Muslim athletes in metro Detroit balance sports and faith during Ramadan fasting

The 2014 World Cup poses challenges for observant Muslims as Ramadan starts this weekend.  In 2007, the Detroit Free Press wrote about how local Muslim athletes observe Ramadan.

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Fordson High School football team prays before game in 2007

Fordson High School football team prays before game in 2007

 

THE RAMADAN FAST | A TEST OF BODY AND FAITH

MUSLIM ATHLETES SACRIFICE SUNRISE TO SUNSET

Published in Detroit Free Press, Oct. 5, 2007, Page 1a.

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071005/NEWS05/710050338/0/RSS07

By Niraj Warikoo

Detroit Free Press Staff Writer


 

Hunched over, clutching his stomach, Saeed Saleh gasps for air. The cross-country runner has stopped suddenly during a practice sprint around the track at Fordson High in Dearborn.

“I couldn’t breathe, ” the senior panted. “It came out of nowhere. I wasn’t able to keep on going.”

That’s understandable, given that Saeed, like thousands of Muslims across metro Detroit, abstains from all food and liquids during daylight hours for Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that started in mid-September.

For high school athletes, the 30 days are a special challenge, one that puts their faith to the test as they balance America’s tradition of school sports with their religion.

Far from a clash of civilizations, what plays out on fields and courts across Michigan is a blend of cultures that complement each other, reinforcing their common values of sacrifice, discipline and hard work.

Islam’s emphasis on forbearance overlaps with the lessons learned on American playgrounds, say local imams, athletes, players and coaches, both Muslim and non-Muslim.

“The philosophy of Ramadan … is the same thing we’re teaching these kids on the field, ” said Hussein Berry, who founded a junior football league in Dearborn. “It all comes together.”

Some Muslim football players got dispensations this fall from local Islamic scholars to break fasts early on game day – not unlike the time when a Detroit rabbi cited a Talmudic verse that allowed Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg to play on Rosh Hashanah (but not on Yom Kippur) during the 1934 pennant race.

Other Muslim athletes eschew food and water even on the day of competitions. A top runner, Saeed placed first in a meet in Ypsilanti the week before Ramadan started. But during a Thursday practice after two weeks of fasting he pondered whether his abstaining would affect his time in a coming meet.

“Sometimes, you just die out, and you just can’t take it anymore, ” he explained while massaging his cramped right side. “Sometimes, you just feel like, keep on going, you know? … We’ll see what happens.”

 

Football and Islam

Last season, Fordson High’s football team, which is about 95% Muslim, started 4-0.

Then Ramadan came.

The team lost its next four games, all held during the holy month. After Ramadan, the team won its last regular game of the year, squeaking into the playoffs.

Did the fasting affect their performance? Maybe.

But this season, new head coach Fouad Zaban isn’t making it an issue.

“It became an excuse, whether legitimate or not, ” said Zaban, a former star running back at Fordson. “It became a distraction, something we had to deal with the last four to five years. …But our motto this year is: ‘No excuses.’ We will not bring the issue up, and we haven’t.”

Zaban is a devout Muslim and fasts. But he’s leaving the choice up to his players: There’s water on the sidelines if they want to drink during workouts. During a practice last Thursday, though, the players chose to sweat it out.

“I got to follow my religion, ” said Mohammed Bazzy, 17, the team’s quarterback. “It’s very hard during football, but there’s no excuse … you got to do what you got to do.”

For athletes, the first days of Ramadan are often the toughest, as the body tries to cope with no food or water from sunrise till sunset. To Bazzy and other students, avoiding liquids is particularly tough.

But they say it’s worth it.

“It makes me feel strong knowing that I can fast and go through football, ” he said. “Fasting makes you a stronger person, a better person.”

Scholar’s advice

Before Ramadan began, some of Fordson’s starters met with Imam Abdul-Latif Berry, a Shi’ite Muslim scholar who heads the Islamic Institute of Knowledge in Dearborn. They asked him: Can we eat and drink before the game?

Imam Berry advised them: It’s OK, but they must make it up after Ramadan. Also, they must travel on game days at least 22 miles outside their home city before afternoon prayers, and break the fast there.

So on game days, several Fordson players drive out near Ann Arbor before 12:30 p.m., gulp down some water or Gatorade, and then drive back to eat before the 7 p.m. kickoff.

There are other Islamic interpretations of when and how Muslims can break fast early, a reflection of the diversity within Islam. One general rule scholars teach is that if someone can’t handle fasting and playing sports without harming themselves, they must break fast, said Khalida Beydoun, an Islamic teacher at the institute who advises young women playing sports.

“You need to look at the individual situation, because each person goes by what they can tolerate and do, ” Beydoun said.

Ali Reda, 15, a sophomore on Fordson’s varsity tennis team, said he usually can survive the first two sets of matches. But then he hits a wall.

“You feel exhausted, ” Ali said. “You can’t run as fast to get to the ball. You lose a step.”

Before Ramadan started, Dearborn schools reminded principals and teachers that many students would be fasting. It asked them to consider how that might affect students during tests and physical education.

Hamtramck schools face a similar challenge, said athletic director Jeremy Cartwright. During football games, the coach calls a time-out at sunset so his Muslim players – who make up about half the team – can eat and drink.

Because Ramadan starts 10 days earlier every year, coaches are worried about years when the holy month will overlap grueling summer workouts and later sunsets.

Game day

Like last year, Fordson’s football team started 4-0 this season. But also like last year, they dropped the next two games, both played after a week of practices during Ramadan. Even if the kids break fast early on game day, abstaining during the week may catch up with them, said Fordson athletic director Mark Shooshanian.

Still, Fordson’s opponents – Allen Park and Monroe – were tough and both were favored to beat Fordson.

Fasting all week didn’t appear to hurt the cross-country team at all.

At a meet Saturday morning at Dearborn High School, Fordson came in first, beating 20 other teams from across the region. And four of the top five runners were from Fordson. All were fasting Muslims.

It was a joyous morning for the team’s runners, who have become good friends after years of racing together.

Saeed, the senior who cramped up two days earlier in practice, came in first, recording a personal best of 16 minutes, 20 seconds in the 3.1-mile race. Teammate and senior Samer Ilayan came in fourth and also recorded a personal best.

“It’s all mental, ” Samer said. “We don’t go around saying, ‘Oh, we can’t do good, we’re fasting.’… When we’re racing, we don’t think about food … we just make sure we give it 100%.”

 Contact NIRAJ WARIKOO at 248-351-2998 or nwarikoo@freepress.com.

Fordson High football player takes water break

Fordson High football player takes water break

 

( below is sidebar:)

Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?

The general idea is that Muslims should focus on their faith instead of being distracted. It’s also to remind followers of how poor people feel.

How do they cope while playing sports?

Some gulp down a gallon of water before sunrise to help keep them hydrated through the day. Many say that mental focus is the key.

Can Muslims break the daytime fasts to play sports?

It depends. Some Islamic scholars say they can if fasting may adversely affect their health. Others say it’s permissible if the athlete travels a certain distance and makes up the fasting after Ramadan.

How have other religious minorities dealt with playing American sports?

Jewish athletes have long grappled with how to deal with holidays and Sabbath days that overlap with game day.

During the 1934 pennant race, Detroit Tigers star Hank Greenberg was thinking of sitting out games during the Jewish high holy days in September.

A Detroit rabbi said it would be OK for him to play on Rosh Hashanah, which Greenberg did – and went on to slam two home runs in a 2-1 victory. The Detroit Free Press ran a front-page headline – in Hebrew – that read: “Happy New Year, Hank.”

When Greenberg sat out for Yom Kippur, the Detroit Free Press poet wrote:

“We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat

“But he’s true to his religion, and I honor him for that.”

– By Niraj Warikoo

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Arab-Americans and Muslims call for peace; plan memorial at Dearborn mosque

As Arab-Americans and Muslims across metro Detroit urged unity and peace, one of Dearborn’s biggest mosques is holding a memorial service Saturday for the victims of the Boston terror attacks

“As Muslims, this is not how we’re supposed to be acting,” Bilal Amen of Dearborn, who’s helping organize the memorial service, said of the attacks in Boston and other places around the world. “We want to stand united for all people who are victims of terror.”

The Islamic Institute of Knowledge in Dearborn plans to hold the event at 9 p.m. Saturday as a way to express solidarity with terror victims in Boston, as well as in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, where terrorists have killed civilians. The two Boston attack suspects are reportedly Muslim.

Amen said that Islam teaches its followers to respect the laws of any country you live in.

“We’re Muslims, but we’re American,” he said. “The Quran tells us to abide by the laws of our land…we’re in America and follow American laws.”

Today, the Dearborn-based National Network for Arab American Communities released a statement saying “our thoughts and condolences continue to be with the victims of the Boston Marathon attacks. We are grateful to the brave first responders and law enforcement officers, who endangered their own lives.”

It also said that “we urge the media and the public to refrain from scapegoating or turning against our fellow Americans based on their racial, ethnic, religious or immigrant identity.”

Amen and others said they were concerned about potential backlash towards Muslims and others after the Boston attacks. A contributor to Fox News wrote online on Monday of Muslims: “Let’s kill them all.”

Amen said such remarks reveal a misunderstanding of Islam.

“Anyone who knows the Muslim religion knows that we don’t preach hate,” Amen said.

Arif Huskic, a Muslim leader in Hamtramck, said that like other Muslims, “I feel really bad” about the Boston attacks. “I never thought something like could happen, repeating 9/11.”

Also today, the director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has a Michigan chapter, strongly condemned the attacks and called for unity.

“Americans are united today in condemning terrorism and in the conviction that those responsible for the terrorist attacks in Boston must face justice,” said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council. “We reiterate the American Muslim community’s consistent condemnation of terrorism in all its forms.”

Awad added that “America will stay united. We will not turn on each other.”

Dawud Walid, who heads the Michigan branch of the Council, said “we don’t have a high level of fear of backlash against the Muslim community, but…there is always the possibility of a few loose cannons who could seek vigilante justice against a random Muslim.”

Amen said that one of the themes of Saturday night’s banquet in Dearborn is: “Terrorism has no religion.”

 

 

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Catholics who support gay marriage shouldn’t get holy Communion, said Detroit Catholic leaders

Catholics who publicly support gay marriage shouldn’t get holy Communion, the Archbishop of Detroit told the Detroit Free Press in an exclusive story. 

 

Detroit-area Catholic leaders urge gay marriage supporters to skip Communion

By Niraj Warikoo

Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

 

A Detroit professor and legal adviser to the Vatican says Catholics who promote gay marriage should not try to receive holy Communion, a key part of Catholic identity.

And the archbishop of Detroit, Allen Vigneron, told the Free Press Sunday that Catholics who receive Communion while advocating gay marriage would “logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury.”

The comments of Vigneron and Edward Peters, who teaches Catholic canon law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, are part of a polarizing discussion about gay marriage that echoes debate over whether politicians who advocate abortion rights should receive Communion.

 

In a post on his blog last week, Peters said that Catholic teachings make it clear that marriage is between one man and one woman. And so, “Catholics who promote ‘same-sex marriage’ act contrary to” Catholic law “and should not approach for holy Communion,” he wrote. “They also risk having holy Communion withheld from them … being rebuked and/or being sanctioned.”

 

Peters didn’t specify a Catholic politician or public figure in his post. But he told the Free Press that a person’s “public efforts to change society’s definition of marriage … amount to committing objectively wrong actions.”

 

Peters, an attorney who holds the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart, was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 to be a referendary of the Apostolic Sinatura, which means he helps advise the top judicial authority in the Catholic Church. Peters’ blog, “In Light of the Law,” is popular among Catholic experts, but not everyone agrees with his traditional views.

 

“Most American bishops do not favor denying either politicians or voters Communion because of their positions on controversial issues,” said Thomas Reese, a Catholic priest and senior fellow at the WoodstockTheologicalCenter at GeorgetownUniversity. Reese said that Peters’ views are “in a minority among American canon lawyers.”

 

But, Reese added, “about 30 or so bishops have said that pro-choice or pro-gay-marriage Catholics should not present themselves for Communion.”

 

Peters has said before that liberal Catholic Democrats, such as U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, should be denied Communion because of their statements and positions.

 

In 2011, Peters said that Cuomo should not receive Communion because he is an outspoken proponent of gay marriage. Last month, Peters said, “Pelosi suffers from one of the most malformed consciences in the annals of American Catholic politics or … she is simply hell-bent on using her Catholic identity to attack Catholic values at pretty much every opportunity.”

 

In 2002, Catholic Jennifer Granholm’s support of abortion rights became an issue in the gubernatorial race a month before the election, when Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida released a letter saying Catholic politicians had a “special moral obligation” to oppose abortion.

 

Last month, Vigneron said at a news conference that maintaining views that oppose abortion and support traditional marriage are important for Catholics.

 

“Were we to abandon them, we would be like physicians who didn’t tell their patients that certain forms of behavior are not really in their best interest,” said Vigneron, who oversees 1.3 million Catholics in southeastern Michigan.

 

Asked by the Free Press about Catholics who publicly advocate for gay marriage and receive Communion, Vigneron said Sunday: “For a Catholic to receive holy Communion and still deny the revelation Christ entrusted to the church is to try to say two contradictory things at once: ‘I believe the church offers the saving truth of Jesus, and I reject what the church teaches.’ In effect, they would contradict themselves. This sort of behavior would result in publicly renouncing one’s integrity and logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury.”

 

Vigneron said the church wants to help Catholics “avoid this personal disaster.”

 

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792

 

 

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Sign at Packard Plant in Detroit similar to Nazi sign at Auschwitz concentration camp

Photo by Niraj Warikoo of new sign at the overpass at the Packard Auto Plant in Detroit

I broke the story this week of the infamous Auschwitz sign being placed at the Packard Plant in Detroit.
It’s since been removed.

By Niraj Warikoo
Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

Published: 9:44 PM, February 4, 2013

Big letters have been placed on the overpass at the Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit that read in German “Work will make you Free,” concerning some metro Detroiters, given the resemblance to an infamous sign at the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. It’s unclear who put up the letters.
In capital red letters on a white background, the new sign at the decaying site on Detroit’s east side reads: “Arbeit Macht Frei,” the exact same words at the entrance to the concentration camps in Poland where Jews were forced to work and were murdered. The sign, which was used at other Nazi camps, became well known as an international symbol of cruelty.
“I found it disturbing,” said David Schulman, 53, a Huntington Woods resident who came across the Detroit sign while driving home last week from Belle Isle. His grandmother had family members killed in the Holocaust.
“It’s a form of hate speech,” Schulman said. “It really appalled me.”
An attorney who represents the owner of the plant said he wasn’t aware of the sign until contacted by the Free Press, but now intends to remove it or cover it up.
“This is a disgusting act,” said Troy attorney John Bologna, who represents the plant’s owner Dominic Cristini. Cristini is in a legal dispute with the city over the plant’s ownership.
The sign consists of separate white rectangular pieces for each letter. The style of the lettering in the Detroit sign has specific similarities to the Nazi sign at Auschwitz that made it unique: for example, the upper half of the letter “B” in “Arbeit” (“Work”) is bigger than the lower half, just like it is in Auschwitz.
The letters appear to have been hung there sometime this year, said Schulman. He didn’t notice them when driving about a month ago by the overpass, which sits across East Grand Boulevard near Concord Street.
The plant has become a symbol of Detroit’s industrial decline. Designed by the noted architect Albert Kahn, the Packard Plant used to be an auto manufacturing facility where thousands worked and was a symbol of the strength of blue-collar labor in America’s Midwest.
It’s unclear if the sign is meant to be a satirical remark on the decline of manufacturing and cities like Detroit. In recent years, artists have explored the plant, and installed or moved around objects to make commentary on urban and industrial decay.
Regardless of whether the sign is part of an art project or satire, Schulman said such a sign is quite offensive.
His grandmother and her sister were the only two members in their family to survive the Nazis, he said. Schulman has contacted the Michigan chapter of the Anti-Defamation League about the sign at the Packard Plant.
“I can’t explain why someone would want to do something like that,” he said. “It doesn’t belong there. It doesn’t make our city look well.”

Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792 or nwarikoo@freepress.com

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Exclusive: Catholic pastor in Troy, Michigan, bought $500,000 Florida condo from his church manager

I obtained and reviewed documents from Florida that show Fr. Edward Belczak of St. Thomas More parish in Troy, Michigan, bought on March 28, 2005, a half-million home from his longtime parish manager, Janice Verschuren. Both have now been removed amid an embezzlement investigation.

Detroit Free Press: “The charismatic Catholic pastor removed last week from his parish in Troy amid an embezzlement investigation bought a half-million-dollar condo in Florida from his longtime church administrator, the Free Press has learned.”

Click here to read more.

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Ohio woman who’s half-Jewish, half-Arab, files lawsuit against federal agencies for arrest, strip-search on 9-11-2011

Shoshana Hebshi, a half-Jewish, half-Arab woman from Ohio, filed lawsuit against federal agencies after being pulled off plane and strip-searched

By Niraj Warikoo

Detroit Free Pres Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013

A 36-year-old Ohio woman who is half-Jewish and half-Arab filed a lawsuit today against the FBI and other federal agencies, saying she was yanked off an airplane at Metro Airport on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, strip-searched, and jailed more than four hours in a dirty cell because of her ethnic background.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Detroit on behalf of Shoshana Hebshi of Sylvania Ohio, who was on a Frontier Airlines flight that landed in Detroit on Sept. 11, 2011. She and two Indian-American men sitting in her row were targeted by federal agents who entered the plane, ordered them off the plane, handcuffed them, and pushed them down the stairs into vehicles, Hebshi said.

She was then placed in a cell, where she was ordered to strip naked, squat, and cough while an officer looked at her. Hebshi said she was terrified.

“I was frightened and humiliated,” said Hebshi, a freelance journalist and mother of 7-year-old twins. “As an American citizen and a mom, I’m really concerned about my children growing up in a country where your skin color and your name can put your freedom and liberty at risk at any time.”

At the time, Hebshi’s case drew international attention, leading to reports from the Guardian to The Economist that raised questions about the profiling of minorities in the U.S. Hebshi told the Free Press on Tuesday that she hopes the lawsuit can lead to changes and “heightened awareness” of abusive law enforcement.

Hebshi and the two men were detained after people on the plane complained about two of them going to the rest room. Flight attendants had alerted the pilot that the men going to the rest room were “possibly of Arab descent,” the lawsuit said.

After landing, “men with very large guns, militaristic looking, ran on the plane,” Hebshi recalled.  Continue reading

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Fr. Belczak story

Hi, If you would like to comment or share thoughts about Fr. Edward Belczak of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Troy, Michigan, please contact me anytime at nwarikoo@freepress.com, 313-223-4792, or Twitter.com/nwarikoo. Thank you.

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January 26, 2013 · 11:12 am