Malaysiaâ€™s contingent takes part in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
This yearâ€™s Olympics in London will mark the first time that the Summer Games will be held during the month of Ramadan since the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. This has put Olympic athletes from many countries in a quandary as to how to handle the issue of fasting during such a rigorous athletic event. And numerous viewpoints have been taken of this situation.
One country that is grappling with this issue is Malaysia, with its significant Muslim population. A senior member of the National Fatwa Council, Malaysiaâ€™s top religious authority, stated that athletes can postpone their fast until after the Summer Games as they are competing at an international event for the nationâ€™s honor. â€œThey are going to the Olympics to bring fame for the country. They can fast when they return to Malaysia,â€ Mufti Harussani Zakaria, the top religious official for the Malaysian state of Perak, told newspapers this week. â€œThe Quran says if you have a mission to complete, you can postpone the fasting but you must replace the number of days you did not fast.â€
Sieh Kok Chi, secretary of the Olympic Council of Malaysia, also said Olympic athletes should not fast while competing. â€œIt is a once in their lifetime chance to participate in the Olympics. They should opt out from fasting for one or two days so that they stand a chance of winning a medal,â€ he told AFP.
Malaysia will compete in nine sports in London, with Muslims taking part in archery, cycling, shooting, sailing and track and field. Eleven out of the 30 Malaysian athletes going to London are Muslim. One of Malaysiaâ€™s top medal prospects, cyclist Azizulhasni Awang, who won a silver medal at the 2009 track cycling world championships, is among the athletes who will put off fasting, Malaysian media reported this week.
Shooter Nur Suryani Mohamad Taibi, who will compete in London despite being eight months pregnant, is excused from fasting since she is expecting, but said all Muslims should be excused from fasting during competition. â€œIslam is lenient. It is not a religion that forces people. Actually when we go to London we are termed as travelers. Islam allows us to postpone our fasting,â€ she said.
The British tabloid The Daily Mail reported in 2006 that the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission said the Olympics timing was insensitive while Turkey, Egypt and Morocco lobbied for it to be rescheduled. The International Olympic Committee, however, declined the requests, saying the Games were a secular event.
Islamic authorities in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, and Morocco have reportedly allowed their athletes to postpone their fasts despite disagreement from some Muslims. This is clearly a hot-button issue in the Muslim world. While individual Muslims may have strong views on this topic, the time should be taken to educate each other rather than to judge. The London Olympics begin on Friday July 27th.