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Reconciling Faith and the Field

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, the director of outreach at Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, said that Muslims are allowed to take exemptions if their jobs or livelihood requires it and that professional athletes, or those who have scholarships or are trying to obtain them, fit that category.

In the end, the decision is highly personal. "It's your own conscience. There's no one keeping track," Hooper said. Compared with the Prophet Muhammad's time, he said, when conditions on the Arabian Peninsula were hot and dry, "it's not that difficult to play a game and fast at the same time."


Aimad Khelalfa, kneeling, prays with Muhammed Fahad Khan, before breaking his fast after a cross-country event. (Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

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That depends on whom you ask. Mikal Baaqee, 22, a middle linebacker for Virginia Tech, does not fast on difficult practice days or game days.

"God is the number one priority, but at the same time, I have a deal with my teammates, and I'm part of the team," he said. "If I can't perform . . . it's going to hurt the team."

After Ramadan and football season are over, Baaqee will have to make up about 20 fasting days, and his mother approves.

"She knows that I want to have a future in the NFL, and I can't be jeopardizing all that," he said.

But what of the powers higher than his mother? "I think God would understand," he said.

In high school sports, the stakes are generally lower, and parents aren't always so understanding -- especially if they didn't grow up with letter sweaters and homecoming games.

Razia Begum, a Pakistani immigrant, has two sons on Wakefield teams, one of whom trains daily with Aimad. He is a lanky boy named Muhammed Fahad Khan, 15, nicknamed T.K. for "Tall Khan," and all this running worries her.

"This morning I said to him, 'Can you stop?' " she said. "He said, 'No, I can do this.' But I'm the mother. I feel bad because all day he's hungry and not eating and not drinking anything. He's very, very tired. It's not good."

Begum is clear about what her son's choice should be. "This one is necessary," she said of fasting. "Sports is not necessary."

For some teenagers who are testing the limits of their bodies and their resolve, fasting while exerting themselves is a challenge they would rather rise to than maneuver around.

Ahmed Dorghoud, 17, a square-jawed senior at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, has a fall training schedule that would be daunting even if he weren't fasting: He is on the football, wrestling and lacrosse teams, and he is in ROTC, which involves marching and drills.

Recently he donned a dress uniform for an ROTC ceremony at which he was promoted to captain, then quickly changed into football gear for practice. Boys in red-and- white football jerseys -- including his brother, Sherif, 15, a sophomore -- heaved themselves against tackling dummies and raced across the grass to receive passes, and Ahmed soon was indistinguishable among them.


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