By Anna Tomforde — POTS of dates and fresh milk are available at the canteens and coffee bars of London’s Olympic Park to help Muslim athletes, workers, officials and visitors to break their fast. “I started planning this in January, 2010,” Tom Barrett, the Olympic head of catering said in one of the Games’ canteens. “A lot of thought has gone into this.”
Menus, ranging from chicken to Asian stir-fry to Mediterranean dishes and “Best of British” are changed daily to allow customers to choose between 460 different offerings — and never having to eat the same thing twice. From Friday night, just after 2000 GMT, when Muslims break their fast after the first day of Ramadhan, dates and milk have been on sale to help them prepare for eating a meal.
“We are open 24 hours a day, and we have catered for all religious and dietary needs,” said Barrett. “There are hot meals all night.”
Olympic officials at organising committee LOCOG say they have done their best to accommodate all cultural and religious needs at the Games.
More than 3,000 Muslims are among the 10,500 athletes taking part in the Games. During Ramadhan, devout Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to sunset, although exceptions are permitted.
At the London Games, nearly 200 chaplains have been recruited, representing nine faiths, and facilities for prayer, rest and reflection have been provided for Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jains and Baha’is.
But the overlap between sport and faith has also prompted criticism.
“They would not have organised this at Christmas. It is equally stupid to organise it at Ramadhan,” said Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission.
But Shaikh Ibrahim Mogra, an imam on the Muslim Council of Great Britain, was less harsh. “I’m sure the athletes will seek advice from their scholars,” he said.
“A Muslim might feel it would have been nice to avoid this month but life doesn’t stop for Muslims during Ramadhan even though they are fasting,” said Mogra.
“The best thing for a Muslim is to continue his or her life as normal. This is the real test,” he added.
This is exactly what Mohamed Shibi, a prominent Muslim member of Britain’s rowing team, has done.
“I’m not fasting, it’s a personal decision between me and my family,” the 24-year-old told the BBC.
“I did not want to mess up my chances of getting into a boat,” he said. “I am the first practising Muslim to row for Britain. On the one hand it is an honour but it’s also a shame.” Shibi, whose father is from Morocco, has decided to “make up” for his failure to fast by doing a good deed.
He said he hoped to show future generations that they can “participate in sport and be practising Muslims as well.” “It says in the Quran that for every day you break fast intentionally without due cause, you have to fast 30 days or feed 60 people,” he explained to the Guardian.
Therefore, he has pledged to feed 1,800 poor people in Morocco, at personal costs of around £2,000. “It gives me a feeling that I’ve done something, although I still hate missing my fast,” said Shibi.