Hundreds of competitors gather for Islamic Games

More than 75 teams composed of about 600 Muslim athletes converged upon South Brunswick on Saturday for the 2007 Islamic Games.

Hosted by Crossroads South Middle School and sponsored primarily by the Islamic Circle of North America, this year's event resurrected the games after a hiatus since the early 1990s.

The games were started in order to fill what organizers saw as a need for more opportunities for young Muslim athletes to compete. The event's founder, Saludeen Nausrudeen, said that many Islamic parochial schools don't have enough athletic programs, especially for girls, and noted that certain religious requirements can make sports difficult for more devout athletes. To address this, the Islamic Games were born.

The event accommodated the Muslim faith by having breaks for prayer, separate areas for male and female competitions, and by having Halal foods available. Participants were also expected to follow, as noted on the schedule, "proper Islamic manners and etiquettes" at all times, which mostly meant observing good sportsmanship and clean language. Islamic dress codes were also expected, with the itinerary saying "if you can pray in it, you can play in it."
There was a large degree of diversity among the games' participants in
many different areas. Some were as young as 9 while others were well
into middle age. Some men sported large, thick beards while other chins
were hairless. Women and girls present were in various states of
coverage – some wore a modest head scarf, others sported garb that left
only their eyes exposed, and many others were somewhere between. Almost
all females, however, were in long sleeves and pants, keeping to
traditional Islamic dress codes.

Teams came from all over the region and a few from as far away as
England, representing parochial schools, youth groups and other
organizations. Meanwhile, the games saw participants ranging from
hardcore athletes to interested amateurs.

"I usually run track meets for school, and this was the only Islamic
one I went to," said Muhammad Ahsan, who, after preparing for two
weeks, came to the Islamic Games to finish first in the 4×200-meter
relay event. Out of breath at the end of his race, he said he felt
"very great."

Woodbridge's Saeed Aziz, meanwhile, was playing volleyball, a game he
noted that he hadn't played for the past eight or nine years, and even
then had done so only casually.

Girls events were held mostly in the gymnasium or, if outdoors, in
fields separate from where boys were playing, as per Islamic
traditions. As Abir Catovic, of Montgomery, watched young girls playing
volleyball, she noted that the event was a good opportunity for them to
get an early start on sports.

"I think it's a good start. It's a nice thing to get these young Muslim
girls to play sports and meet people from other communities, which is
pretty nice, and overall I think it's nice," said Catovic.

Competitors said that the Islamic environment for the games made for an
overall positive playing experience. As coach Wael Hamza, of
Westchester, N.Y., took a short break from a soccer match, he noted
that players weren't shouting, fighting or cursing at each other, which
helped his team concentrate more on the game. He also expressed that
participating in the games brought other benefits.

"We got to meet so many people from outside our area. We drove all the
way from New York, we drove one-and-a-half hours, and as you can see,
we're having fun and winning the games, and I think it's beautiful,"
said Hamza, who said he has been involved in soccer for his whole life.


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