Muslims around the world are observing Ramadan, when they fast during daylight hours – but how are sport’s big names getting on with it during lockdown?
The global lockdown has touched everyone in some capacity, and Muslims in the UK have had to deal with both staying away from food and drink for 18 hours, and mosques closing their doors.
BBC Sport hosted a Zoom call with Toronto Wolfpack forward Sonny Bill Williams, England cricketer Adil Rashid and Sheffield United midfielder Muhamed Besic – on loan from Everton – to find out how they have been managing.
How have you been coping with lockdown?
Williams: “I always try to look at the positives. I have been able to spend a lot of time with my family at home and it is Ramadan too, Alhamdulillah (thanks to Allah).
“The past few years, I have had to go to training, venture out of the house, and this year makes it that much more special.”
Rashid: “This Ramadan is very different. The last 10-15 years, I have been away every Ramadan playing sport and doing cricket training. We were always on the go but this Ramadan there are no excuses.
“We can keep all 30 fasts, we can read and learn more – maybe another language – so it has been a blessing in disguise.”
Besic: “Two weeks ago, we had a baby boy so I am glad to be able to spend time with the family.
“We still miss the masjid and the Taraweeh [Ramadan evening prayer] and hopefully can get back to normal again.”
Have you learned any new skills?
Williams: “If you want chocolate chip biscuits, I’m your man. My daughters are three and five so I get in the kitchen and do the baking quite a bit with them.
“But when it comes to the Iftar [breaking of the fast] meals, I leave it to my wife because she knows best.”
Besic: “I can teach my kids about Islam – because they are still young – and get the connection with them too.
“Now I can appreciate the jobs that the imams do – it is a really hard job, and finding the right words too. But I am learning.”
Has this Ramadan been easier or more difficult than usual?
Williams: “Definitely easier.
“Over here in England, with the hours you have to fast, I am not used to doing 17 hours. We were blessed in New Zealand over the last few years with only 11 and 12 hours.
“Being able to schedule my training when I want to really helps as well. I get up for Suhoor [meal before starting the fast], pray Fajr and read some Quran. My wife lets me sleep for a couple of hours, then I get up and take the kids for a walk.
“Around Maghrib time, I start training and so it works out quite well.”
Rashid: “I will eat whatever is cooked at home. Around an hour after breaking the fast, I do some training so it levels itself out.
“I am not too strict on my diet because I generally keep fit.”
Besic: “I had a lot of injuries so I changed towards a vegan diet. Eating less meat, less fish.
“I try to eat as least as possible as well.”
Has this Ramadan made you feel more grateful?
Besic: “You appreciate a lot of things and I feel I am getting closer to Allah. I struggled with my iman [faith] for a long time in football.
“I had tattoos done and I heard a bit of Sonny’s story so I feel like him a little bit.
“This is the first Ramadan in which I have not missed any fasts and I feel really blessed.”
Rashid: “When we are away for our sport, we can get distracted by the game. Your prayers might be affected because you are not concentrating as much but at home it is a great time to give it your all.
“The main objective for all Muslims is to get closer to Allah and hopefully this time will take us there.”
Williams: “A lot of people have had to look in the mirror for the first time. People have thought to themselves, ‘I don’t really know this person or like this person that I am looking at.’
“How beautiful is it that each year we get to do Ramadan? It is like a cleansing of the body and souls.”
What do team-mates think about fasting and your beliefs?
Rashid: “It was a bit different in 2015 when myself and Moeen Ali came together into the England team – the players did not know much about Islam.
“The dressing room is so good now – they understand when we read our prayers, we need to go into a quiet corner and they will not disturb us.
“They also ask a lot of questions about Islam which is positive for us as Muslims because our job is to give dawah [invitation to Islam] and they understand it more now.”
Williams: “The boys are pretty good – they understand, especially when they know you are serious about it and they see that you are a man of value and good morals.
“That is the best way for dawah.”
How do you cope with the fame of being an elite sportsman?
Besic: “I never had any problems with fame. My problem was always the money, the materialistic things in life. I just felt an emptiness inside me.
“When I bought a Lamborghini, I was sitting in the seat and thought: ‘What now?’ It felt empty and it just felt like I was driving any old car. That was a turning point for me.
“I had 14 cars in three years. It was unbelievable, but now I am praying I can cope much better.”
Rashid: “I try to stick in my bubble, try to remain humble and down to earth regardless of how much fame one can get.
“It is so easy to go off the rails with a bit of fame in terms of losing your identity as a Muslim. I am sure we have all been through that.”
Williams: “I have the mantra of ‘Always Alhamdulillah’. It is as simple as that.
“I used to live a life of being caught up in the materialistic things of this world and that is all that mattered but now I strive as much as I can.
“I have good days and bad days but I strive. I try to pray my five prayers a day with my heart because I want that happiness.”
Have you ever found your job clashes with your beliefs?
Rashid: “Sport can come in the way of your religion.
“The cricket season takes place from April to September. That is when the Hajj pilgrimage has generally taken place over the last few years so I have not had the opportunity to make the trip.”
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Williams: “As a Muslim, when I see other Muslim sportsmen and they are proud of how they are and what they stand for, it makes me proud.
“We all go through the same trials and tribulations.”
Besic: “In England, I feel so much respect from the people here. I never had any problems.
“In Germany it was a little bit different because they didn’t respect you so much. That is why it has been six years for me in England and I hope to stay for a long time.”
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