Can Muslim footballers break the Ramadan fast?

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Muslim footballers who face the challenge of delivering a top sporting performance no longer have to fast during Ramadan. The German Central Council of Muslims has issued a fatwa which allows them to eat before sunset. But in the Dutch football world, a number of Muslim players are sticking to the fast.

By Annass Bendriff, RNW Arabic Department

Until recently, all top Islamic athletes were forbidden to break the fast in the interests of their sporting performance. But the pressure exerted on Muslim footballers by some European clubs has led a number of players to be less strict in their religious abstinence. Traditionally, only believers who are travelling, ill or pregnant have permission to break the Ramadan fast. 

Abdul Bari Zamzami, head of the Moroccan Association for Research into Jurisprudence on New Issues, argues that footballers should be allowed to break the fast: "I challenge whoever objects to come and play football in such circumstances. Once they've done that, I'd like to hear how they think."
Change of heart
The immediate cause for the change of heart by the German Central Council was the case of three FC Frankfurt players who were issued with a written warning by their employer for fasting without permission. The Council's advice is based on an earlier fatwa issued by the respected al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and the European Council for Fatwa and Research, two authorities in the field of jurisprudence. They both ruled that Muslim footballers are not obliged to fast during Ramadan.

According to the al-Azhar mosque, by signing a contract of employment with his football club, a player is required to perform at a certain level. In cases where that work is the only source of income and where playing during Ramadan cannot be avoided, the footballer has the right not to fast." As Abdul Bari Zamzami puts it "If fasting influences the player's performance, he is perfectly justified in breaking the fast." However, the final choice remains with the player.

PSV Eindhoven
Unlike other European sports organisations, the Dutch football world tends to respond positively to the wishes of Muslim players who want to fast. Over 40 Islamic players take part in the Dutch competition, most of them with a Moroccan background. The clubs do not prevent the players from observing the restrictions of Ramadan. Some even try to adapt their training schedule accordingly. They also provide information on the topic. In 2007, PSV Eindhoven held a seminar on "Ramadan and top-level sport" with contributions by Muslim clerics, physicians and specialists.

PSV has the largest number of practicing Muslim players in the Dutch premier league. Ibrahim Afellay, Otman Bakal, Zakaria Labiad and Nordin Amrabat have all fasted during Ramadan for some time. The club has come up with a special diet for them, rich in fluids and juices. Players from Amsterdam club Ajax, such as Mounir El Hamdaoui and Ismail Aissati, also follow this regime. Football pundits reckon their game does not suffer during the fasting period. For proof, look no further than the deciding goals scored by Afellay, Amrabat and El Hamdaoui in their recent league matches.