Sport has traditionally been a big part of my life – growing up in a family stereo-typically mad for cricket, I found myself with a bat and ball in hand at age 6 and have played ever since. It all came about from watching the sport with intense passion and dedication as a small child, giving me heroes to try and emulate. I’m sure this is one of the reasons why I’m still in love with the game, and why I tune in to almost every international cricket match that takes place.
Given this, one can imagine that working out why I played sport would be a relatively simple task! However, thinking back I realise that it isn’t quite so clear cut. In fact, I was made to fundamentally question my reasons for playing sport when I was 17.
Why? As a Muslim, one of the key principles of my faith is Ramadan, a month in the Islamic calendar where one fasts from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, instead focusing on bettering oneself and becoming closer to God through prayer and meditation. Since the Islamic Calendar is based on the lunar cycle, the start of Ramadan changes every year. When I was 17, Ramadan was due to begin during the cricket season. For the first time, I was faced with the prospect of having to fast whilst playing cricket.
This posed some pretty big challenges. Would I be as good whilst fasting? Would I even be able to play at all? How would I find time to pray? However, it was clear to me that nothing would stop me from playing – and I did play, often in 30-degree heat for hours at a time (cricket can be a very slow game!).But I found that somehow I could find the strength to make it through the day, and in certain cases excel! When I was 19, I worked out my bowling and batting average whilst fasting and not fasting, and found no statistically significant deviation in performance. I put this down to the discipline and strength of character that Ramadan (and my faith in general) helped me build, and I find that it has helped enormously in cricket. I played my 4-day Varsity Match in 2014 whilst fasting, and although it was undoubtedly challenging at times to maintain concentration and awareness, I found that fasting helped to keep me going through the day. I would use the lunch and tea breaks to cool down and focus on how I was going to get through the next period of play, and pray to God to give me the strength to do so.
My experiences with Ramadan and sport aren’t unique; there are an increasing number of Muslim athletes competing at the top tier of sports, all of whom find a way to complete Ramadan whilst competing. Premier League footballers such as Mezut Ozil, Nicholas Anelka and Yaya Toure have all spoken about their experiences with Ramadan and football, and how they choose to delay their fasts for football. Mo Farah has explained how his training schedule is adapted to accommodate the rigors of fasting. It’s a matter of personal choice; there is no defined ruling on whether Muslims can forgo fasting whilst playing sport, and so players must make that decision themselves.I choose to fast, or more accurately, I choose to play sport whilst fasting. I firmly believe that my faith provides me with the tools required to overcome the challenges that fasting creates, and that is why I play sport when it would seem far easier (and more sensible) not to.
Why do you play sport?