Vikings safety Husain Abdullah awaits Ramadan fast

Husain Abdullah is approaching his most challenging month of the
football season.

That’s when the Minnesota Vikings backup safety observes
Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and prayer. As a practicing
Muslim, Abdullah will not eat or drink at all during daylight hours
for the 30-day period that begins Wednesday.

Even while sprinting in the heat and humidity during drills,
sometimes in full pads, Abdullah is adamant about his faith. He
will not allow himself so much as a cup of water until the sun sets
and before it rises.

”I’m putting nothing before God, nothing before my religion,”
Abdullah said. ”This is something I choose to do, not something I
have to do. So I’m always going to fast.”

This time, the Vikings will be better able to help him handle
the lack of nourishment.

”Last year it occurred in early September, and we saw a dip in
his performance,” coach Brad Childress said. ”We said, ‘What’s
wrong with Husain Abdullah? It doesn’t seem like he has enough
spunk.”’

Abdullah worked recently with the team’s nutritionist on a meal
and hydration plan to make sure he gets enough calories to maintain
his energy, stamina and health in the coming weeks. He’ll eat a big
breakfast and a big dinner, when it’s dark of course, and get up in
the middle of the night to take a protein shake.

”I think we have our arms around it now and know when he is
going to wake up and when he is going to eat and what we can pack
on him before the sun comes up,” Childress said. ”Last year he
was shouldering it all by himself. He is playing well. He is a good
special teams player. He’s interchangeable and can be in the
emergency nickel situation because he is a smart guy. He’s got
great football instincts. He is a guy you pull for.”

Abdullah insisted a back and hip injury last year was more a
factor in his struggles than the fasting.

”I couldn’t bend. I couldn’t run, and I really wasn’t the same
player,” said Abdullah, who played in all 16 games as an undrafted
rookie out of Washington State in 2008 and led the Vikings with 24
special teams tackles.

This year, he’s had a strong training camp, giving the Vikings
confidence in their depth at safety behind incumbent starters
Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson. Jamarca Sanford is also getting
a serious audition.

Fasting is a rare practice in pro sports, since proper
nourishment is critical to optimum performance, but it’s not
unprecedented.

Abdullah’s older brother, Hamza, plays in the NFL – an Arizona
Cardinals safety – and plans to abstain from daytime food and drink
during the holiday.

Former NBA star Hakeem Olajuwon also observed. When the Houston
Rockets had an afternoon tip-off or a grueling practice during
Ramadan, he was often panting in thirst.

”I find myself full of energy, explosive,” Olajuwon would say,
according to a biography posted on NBA.com. ”And when I break the
fast at sunset, the taste of water is so precious.”

Last month, however, an Islamic organization and German soccer
officials determined that a Muslim player may break his fast for
matches during Ramadan. They decided a player may do so if he is
obliged to perform under a contract that is his only source of
income and if fasting harms his performance.

Abdullah has been encouraging teammates, trainers and coaches to
join him in the discipline. Childress passed, but head athletic
trainer Eric Sugarman agreed to fast for a day or two.

”Some people are going. Some people are kind of reluctant to
sign up for it,” Abdullah said. ”They’re like, ‘Ah, maybe I’ll
just drink something.”

Abdullah grew up in Pomona, Calif., with seven brothers and four
sisters and has observed Ramadan since he was 7. It’s a time he
looks forward to, not dreads.

”I used to kind of keep it to myself,” he said. ”But now I’m
actually excited that Islam is getting some positive
attention.”