ONE of the many joys of being back home and "on holiday" in between semesters is that it coincides with the opening of the Olympic Games.
I have enjoyed being able to watch some of the sports we in Fiji do not usually get to see, such as water polo — which, after watching, I am convinced Fiji could field a gold medal winning team if we were interested in the sport.
In my "Olympic Fever," two news articles from the Ecumenical News International caught my attention. Both were written by Trevor Grundy:
Religion playing a strong role in the background to the Olympic Games
The first article reports on a BBC radio broadcast last Friday, in which Anglican canon Duncan Green called on people everywhere in the world to live together in peace and harmony, in the spirit of the Olympic Games.
"I was very moved last week when the Christian chaplains on the team helped their Muslim colleagues prepare a large hall for the Friday prayers of Ramadan. A young Muslim man hugged me for providing such a facility. This week, I've witnessed young men and women from all over the world living side by side, greeting one another, making new friends, laughing, and sharing their love of sport. I pray that the world will watch and learn to live in harmony."
The Multi-Faith Centre at the Olympic Village will be run by 50 chaplains working on shift around the clock and catering to the spiritual health needs of athletes from countries where Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and other religions prevail.
A group of Christian churches working under the name "More than Gold" helped organise a prayer relay. Services were held and prayers said as Olympics torch bearers made the journey from Land's End to London.
Many of the Church of England's parish are planning events to coincide with the Olympic Games, while Anglican and Roman Catholic churches are organising "large screen" festivals which will bring together as many as 500,000 people.
British churches will not be doing all of this on their own; they will be supported by thousands of volunteers from Britain, the US, Latin America and Scandinavia.
Christian churches are providing free accommodation for more than 350 family members of athletes who would otherwise not been able to attend the Games because of costly hotel prices.
One chaplain, Reverend Janet Binn, told the BBC: "I'm looking forward to spending time with the athletes, to be able to offer pastoral care, to be able to listen and help them as much as I can."
A keen marathon runner, Binn added: "As an athlete myself, I feel that in order to compete at that level there has to be something else that motivates you and keeps you going, something that lets you turn away from the normal things in your life. For some athletes, especially those who are spiritual, and there are a few, their spiritual aspect will play a big part in their competition."
To fast or not to fast: Muslim athletes face dilemma at Olympic Games
Grundy also reports that several of the world's top Muslim athletes have announced they will delay the start of their annual Ramadan fast this year, as it clashes with the Olympic Games taking place in London from July 27 to August 12.
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims throughout the world abstain from eating, drinking, and sexual relations-leaving the 3000 Muslims competing in London to ask an important question: to fast or not to fast?
Mo Farah, a 29-year old Somalia-born long distance runner on the British team and current 5000 meter world champion, has made up his mind. He will begin the Ramadan Fast when the games end.
Mohammed Sbihi, a 24-year-old British rower of Moroccan descent, will provide food for 1800 impoverished people at home to "offset" his fast.
"My faith is really important to me," he said in an interview with CNN's Human to Hero interviewers. "I spoke to my family here in the UK and to my family back in Morocco and, at the end of the day, I am making the right decision for me and that's to postpone my fast."
Both star British athletes sought advice from scholars of Islam. Fortunately for them (and the Olympic Games) Islam provides practical caveats to fasting. One of the Five Pillars of Wisdom in the Quran forbids the sick, elderly, and pregnant among from taking part. Now, it seems, the list includes Olympic athletes.
Palestine's top judo competitor, Maher Abu Remeleh, told the London Times that Muslim scholars said he should not fast. "They say that I represent a nation and not just myself, so when I return after the games I will have to make up for it."
Sami Zreli, the Saudi coach, said he would leave it up to the athletes to fast or not. "It's down to them as individuals," he said. The news about Sbihi's decision sparked off heated debate in Morocco. One angry sports fan contacted the news agency, Hespress, and asked: "Is he taking part in a sport competition or is he going to free Palestine? Only people engaged in a holy war are exempted from fasting."
Organisers at the Olympic Village in London have confirmed that halal food will be provided for Muslim athletes because they understand that some of the 3000 Muslim athletes will suspend the Ramadan fast while others will not.
Khaled Belabbas from Algeria will compete in the steeplechase. He told a Canadian newspaper: "I will fast like I always have." Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told ENInews: "Normally, the lifting of the fast does not apply to athletes. But you have to strike a balance between work, rest and prayer."
Referring to one of the heroes of the 1981 film "Chariots of Fire," he said "We should remember that when the Scottish Christian missionary, Eric Liddell, refused to run on a Sunday during the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, God gave him extra strength and he went on to win the 400 meter gold medal."
Food for thought as you enjoy the Olympic Games coverage in the media.
"Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity"
* Reverend JS Bhagwan is a Masters in Theology student at the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, South Korea and a regular contributor to The Fiji Times.