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Sunday, October 17, 2004
Keeping the faith despite the rigors of sports
Muslim athletes adhere to Ramadan practice of fasting, which spiritually nourishes the body and soul.

Daily Breeze

Garish Japanese anime posters plaster the bedroom walls.

Clothes and textbooks lie scattered on the floor and bed.

And photos of family and friends line the hallway wall outside.

The bedroom of 15-year-old Amin Momand, a sophomore at Palos Verdes High School, may not immediately reflect it, but the Rancho Palos Verdes resident is different from many of his classmates.

He is a devout Muslim.

Above his desk hang banners proclaiming Allah the one true God.

He prays five times daily, often on prayer mats laid out near the living room window facing northeast, the direction of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

And this time of year the husky lineman on the junior varsity football team, unlike his teammates, is unable to quench his thirst or sate his hunger until nightfall.

During the holy month of Ramadan, which began Friday, when Muslims refrain from eating and drinking between dawn and sunset, he must tap another source of strength -- his faith -- to sustain him before and during the stamina-sapping games.

"Ramadan is for your self-esteem and self-purpose," Amin said after a game Thursday, which as it fell on the day before Ramadan did not require him to fast. "Fasting gives you the determination and it keeps you going."

But it also raises challenges for parents and coaches.

They must ensure the rigors of athletic performance do not endanger the health and safety of students.

Mohammed Abdul Aleem, 46, who runs a Culver City-based Islamic Web site -- -- said that ever since the seventh grade he has written a note to his daughter's teachers excusing her from participating in such classes as physical education.

And every year his daughter, now in the 11th grade at Culver City High School, completely ignores it.

"She doesn't want to feel like she's getting special treatment," he said with a chuckle. "I guess she feels she can do it while she's fasting."

Local coaches are amenable to giving Muslims special dispensation during Ramadan, much as they would athletes of other religious faiths.

Bob Fish, athletic director and track and cross-country coach at Manhattan Beach's Mira Costa High School, said he has had Muslim long-distance runners on his cross-country team.

"If they felt weak or something like that, we made adjustments for them," he said. "We would certainly understand if they're fasting most of the day their strength is going to be sapped."

Ricky Kabins, a physical education teacher at New Horizon School in Los Angeles, which serves Muslim children from preschool to elementary school age, modifies his class schedule this time of year. He cuts down drastically on fitness drills and plays less physically intense sports such as baseball rather than soccer, which requires nonstop running.

Still, sometimes the kids overexert themselves and drink water, he concedes.

"I try to say to them, 'Look, be careful, don't get dehydrated,' " he said. "But they love physical education and they want to do it in spite of the fact they haven't eaten."

Aleem points out it is not prohibited for a Muslim to eat or drink during Ramadan's daylight hours, if necessary. Fasting is restricted to healthy adult Muslims.

"If someone is not feeling well then they can, of course, break their fast," he said. "(In fact) it is mandatory they break their fast because you cannot harm your body in any way."

But doctors don't believe strenuous physical performance during fasting will endanger an athlete's health if carefully monitored.

Muslims begin fasting during Ramadan around age 7 for short periods, said Saleh Kholaki, a dentist who oversees youth programs at the Islamic Center of Southern California.

As they grow older, fasting is usually done for half a day at a time. By the time puberty is reached, the body, spirit and soul have become accustomed to fasting, Kholaki said.

"The body will endure," he said. "Some of them find it difficult, especially during hot weather. And when everyone around you is eating and drinking, it's the temptation you have to face. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don't."

Amin's mother, Dr. Sophia Momand, agrees.

"It does not harm the body," she said. "We're only fasting for 12 to 14 hours. In that time, the body is breaking down glucose."

Still, she's not playing a bruising game of football.

Although the luck of the schedule gave Momand a one-week reprieve from playing during Ramadan last week, his older brother on Friday got a taste of what he can expect.

Adam Momand, 17, is a defensive tackle on the varsity squad. Even though his teammates swilled water during the game against the Torrance Tartars, he did not.

"It's more (of a) challenge because of your thirst," he conceded on a day the Sea King defense allowed 38 points in a loss to Torrance. "It takes time getting used to, but doesn't affect my performance too much."

Amin's coach goes further. He believes foregoing food and water doesn't affect his performance at all.

"I can see no difference," Kevin Cooper said. "It's hard to find such strong confidence in a young man with such faith and conviction."

And it is faith that endures.

Adam and Amin's mother remembered how she felt when she was on the varsity tennis team at Redondo Union High School.

"I was shy to tell people that I was fasting, but it made me stronger -- the bare essentials are gone and the mind becomes sharper," she said. "My boys, without question, drive themselves. It is the last two hours before we break fast when it's the hardest. That time you see a lot of Muslims just quietly sitting and contemplating."

Of course, that is when Amin plays football.

The last four games of the Sea Kings' 11-game regular season junior varsity schedule fall within Ramadan.

Amin is steeling himself for the coming deprivation he will endure for the sake of his faith, despite the 3 p.m. games.

"I felt exhausted (after the games)," he said, "but it's not something (I do) by force, but by will."

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