I’ve always wondered why more religion writers don’t seek out this exact storyline when writing about Ramadan. It’s there for the taking, and I’ve seen it a few times in the past five years. That was when I wrote a similar story about a high school Muslim football player going through the same physical strains and spiritual discipline of Abdullah.
His name was Hytham Elsherif. And as interesting as Hytham’s story was, I find the story behind the story of equal interest. It demonstrates how religion reporters can hunker down long before the holidays come around to ensure that they won’t get stuck with another mundane it’s-Ramadan-the-time-that-Muslims-fast story. I’ve been there on years when I got caught on my heels, and, trust me, it was better for everyone when I had a storyline in mind — even if I didn’t know the subject through whom I would tell it.
Ramadan in 2005 began in early October, and I had traveled the previous month to Miami for the Religion Newswriters Association’s annual meeting of the minds. There I sat in a workshop where an instructor — Steve Buttry? — encouraged us to come up with one story we wanted to write, regardless of whether we knew the story actually existed.
Remembering a year in the ’90s when Ramadan came during the winter and one of Islam’s NBA legends, Hakeem Olajuwon, was overwhelmed by a combination of fasting, the rigors of professional basketball and the altitude of a game at the Utah Jazz, I wanted to find a local Muslim experiencing a similar struggle. California’s Inland Empire lacks much in terms of professional sports (sorry, Quakes and 66ers), but it has plenty of high schools and it was football season.
I had my mission: find a high school Muslim football player. But, first, our instructor wanted us to write out a rough fictional lede that we could use for our dream story.
At the risk of evoking comparisons to Stephen Glass, my fictional lede was similar to the details I captured of Hytham’s experience and worked into the lede to his story