Safety Hamza Abdullah must fast during daylight hours beginning Wednesday.
FLAGSTAFF – Hamza Abdullah carried with him a giant smoothie and a Styrofoam box filled with his lunch, ready to eat while watching video of that morning's practice.
It was one of the last times the safety was going to be able to partake in the Cardinals' cafeteria during training camp.
Abdullah follows the Muslim faith, and Wednesday, Muslims begin celebrating the month of Ramadan – a time where they honor God not only with prayer but by completely fasting during daylight hours. That means no food or drink, a major feat for a professional football player in the middle of training camp.
"Honestly, it is more mental than physical," Abdullah said. "It may seem like it is hard to go 30 days without eating or drinking but it's actually a lot easier than you think."
This year, Ramadan lasts through Sept. 9 (In 2011, it will be from Aug. 1-29). Abdullah, who has been fasting for Ramadan since he was 7, began preparing for camp by fasting every Monday and Thursday of the offseason.
He missed almost the entire first week of camp with a hamstring pull, which hurt him football-wise but helped him get his body ready for the grind of both the season and his fasting.
The fasting lasts from dawn to sunset. Abdullah has set his camp schedule so that he rises each morning at 4:30, prays, eats breakfast to beat the sun, works out, gets treatment and then heads to practice. His biggest hurdle is staying hydrated through the day, but after so many years he feels he has a good handle on how to do that.
Abdullah still is in the middle of fighting for a job, however. His brother Husain, a safety for the Vikings, also fasts. Vikings coach Brad Childress said he felt Husain's fasting last season – in early September – affected his play. Husain Abdullah blamed lingering injuries rather than the fasting.
"It's an amazing thing, but a lot of guys have done it," Cardinals safety Matt Ware said. "(Former Rockets center) Hakeem Olajuwon did it during the NBA Finals. They probably have it down to a pretty good science. It's got to be a pretty strong mental state."
Hamza Abdullah, who wasn't signed by the Cardinals until late last season, said some coaches are OK with the fasting plan. Some aren't. He hadn't yet talked in-depth to coach Ken Whisenhunt, although Whisenhunt was aware of Abdullah's situation.
"One of the reasons Hamza is at this level is because of strong beliefs," Whisenhunt said. "Not necessarily religious beliefs but beliefs in himself. One of the things you have to do as a professional athlete is you have to manage your body. You have to know how to train it, and it's not easy. But he has been doing it enough where, he wouldn't be at this level if he wasn't able to do it."
Whisenhunt noted Abdullah is in a competitive situation. Abdullah was signed last season in part because of injuries, because Antrel Rolle was banged up and Ware was already out for the season. Rolle is gone, but Kerry Rhodes is in his place. Ware has returned, and 2009 third-round pick Rashad Johnson has improved.
Abdullah also accidentally ended up in the middle of Monday's big story, dinging running back Beanie Wells on a hit that left Wells' ribs sore and the player day-to-day.
Abdullah's hamstring problems have set him back too, and he just got back to practice Monday. To Abdullah, that's a much bigger issue than the notion of fasting. Flagstaff is possibly the perfect place for camp – mild temperatures, low humidity – considering the alternative. Once, Abdullah, playing for Washington State in college, had to play in the Rose Bowl during Ramadan with a 12:30 p.m. kickoff.
"This," Abdullah said, "is cake."
Figuratively, of course.
"Fasting, I love fasting," Abdullah said. "When I am locked in, I am locked in.
"It is a time when we get closer to God, where we try to achieve as many good deeds as possible. It's all in the struggle. With struggle comes great reward."
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