Rocking the boat: Mohamed Sbihi
25 years old and 6ft 8in tall Mohamed Sbihi will represent Great Britain at the London Olympics in the rowing. That’s right, rowing – not a sport commonly associated with Muslims – and in fact he is Britain’s first Muslim rower, a feat he recognises as an honour but goes on to say that he wishes he won’t be the last and, more humbly, wishes that he wasn’t the first either.
Like Mo Farah in our last article, Sbihi had a love for other sports ahead of the sport he’s representing Great Britain in this summer. He was identified as a potentially good rower through a talent identification scheme at school back in 2003 and has been rowing ever since despite falling into the water numerous times at the start – enough to put most people off.
He is a silver medallist at two world championships and hoping to go one better this summer.
Sbihi has made the headlines for other reasons too. His decision not to fast during Ramadan but instead pay for meals for the poor through a charity in Morocco has raised some eyebrows. His decision differs from that of other Muslim athletes from overseas who can cite the fact that they’re travelling to delay their fasting – Sbihi is from London. However, Sbihi says convincingly that:
“the opportunity is bigger than just for me. There are also eight other guys in our group and two coaches. What I have chosen is the right decision for me. There will be other Muslims at these Games who are fasting and that will be the right decision with them.”
Interestingly, he sought advice from scholars before making the decision and a precedent had been set previously – with Moroccan goalkeeper Badou Zaki who, though a Muslim, never fasted during his time at Real Mallorca in Spain’s La Liga. Instead, Zaki would go to Morocco each year to pay for thousands of meals for the poor.
The opportunity really is bigger than just him – imagine how good it would be for a British Muslim to win gold. And to compromise the effectiveness of his rowing crew could have a lasting negative impression on Islam from his crewmates, and the opportunity for Da’wah also exists – through awareness of him making the decision not to fast and it being covered in the media – this should have a positive impact. The fact also that 1,800 poor people in Morocco will be fed this Ramadan is also a positive, but there will always be British Muslims somewhere who will question his decision and seek to undermine him, unfortunately, and not look at the bigger picture.
Sbihi is not unaware of his faith – quite the opposite in fact. He wants his performance in the summer to have a positive influence on young Muslims:
"The one message I really want to get across is that there are positive role models among the Muslim community," he said. "Islam's got a lot of negative press, understandably, over recent years. But hopefully there's going to be a procession of athletes highlighting the way for young Muslims."
It is worth remembering that Mohammed was fasting when he rowed in the World Championships last year and won a Silver medal.
Aside from his decision not to fast, Sbihi should be celebrated as a British Muslim that is going for gold this summer in a demanding sport that needs more British Muslim participation. Sbihi is a role model for many – and we wish him all the best this summer.
Mohammed Sbihi helped to power Team GB’s men’s eight to a Bronze medal yesterday finishing an agonisingly 3 seconds off the Gold medal position. We congratulate Mohammed and the men’s eight team on their achievement!