So this isn’t exactly a local story, but I think that the message hits home in a very real way. There are few things that are more important to people in the South than high school football and religion. Some would say that football becomes religion to many people. We attend weekly services – sometimes two or three times a week (kids in high school, college football a must, and pro football because there isn’t much else to do on Sunday, once church is over of course) - we say many prayers, and even throw up Hail Marys. I believe a wise man once said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I don’t know what the hell it means either, but I’m guessing it has something to do with where you spend your time and energy, that’s what you care about most. Seems simple.
Well, if most of us are being honest, football wins almost every round versus church. Church might win when we tell other people what’s most important, but how often do we decide not to go to church this week because we went out of town for the game, or it was on too late? I say this, not to have a sermon or tell you to go to church, but rather to put into perspective the power of passion and the hold that football has in our lives. We sacrifice a lot for the things we love, and football is no different.
Family vacations, school, youth group, all kinds of things are shuffled around for football. It is important. But God will always be king in the South. Perhaps for no other reason than we don’t want to admit otherwise. Easter and Christmas will always, always win out over any and everything. Church mission trips are viable excuses for getting out of most anything. “Sorry Coach, I’ve got to circumcise orphans in the Philippines” (cheers Timmy) can get you out of the hot sun and those dreaded two-a-days, no questions asked. Well, unless you’re coach is a heathen who only cares about football … and is willing to say it out loud. But what if it could work the other way? What if football could help you practice your faith? What if we didn’t have to choose?
Dearborn High School in Dearborn, Michigan, a predominantly Muslim Detroit suburb, has arranged its football practices around the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is a month of fasting for Muslims. From sunrise to sunset, Muslims cannot eat or drink. Now I’m no doctor, but it seems like those two things would be kind of important for someone trying to play football, water especially. Never fear, there’s always a solution.
Dearborn High School is holding its practices from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Players are allowed to drink water to their hearts’ content, and grab a granola bar for a little snack. That is something they wouldn’t be able to do in just a few short hours. While practically they needed it for the still grueling practice, they need it for the day to come as well. Avoiding the August heat didn’t hurt either. Ramadan fell during two-a-days this season, something that would have been nearly impossible to achieve with the majority of its players unable to drink or eat.
Dearborn is a highly competitive in the Michigan football world, often competing for the state championship. The team is coming off of a one-loss season, falling just short of the state title. Head coach Fouad Zaban, a former player at Dearborn and a Muslim himself, came up with the idea to avoid sacrificing the two things that mattered most to himself, the players, and most of the community – faith and football.
In an incredible moment of symbiosis, a compromise that avoided sacrificing either actually turned out to strengthen both. Observe holy month? Check. Practice football? Check. Not pass out and die while doing either? Check.
Coach Zaban made it clear that he never forced anyone to fast or even raised the issue; rather it was a compromise born out of necessity – the 95% who do fast. And let’s face it, practicing late at night sure beats practicing in the middle of the Alabama heat. Give me a little sleep deprivation over heat exhaustion any day.
Two-a-days: where faith and football meet. Cheers!