Picking Our Battles: 2012 Olympics Scheduled during Ramadan

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London 2012In 2012, Muslims may have to make some choices between the Olympics and faithful observance of our faith.

London 2012

As the 2010 Olympics are in full-swing, posts are resurfacing on the Internet about a complaint made in 2008 by the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission concerning the timing of the London 2012 Summer Olympics. The month of Ramadan is projected to take place in 2012, from approximately July 20 – August 20, depending on location and moon sightings. The Olympics are scheduled for July 27 to August 12.

Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, was quoted in 2008 as saying, “They would not have organized this at Christmas. It is equally stupid to organize it at Ramadan. It shows a complete lack of awareness and sensitivity. This is going to disadvantage the [estimated 3000 Muslim Olympic] athletes and alienate the Asian communities by saying they don’t matter. It’s not only going to affect the participants it’s going to affect all the people who want to watch the Games. They won’t want to travel during Ramadan and they won’t want to watch sport. It’s a spiritual time.”

However, the timing of the 2012 Summer Olympics is certainly consistent with past practice. The dates were not selected to purposefully conflict with the month of Ramadan or any other occurrence. If one were to consider all the world’s religions, any dates selected would be a conflict for someone.

Elite athletes have successfully performed during the month of Ramadan while fasting. Hakeem Olajuwon, the famous retired NBA player, was noted for his great performances being seemingly unaffected by his religious observance, earning him the respect of many players and fans. Hamza Abdullah played on the Denver Broncos while fasting. He said in an interview that he felt the focus of the month of Ramadan actually improved his game.

While many Muslim countries make extensive schedule accommodations and alterations during the month of Ramadan, there is neither Islamic law nor physical need that requires such flexibility. In fact, many Muslims claim that they experience more spiritual benefit from the month living in Western countries where life goes on as usual around them, as opposed to living in societies which turn everything upside down. It is not the point of fasting to make the world take notice and change everything to remove any potential hardship.

In 2012, Muslims may have to make some choices between the Olympics and faithful observance of our faith. That’s a normal every day test for Muslims – choosing between something that has only worldly significance and something that means more. So what if some Muslims don’t watch the games, don’t attend the games, or don’t participate in them that in another year might have? Demanding that non-Muslims alter schedules to accommodate fasting Muslims and whining if they don’t is counterproductive and unnecessary. It provides ammunition for those looking to cast Muslims in a bad light.

There are many similar battles that are appropriate for Muslims to be fighting for – such as the right to dress according to Islamic modest dress requirements without being penalized , the right to take short breaks at prayer times to perform Salat at work or school when necessary, the right to be treated as individuals and not held accountable for the acts of others just because they claim to have the same religion, the right not to be discriminated against based on race or national origin, and so on. Choosing the wrong battles to focus on, such as the dates of the 2012 Olympics, undermines the potential for success when it really matters.

Consider the case of Joe Stack. Any cursory perusal of the news coverage of this man’s decision to crash a plane into a government building on Thursday, February 18, 2010, reveals instantly the incongruity that has long been obvious to Muslims. The “terrorist” word is almost actively being suppressed in his case. Why? Is it because possibly he acted alone? Or is it because he was a white Christian man? Or is it because Al Qaeda didn’t claim him? Or is it because his troubles that led him to his kamikaze act strike a sympathetic cord with Americans, whereas the generally more egregious sufferings of Muslims all over the world are somehow easier to ignore and harder to relate to? The truth involves all of these and more.

There are many challenges in the quest for fair treatment for Muslims, and for all of humanity.  But fair does not mean that everyone else in the world has to bend over backward to accommodate the Muslim or the Christian or the Jew, it just means that people should be free to practice their religions and be full participants in their societies. No one has been blocked from the Olympics on the basis of religion, regardless of the conflict in dates. Muslims are fully capable of making their own choices given the conflict and have nothing to gain in choosing such an irrelevant battle.

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