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Monday, August 31, 2009

Can soccer players break the Ramadan fast?

Controversy has erupted around a recent fatwa out of Egypt:
Egypt’s top religious institution has exempted the national football team from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan ahead of an international tournament, officials said, but the players have refused.

The fatwa or religious edict, which comes ahead of the World Youth Championship in Egypt due to kick off on September 24 just days after the end of Ramadan, has sparked the fury of the country’s hardliners.

Dar al-Ifta, the country’s institution which clarifies religious principles and issues edicts, “has allowed the players to break their fast,” so that fasting does not interfere with training for the Under-20 tournament, Egyptian Football Association spokesman Alaa Abdel Aziz told AFP.

“But it is the players who have refused. They insist on fasting,” he said.

Dar al-Ifta confirmed it had issued the edict explaining that “a player who is tied to a club by contract is obliged to perform his duties and if this work is his source of income and he has to participate in matches during Ramadan and fasting affects his performance then he is allowed to break the fast,” Dar al-Ifta spokesman Ibrahim Nigm told AFP.

Religious opinion states that “those who work difficult jobs and can become weaker as a result of fasting can break the fast,” Nigm said.

But the fatwa infuriated the Azhar Scholars Front, a group of fundamentalist religious scholars who issued a statement on their website denouncing the opinion.

“Playing is playing, it is not an essential part of life which justifies breaking the fast during Ramadan.”

During Ramadan, Muslims are required to abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn until dusk.
But a few days later, most of the players have decided they will take advantage of the leniency:
Reports have disclosed that the players of the Egypt side are willing to skip the Muslim Ramadan fasting on the day of their game against Rwanda in a decisive World Cup qualifier on September 5.

Islam makes it mandatory for its faithfulls to go without food and water for most of the day during the month of Ramadan, but even though the Rwanda World Cup clash falls within this period, the president of the Egypt Football Association (EFA), Sameer Zaher, has said the players think it is not a good idea to fast on that day and that they have received support from some clerics in this respect.

"All players are convinced not to fast on the match day," said Zaher.

This is a must-win match for Egypt, who are three points behind surprise leaders Algeria in their qualifying group after four rounds of matches.
Al Arabiya (Arabic) talks about the controversy, with some clerics very much against this idea. One, named Sheikh Farhat, agrees that travelers can skip the fast, but that soccer players do not have that status, no do they fit in the categories of others who can legally skip the fast like breastfeeding and menstruating women (if I am interpreting the article correctly.)

He also says that Israeli players would ask for a postponement for matches scheduled for Saturdays, and Muslims should do no less.

Unfortunately, most Israeli players are not quite that serious about the Sabbath.