Moroccan Olympic team exempt from fasting
By Hassan Benmehdi for Magharebia in Casablanca – 23/07/12
With Ramadan falling at the same time as the Olympic Games, many have been wondering whether Maghreb athletes should observe the fast.
In Morocco, the High Council of Ulemas on Thursday (July 19th) issued a statement allowing participants in the London Olympics not to fast during the two weeks of July 27th-August 12th.
"After the matter was raised with the iftaa (legal opinions) authority, the council responded by permitting these athletes not to fast during the competitions, provided that they make up for the days when they do not fast after Ramadan is over and before the next holy month," the statement read.
The decision is the first of its kind in Morocco since the supreme religious authority has never intervened in sports affairs before.
Moroccan ulemas had to take action in advance by giving a unanimous religious opinion on the matter, sports analyst Mokhtar L'Madani told Magharebia.
"If the council does nothing, you can expect that interpretations will often be radical, and that could have a negative impact on the performance and morale of our athletes, who are supposed to be at the peak of their form so that they can achieve convincing results," he said.
It is important to ensure that Moroccan athletes are not subject to radical fatwas which are often unscientific, L'Madani added.
The Qur'anic verse Suraat al-Baqarah (2:184) says, "Fasting for a limited number of days. So whoever among you is ill or on a journey [during them] - then an equal number of days [are to be made up]."
Muslim ulemas see this as an exception to the rule for two clear-cut cases: sickness and travelling.
In 1999, Tangier preacher Abdelbarii Zemzemi issued a religious opinion that authorised Raja Casablanca players not to fast during the Champions Cup final on the grounds that they were travelling.
The Mufti of Egypt, Ali Jomaa, shared the view. He issued a similar fatwa for Egyptian Olympic athletes, though he added that the exemption could not have been granted had the event been held in Egypt.
He argued that it is the travel aspect that justifies the interruption of fasting, not the sporting aspect or the physical effort.
Nutritionists say that an undernourished body making strenuous physical effort will become distressed after about 40 minutes.
Sara El Bekri, the Moroccan swimmer who won African championships in the 50m and 100m breaststroke and has qualified for the 2012 Olympics, is among those who decided not to fast. In a press statement, she underlined that athletes may be allowed to eat during competitions and make up for the missed fast days later in the year.
Others think it is possible to compete while fasting and insist on strict observance of Ramadan. Some 3,000 participants, who make up a quarter of the competitors, will be affected during the London Olympics.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission contested the dates chosen for the 2012 Olympics back in 2006. Several countries, including Turkey, Egypt and Morocco, requested that the games be rescheduled so that Muslim athletes would not be disadvantaged.
In its reply, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stressed the secular nature of the Olympics, which bring together people from virtually all religions, civilisations and faiths.
Subscribe to our newsletter and get Magharebia's latest articles delivered to your inbox.