`I'd quit football before I'd quit fasting'

Calif. Muslim teen observes Ramadan

October 21, 2006|By Ashraf Khalil | Ashraf Khalil,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- As the sun slowly descended toward the Pacific Ocean, Amin Momand watched it, and his teammates watched him watching it.

It was an October team dinner the night before a Palos Verdes High School football game. But Momand, a starting defensive end for the Sea Kings and a Muslim, couldn't eat - couldn't even sip water - until the sun disappeared, according to the rules of Ramadan.

When darkness finally came and he took a drink, there was a communal sigh of relief. Some teammates applauded. After excusing himself to pray, Momand returned to the table and joined teammates who had already dug into the pasta and pizza.

Momand's physical and spiritual regimen of the past few autumns for Ramadan has become common knowledge among his teammates - most still can't understand how he trains and competes while abstaining from all food and drink during the day.

"There's definitely an `oh wow!' factor," Momand said - especially on hot days when he stands aside while other players get water, or during this year's homecoming game, held in the afternoon.

Ramadan is tied to the Islamic month when Allah is believed to have revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad in what is modern-day Saudi Arabia. Islam uses a lunar calendar, which moves up 11 days each year when compared with the Western calendar.

For the past two years, football season has overlapped with Ramadan - adding an extra challenge for young Muslim athletes such as Momand.

"It's a challenge I accept," said Momand, 17. "If I couldn't do both, I'd quit football before I quit fasting."

Fasting is one of the "five pillars" of Islam in the Quran. Each year, millions of Muslims around the world abstain from all consumption - food, liquids and smoking - daily from dawn until sunset for a month.

The ritual's meanings are multiple. Partially a test of discipline and devotion to Allah, the hunger and thirst are reminders of the plight of less fortunate people. Ramadan also is meant to be a month of increased charity, extra prayer and a time to resolve lingering feuds.

Many people begin fasting in some form at age 10; some exceptions are allowed for believers with health problems or those traveling long distances. Pregnant women are also exempt.

In the Arab and Muslim world, the time of Ramadan dominates all aspects of life and often takes on festive qualities, with special television shows and concerts. Work hours become shorter; productivity pretty much stops; families rush home for huge meals after sundown, then stay up all night.

But for Muslims in the West, the annual tradition has a different feel - more of a lonely and deeply spiritual endurance race than a monthlong party.

"The fact that you don't see people around you doing it does make it much harder," Momand said.

Ashraf Khalil writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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