By Noah Wali
Ramadan Mubarak! رمضان مبارك
Muslims all around the world are in full swing this month as Ramadan closes in on its final days. Beginning on Monday, May 6 this year the Islamic holiday of Ramadan requires Muslims around the world to give up food and drink from Dawn Sunrise to Dusk Sunset each day for 30 days. While seemingly crazy to outsiders, Muslims consider Ramadan to be the holiest and most spiritual month of the year. During the special month of Ramadan, around 1.5 billion Muslims attempt to gain the highest God-consciousness possible in which you are completely free from “life’s distractions”. Many Muslims spend their days differently depending on where they are on the religious spectrum. Some spend their days home from work studying the Quran, the holy book of Islam, while others persevere through their daily lives while fasting. While many see the holiday as a way to become closer to Allah (God), others also see it as a way to show compassion and sympathy for those who cannot afford the luxuries of three meals a day. The month concludes with a three-day celebration called Eid Al-Fitr, known as the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast. Muslims around the world exchange gifts and attend extravagant parties with loads of food.
While the world has seen many athletes share their stories of hardship and contentment with fasting during the season, none have hit as close to home as Enes Kanter of the Portland Trail Blazers, especially during the NBA Playoffs. The Blazers recently acquired Enes Kanter from free agency with a 70 million dollar four-year contract. The Turkish basketball player has had a lot more on his plate than just basketball lately. In 2016 after the failed coup attempt, Kanter heavily criticized the Turkish president on Twitter, forcing a long-standing series of events in which Kanter’s family disowned him and Kanter lost the ability to travel outside of the United States for fear of being captured by the Turkish government. The government would force him to serve four years in prison for allegedly being apart of a terrorist group. In 2017 in the Players Tribune, Kanter said: “I hope people around the world will open their eyes to the human rights abuses (in Turkey).”
Despite Kanter’s successful basketball career yet rocky political and personal journey, Enes Kanter has been celebrating along with 3.45 million other Muslims in America who are fasting during the month of May. While Kanter has had endless practice fasting and exercising at the same time, this year’s fast comes with higher stakes: The NBA Playoffs are on the line. Following in the steps of fellow NBA Muslims such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon, Kanter will begin each day at 4 AM, putting only fruit, yogurt, peanut butter, and water into his body before going off to play around 40 minutes of an intense sport at a highly competitive level. Under the circumstances, Kanter has stepped up his game, averaging nearly 20 points and more than 10 rebounds per game in the Blazers 4-3 series win against the Denver Nuggets. In an interview with the New York Times, Kanter stated that many of his former and current teammates were very respectful about his faith and his rituals: “Before I go to (play against) teams, I say, ‘Hey, I’m a Muslim and I have to pray five times a day,’” Kanter said. “And they respect it so much that they give me a prayer room. So before the game, after the game, before practice, before I fly out, I can go to that room whenever I want and pray.” According to new studies about fasting, the act of fasting can aid an athletes performance as long as the player is getting the right type and amount of food each morning and night. Kanter enjoys fasting so much he does it once or twice a week in the months leading up to and following Ramadan. In the interview, Kanter explains that he works harder during Ramadan because his body is used to it. Ramadan is a time of pushing through hardships and learning a lot about yourself spiritually. In my opinion, Kanter’s fasting only supported the success of the Blazers in reaching the conference finals because Kanter was able to push deep through the difficulty of fasting using his love for his faith in order to perform better on the court.
Fasting has always been something important to my family. While I choose not to fast for the full thirty days, I participate in many of the days with my father as we both bring ourselves to understand more about self-control. In my father’s experience, he explains the month as being “really difficult to observe in a society that doesn’t recognize it around the country.” He says “It makes it very difficult to do business and I find myself having to explain a lot of things very often.” The US government is making strides to make the US population more aware of this special month. Recently, Muslim lawmakers held a sundown feast for legislators at the Capitol in Washington D.C. While there is still a lot of progress to be made, it is special knowing that the Blazers have a unique aspect to the team that I can easily connect with.