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Faith in sport this Ramadan

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Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is observed by Muslims around the world as a month of fasting, prayer and reflection.

With the dates of Ramadan reflecting the lunar calendar, Ramadan is currently being celebrated, including by members of the swim, bike, run community, having begun at the start of April. Eid al-Fitr, at the start of May, will celebrate the end of the month-long period.

Yashmin Harun BEM, Chair and Founder of Muslimah Sports Association, shares her reflections on this holy month.

“Ramadan is the month where we believe the Quran was revealed to the Prophet so that is why we fast from dawn until dusk and after dusk we’re allowed to eat,” Harun reflected. “We observe that fast for the whole month in respect of that revelation and to remember the hardship that other people are facing as well.

“We do our five daily prayers anyway which is a way of life but during Ramadan the evening prayers are longer and can take between two to three hours and in between the prayers we’re expected to learn more about Islam and our prophets and how they lived and their way of lives. This is known as Hadith.

“The Mosques are open all day and some people will choose to break their fasts there because they will be there for their prayers. It’s a real community event because you are feeding many, many people which you wouldn’t normally do. It’s a real community affair and the long prayers in the evening brings everyone together, which is really nice. We send food to other people’s houses, Muslims and non-Muslims, so it’s a nice time to ‘get to know your neighbour as well’.”

One of the five pillars of Islam, fasting has great significance during the month of Ramadan with Muslims abstaining from drinking or eating anything from sunrise to sunset, as a means of celebrating and reflecting their faith.

Muslimah Sports Association, who organise GO TRI sessions, work with their community to ensure they are able to balance the rules of Islam while maintaining their health and fitness.

“We set out walking challenges during Ramadan because we don’t want people exerting themselves,” Harun said. “For women, there is a lot more work involved because you’re not only doing more prayers but you’re also making a feast. We actually stop our usual timetabled activities, and we encourage them through WhatsApp groups to just do gentle exercises so encourage them to walk, cycle, yoga but nothing that will push them past their limits and not to exert themselves too much.

“It’s really important our health stays intact as the prayers are quite onerous on us. You’re standing there for three hours so your body needs to be able to cope with that. Your health and good nutrition are key to this. There is a lot of focus on, what your body needs to keep on top of your prayers.”

With club training sessions often being held in the evening, including around sunset, Harun explains how clubs can have a role in helping to support participants through Ramadan.

“For clubs, I would advise reviewing the structure of their training regime and ensure they’re not pushing people too much and allowing breaks for prayers,” Harun explained. “They would also need to recognise that they would need for a break in their fast if they are training at that time. It’s a cultural understanding of when they are allowed to eat and when they’re not allowed to eat, when they have to break for prayers and when they have to break for fasts as well. Also, understanding that they may not be giving 100% because their body isn’t letting them do that.

“There is still a knowledge gap about Ramadan and the fact it is happening. We have a lot of conversations about Ramadan and our non-Muslim [Muslimah Sports Association] members are really understanding of how we need to operate during the month, and they continue while we take a five-minute break for prayers.”

More than 500 women have participated in a collaborative programme between Muslimah Sports Association and Triathlon England which aims to get women in London involved in weekly cycling and running sessions.

“I think one of the reason’s the MSA is so successful is because we look for facilities that are enclosed especially for women that want to exercise,” Harun said. “For our GO TRI sessions, it’s only women at the sessions so they don’t have to worry about men looking at them so it’s a more relaxed atmosphere and when they do break for prayers, they have time to do it.

“Our faith teaches us that we have to look after our bodies because it is a gift from Allah. If we don’t look after it, then we aren’t accepting that gift from Allah. It’s important that your mind, body and soul are well nourished and well looked after. Exercise is a big part of that as a preventative measure and it’s so important that people understand that especially for women.

“People understanding what happens to their bodies when they put on weight, or they have diabetes, but exercise can change that and be part of everyday life. It can improve physical wellbeing but also mental health too.”

To find out more about Muslimah Sports Association, visit https://www.muslimahsports.org.uk/

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