Devoted Muslims Salah, Mane admired by Asian players during Ramadan

Mohamed Salah

AS Liverpool’s top player Mo Salah dominated the headlines before, during and after the UEFA Champions League final (UCL), the issue of professional footballers fasting during Ramadan once again came into focus.

After suffering a shoulder injury against Real Madrid, Salah is racing to be fit for the start of the World Cup, which begins on June 14 just as the month of abstinence ends.

It means that he won’t be able to eat or drink during daylight hours as he undergoes intensive treatment and performs rehabilitative exercises for his damaged left shoulder.

Salah left the Kiev pitch in tears during the first half of last Saturday’s 3-1 defeat after a brutal challenge from Real’s Sergio Ramos.

In the lead-up to the match, Salah was fasting at the club’s Marbella training camp, although he did resume normal eating habits three days before the final.

Amazingly, fellow forward Sadio Mane reportedly did not break his fast until less than an hour before kick-off in Kiev.

He scored Liverpool’s only goal and was one of his team’s most dangerous and energetic players.

According to Islamic guidelines, devotees are allowed to break their fast when travelling or “with anything that is adequate need”.

“I think this is always up to the individual,” said Fazrul Nawaz, Singapore and Tampines Rovers striker.

“Sadio Mane was as an example of what is still possible when you are fasting if you look at his performance over the course of the match.

“For me, it’s worth it. It’s about how you see it and how you manage the situation at the end of the day.”

Mane will play for Senegal in the World Cup while Salah is a key member of the Egyptian squad.

Other Muslim World Cup players include France’s Paul Pogba of Manchester United, and Germany’s Mesut Ozil from Arsenal.

But after scoring 44 goals in all competitions for Liverpool this season, the charismatic Salah remains the Muslim who has most raised awareness about Islam, while building bridges with Christians and followers of other faiths.

Like Mane, Salah bows to the ground after scoring in recognition of his faith.

He also looks to the sky and points his fingers upwards in divine gratitude.

The fans at Anfield have written a catchy song about Salah and his faith, called ‘I’ll be a Muslim, too’.

“If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me. If he scores another few, then I’ll be a Muslim too,” they cheer from the so-called Kop end of the famous ground.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp won praise from the Muslim community for the way he dealt with inevitable media questions about Salah’s faith and fasting ahead of the UCL final.

“Religion is private … (that’s) how I understand it,” the German said.

“Nothing to say about that, but all fine, you will see him out there. In training he is full of power – you need to be the day before a final.”

Fazrul added: “I think Jurgen Klopp handled it well as he himself knew that religion is a sensitive issue. It showed that he respects each individual’s religion.”

Most Southeast Asian leagues have been ongoing during Ramadan, although kick-off times are put back to give
Muslim team members more time to take in food and water after sunset.

Without complaining, the majority of players will strictly adhere to fasting during Ramadan, including Fazrul and Indonesia midfielder/defender Hanif Sjahbandi, who plays for Arema in Liga 1.

“We believe fasting will not make us weak… it will make us healthier and stronger,” Hanif said.

“Football and Ramadan have a good connection. We can diet when fasting with worship to Allah. That’s what we can see with every Muslim footballer in the world. Even they are fasting, they just perform just as well as normal.”

But Fazrul, who’s won 85 caps and scored 14 international goals, would prefer if the season took a break during Ramadan, which began on May 16 and will last 30 days.

“For me, honestly, I believe that during Ramadan matches should stop,” he said.

“But I guess in these kind of countries, it’s hard to do that because of the need to finish the season fast, so a lot has to be taken into consideration.”

The end of Ramadan and the start of the Hari Raya Idul Fitri celebrations – also known as Eid al-Fit – are only 24 hours before Egypt’s opening Group A game at the World Cup against Uruguay on June 15.

But well before Salah breaks his fast at the end of Ramadan in traditional fashion by eating three dates, he should know if he’ll be fit enough to take the field in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.

Jason Dasey is Singapore-based TV broadcaster and event emcee. Twitter: @JasonDasey

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