but some days, it's tough.

"I try to stay away from people who are eating," said Abdi, who competes as a sprinter and jumper with the boys track team at East. "It was hard at first, but I've adjusted. It's hard when you're trying to do two sports, especially in the heat like today."

Farrque Hussein, a junior at Gustavus Adolphus, is trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials in swimming. Hussein, who went to high school at Fridley, specializes in the breaststroke, and he's racing twice in the next three weeks in a 50-meter pool, twice as long as the Gustavus pool. The cut time for the Trials in the 100-meter breaststroke is 1:03.29 and 200 breaststroke is 2:17.89, and he still needs to cut a few seconds to qualify.

But while it might be tempting to continue his usual food-and-drink routine, it's more important that he reconnect annually with his religion.

"Every year, I feel like 'Wow, it's already here again,'" he said. "It's exciting. It's a whole month of celebration and tranquility. It's a great challenge, especially for your mind."

He eats a large meal of eggs and toast, along with leftovers from the night before, at around 4 a.m., then goes back to sleep. His classes run from 8 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., then he heads for swimming practice until 4:30 p.m.

After that he does homework, trying to stay active and keep from thinking about food. He tries to make sure he's getting enough calories to compete in the pool, and he tries to drink a gallon of water each day, but sometimes it's tough.

"It's hard at first, but then five minutes after you eat, you're not hungry, so that puts it in perspective," Hussein said. "It's more mental than physical."

This year, given the restriction of the pandemic, he's missed out on some of the community-aspect of Ramadan. In years past, he would return home to pray at the local mosque, but he's stayed in St. Peter.

"The community and being around family is the part (of Ramadan) I enjoy the most," he said. "I just try to stay busy, do my homework and fall asleep."

Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.