Fasting Doesn’t Slow Down Muslim Athlete

by Alysa TeichmanThe Daily Northwestern

For the most part, Weinberg sophomore Mohammad “Mo” Ahmad is no different from his early-morning companions on the men’s crew team. He is athletic and, at some point in his life, someone handed him an oar and taught him to row.

But he is different from his teammates in one important way: Once he eats around 5 a.m., he doesn’t eat again until sunset during the duration of Ramadan.

Ahmad began fasting for Ramadan in kindergarten. Since the beginning of the holiday last week, he has woken up at 5 a.m. every day to scarf a peanut butter sandwich before the sun rises. That sandwich is his only sustenance until sunset, even through the most grueling crew practices, schoolwork and classes.

“This is my duty as a Muslim,” Ahmad said. “I can work my life around fasting.”

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam prescribed by the Quran, in addition to the profession of faith, prayer, alms-giving and pilgrimage to Mecca.

Ahmad began to understand the importance of fasting around fourth grade, when he started reading the Quran, he said.

“I realized this is all about putting yourself in a position of someone without food or water,” he said. “It’s not exactly the same, but you really get a feeling for what it’s like.”

Fasting, especially on practice days, does not come easy to Ahmad. By late afternoon, he is more than ready to break his day of fasting with a big dinner.

“I’m absolutely starving right now,” Ahmad said Monday afternoon, admitting that he and a Muslim friend had just been salivating at the thought of chocolate milk. “When I’m not practicing or in classes, I’m probably thinking about or talking about food.”

Many Muslims adjust their personal schedules during Ramadan, resting frequently to avoid hunger pangs – but not Ahmad. He has always lived an athletic lifestyle. A member of the wrestling, football and tennis teams in high school, he continued to compete even during Ramadan.

“It’s really a challenge,” he said. “Not only do you see if you are capable of competing in a sport, but you also see if you can do it while your body is starving.”

Recent crew practices have been difficult for Ahmad, but he said that his hardest test during Ramadan was high school wrestling. In the middle of one match, one of his legs cramped so severely that he lost movement in it, and subsequently had to stop the round.

In another instance, he felt himself stop sweating during an intense workout.

“It was just the feeling of being absolutely dry,” he said.

But for Ahmad and other Muslims, the feeling of being parched with an empty stomach is just a small sacrifice on the road to the emotional fullness that comes with observing Ramadan.

Reach Alysa Teichman at [email protected]