Sounders FC midfielder faced dilemma with his Muslim faith
A recent shift in thinking by Islamic leaders has allowed professional athletes to satisfy obligations both to their teams and their religion during Ramadan, much to Sanna Nyassi's and Sounders FC's benefit.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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TUKWILA — Sanna Nyassi is used to making quick decisions.
The speedy Sounders FC midfielder thrives at high speeds while attacking opposing defenses from the right wing.
But the arrival of Ramadan on Wednesday dealt the 21-year-old Gambian a different dilemma — one between his profession and his religion. A practicing Muslim, Nyassi has always observed the holy month of Ramadan traditionally, by fasting from sunrise to sunset without even drinking water. The midseason act of faith, however, was detrimental to his aims of improving and contributing on the soccer field.
This summer, things changed.
A recent shift in thinking by Islamic leaders has allowed professional athletes to satisfy obligations both to their teams and their religion during Ramadan, much to Nyassi's and Sounders FC's gain.
"They said that if your main source of income was affected, you don't have to fast," Nyassi said. "And fasting really affects your performance as a player because last year when Ramadan began, I started going down physically. I lost weight, and I don't want that to happen this time around. ... I've already taken a decision that I'm not going too fast for the whole month."
In his first year in Major League Soccer in 2009, Nyassi both fasted and practiced with Sounders FC during Ramadan from Aug. 22 to Sept. 19. At one point in training, the weakened and tired Nyassi was hit in the stomach by a ball after a hard shot.
"I thought I was going to pass out," he said.
Without any daytime hydration or sustenance, Nyassi's physical condition got so bad that he was rarely used in games during the final 2 ½ months of Seattle's inaugural season. After dropping eight pounds from his less-than-intimidating 5-foot-8, 145-pound frame, his main focus became getting in shape for the 2010 season.
According to Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid, Nyassi was too shy to ask an imam for advice last year, but was more proactive this time around.
"This year we posed the question to him early and we said, 'Let's check this out and make sure this is OK,' " said Schmid. "We said, 'We don't want to impact or hinder your religious beliefs in any way or do anything that you would feel uncomfortable with.' "
Other options during Ramadan and a conversation with twin brother Sainey, who plays for the New England Revolution, have allowed Nyassi to feel more at ease with his decision. In place of not eating, Nyassi said he can make up those days of fasting after the season ends. Meanwhile he will also do charity work.
The change in religious practice disseminated after a meeting in Germany this summer between a Muslim group and soccer officials. Through the counsel of Islamic leaders — including from Egypt's Al-Azhar University, the leader in Sunni Islamic teaching, and The European Council for Fatwa and Research — it was determined that professional athletes could avoid fasting in order to maintain standing with their teams.
And recently Nyassi's standing with Sounders FC has been peaking.
Having replaced Freddie Ljungberg as the regular on the right wing, Nyassi has provided three game-winning assists in Seattle's ongoing four-game winning streak. He could be considered the team's most improved player.
"He's one who is really coming on right now," said Schmid. "The decisions he's making ... you see him now finding people and you see him looking for people in the box, and not just hitting blind crosses."
And with this recent decision, Nyassi has kept an eye on both his team and his faith.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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