Hunched over, clutching his stomach, Saeed Saleh gasps for air. The cross-country runner has stopped suddenly during a practice sprint around the track at Fordson High in Dearborn.
“I couldn’t breathe,” the senior panted. “It came out of nowhere. I wasn’t able to keep on going.”
That’s understandable, given that Saeed, like thousands of Muslims across metro Detroit, abstains from all food and liquids during daylight hours for Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that started in mid-September.
For high school athletes, the 30 days are a special challenge, one that puts their faith to the test as they balance America’s tradition of school sports with their religion.
Far from a clash of civilizations, what plays out on fields and courts across Michigan is a blend of cultures that complement each other, reinforcing their common values of sacrifice, discipline and hard work.
Islam’s emphasis on forbearance overlaps with the lessons learned on American playgrounds, say local imams, athletes, players and coaches, both Muslim and non-Muslim.
“The philosophy of Ramadan … is the same thing we’re teaching these kids on the field,” said Hussein Berry, who founded a junior football league in Dearborn. “It all comes together.”
Some Muslim football players got dispensations this fall from local Islamic scholars to break fasts early on game day — not unlike the time when a Detroit rabbi cited a Talmudic verse that allowed Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg to play on Rosh Hashanah (but not on Yom Kippur) during the 1934 pennant race. (MORE)