Amongst Muslim Hoopsters, Ramadan Fasting Can Wait
With this the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which runs this year from Aug. 11 to Sept. 11, it is Ramadan, a time when Muslims generally fast during daylight hours. But it just so happens that Iran, which is 98 percent Muslim, is participating here in the World Championship.
It certainly would be difficult for the Iranians, who were set to face Team USA on Wednesday in a game beginning just before sundown, to fast during daylight hours and try to play hoops at a high level. That would mean not even being able to take a sip of water when playing during the day.
But the Iranians aren't fasting in Istanbul.
"We have a rule that, if you stay less than 10 days and you're in trouble, you can break your fast,'' said Iran assistant coach Mehran Hatami, saying that rule is written in the Koran. "Based on the rules, we don't have to fast, no. If you stay less then 10 days and you're in trouble, no problem. You can break your fast and do it another time.''
Iran began play last Saturday in the Worlds and will complete group play Thursday. But what if the team plays well enough to finish in the top four of the six teams in Group B and advance to the knockout round? That would result in the possibility of the team staying past 10 days.
Don't count on it.
"We are realistic,'' said Hatami, who said significant sporting events are rarely held in the Islamic world during Ramadan, a time designed to teach patience, humility and spirituality. "We think this is the toughest group ... We don't have a chance (to advance).''
Hatami is right about that. His team is 1-2 and likely to finish 1-4 and in fifth place. Iran's only win was over Tunisia, another Muslim nation that has no chance to advance.
Players for Tunisia, which is 0-3 and will end its tournament Thursday against Team USA, also are not fasting during the Worlds.
"During Ramadan, we can't do it,'' Tunisia guard Marouan Kechrid said of trying to fast during the event. "It is very difficult. We must practice in the morning and you play in the afternoon. It is very difficult for us. We know that we can do it later.''
No Muslim players are known to be fasting during the Worlds. That includes players for Turkey and Jordan, which like Iran and Tunisia have nearly 100 percent Islamic populations; Lebanon, which is at nearly 60 percent; and the Ivory Coast, which is at about 37 percent.
The only one of those teams with a chance to last long in the Worlds is 3-0 Turkey, which is a secular nation. It is not frowned upon in the country if one doesn't fast.
Still, while it would impractical for those on the Turkish team to fast during the event, many in the country are adhering to Ramadan. Reha Gedizsener, a law student who attended games earlier this week, estimates perhaps half the population of Turkey, which is 99 percent Muslim, is fasting and about 70 percent of those who drink alcohol are abstaining during the month.
"Our country is secular and most of the people are fasting during working hours, opposite to some other (Muslim) countries where people may wake up late and eat in about two or three hours since everyone is kind of obligated to fast,'' said Gedizsener, who is not fasting. "That makes Turkish people who have jobs ultra angry. Not (just) because they can't eat or drink, but they also can't smoke for several hours.
"Drinking alcohol is a sin in Islam. But everybody drinks it (in Turkey), except for during the Ramadan month. People should usually avoid eating or drinking in public during fasting hours out of respect to other guys who aren't eating. Otherwise, you might see people staring at you as if they're trying to get into a fight with you. However, I did all those things during this month, and nothing really happened, except for being called too European.''
Among those who are fasting in Istanbul, it was trying during the first week when temperatures soared close to 100 degrees and even the smallest sip of water was out of the question.
"That was a bit a difficult when it was humid, but now it's OK,'' said carpet salesman Ersin Cener, who is fasting.
Another carpet salesmen said he is having no problems at all. Suat Albayrak showed off an Islamic calendar (pictured), which displays each day during Ramadan the last time in the morning he can eat and the first time at night he can resume eating.
With the days getting shorter, that makes for less time to have to fast during the latter part of Ramadan. At the start, people had to abstain from around 4:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. At end, it will be more like 5 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
"It is not a problem for me at all,'' Albayrak said of observing Ramadan. "My religion makes me happy. Whether I am rich or I am poor, I am happy.''
Student Ayse Sensiz also said it has not been a problem. Speaking outside the historic Blue Mosque in Istanbul and wearing a traditional scarf, she said she gets up and eats around 4 a.m. and then goes back to bed until about 9 a.m.
During Ramadan, there has been a man, who did not want to give his name, standing outside the Blue Mosque handing out leaflets to tourists about why they should consider converting to Islam. The sheet reads at the top, "Please read. Do not throw away!''
It reads "thank you for your visit to our country'' and "we kindly invite you to Islam to be a Muslim.'' It says "if you accept Islam, you will be happy in this world and in the afterlife.''
The sheet includes a list of about 100 celebrities it says have accepted Islam. It names five current and former basketball players, including Lew Alcindor (who changed his name in the early 1970s to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Hakeem Olajuwon, Spencer Haywood, Rasheed Wallace and Shaquille O'Neal.
As for the basketball players in the World Championship, they are not fasting. That includes Iran and Memphis Grizzlies center Hamed Haddadi, who is averaging an impressive 22.0 points and 10.3 rebounds in his first three games.
But that still hasn't been good enough for Iran to have concerns about its stay in Turkey extending past 10 days.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson