Belal Muhammad was just two days into his fight camp after signing to fight Jordan Mein, when Ramadan began. Muhammad walks into the UFC gym in South Chicago that Saturday afternoon having not consumed any food or water to start his training that day. He would still have two more training sessions before sunset when he would be allowed to eat.
Muhammad (11-2) is set to fight Mein (29-11) during International Fight Week at UFC 213 on July 8. This will be the second straight year Muhammad has been featured on a UFC fight card during International Fight Week but he will be looking for a different ending to this story.
“It’s the one year anniversary of when I first got into the UFC, when I fought Alan Jouban,” Muhammad said. “I lost in Vegas at International Fight Week so it’s one of those where it’s always in the back of my mind and I want to get that one back in a Vegas and come out on top.”
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. This has been misconstrued as fasting for fastings’ sake. But the true understanding of Ramadan is to, “be more in touch with our religion to strive to be a better and more holy person,” as Muhammad explained. “The fasting is to show the struggle those who are less fortunate are faced with everyday.”
Muhammad has been in the UFC for roughly one year now but his reputation precedes him. As a Muslim fighter, he is viewed throughout the world as a premier Muslim athlete. Muhammad finds humility and strength in this situation.
“You don’t realize how many people are following you in the Muslim community,” he said.
“I’ll get messages from all around the world of people telling me that their kids are looking up to me and I’m a hero to their kids for what I’m doing. I didn’t even think about it like that. So now that I know that I have these type of people looking at me it just makes me work a lot harder and be more dedicated to the sport.”
Muhammad does not take this task lightly. I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the state of how the Muslim faith is currently viewed in America. Muhammad, always humble in his approach, finds strength in the task in front of him.
“In this world right now where people are always looking down on Muslims and thinking that we’re all terrorists or we’re all evil, if I go in there and I’m an athlete and I [show] good sportmanship, and I’m showing people that not all Muslims are crazy or anything like that. That you can be a decent human being and be a Muslim and be a professional athlete, and show the world what being a a Muslim and Islam is all about.”
UFC 213 will be held on July 8 at the T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Nevada, part of the Las Vegas metropolitan area.
WATCH THE TRAILER TO: Ramadan: UFC fighter Belal Muhammad’s Path to Paradise
Story behind the film
by Ryan Sprague of the SFLC Podcast
Video production by film producers Dan Svoboda and Ryan Hentsch
I attended the Chicago Iftar, sponsored by the Ta’Leef Collective Organization, this past weekend which was a celebration in the Muslim faith to break fast together. People from all walks of life were in attendance of the celebration. One of the biggest things I saw was that the Muslim culture does not have a type or color.
The Muslim faith exists in this stereotype of being based around violence. It is a faith of love and peace.
It also exists to those who don’t necessarily view the faith as being wrong, but asks why Muslims aren’t asked to do more to denounce extremists or terrorists. I think that was why Belal Muhammad was so eager to talk about his love for his religion as well as his love for this sport.
The duality that exists in those statements is an important story to be told for those who may believe anything other than the meaning behind the religion as well as the meaning of the sport.
Similarly, the world of MMA lives in that same duality: violent sport must be full of violent athletes. But these athletes, this athlete (Muhammad), are very respectful people towards their opponents and towards everyone in the MMA community.
They are smart and caring people from all walks of life. This sport, too, has a beauty to it. These fighters can go to war with each other for three 5:00 rounds. And when the fight is over they can embrace each other knowing that they went through this together.
The marriage of these two dualities is a fascinating story that show the struggle of what it is to be misunderstood in your career, in your religion and in your life.
The Belal trailer was just one of many pieces of this story. To discuss his faith as it pertains to fighting. Do discuss Ramadan, a time of reflection, during his training camp for his upcoming fight.
We will be talking with Belal several times throughout this journey which does not end after his fight with Mein, but rather continues.
The hopes for continuing this story is to encompass all of the above into a full length documentary and to have this project submitted into several film festivals with hopes of opening the lines of communication to anyone who views it.
To test the audience as to what they already know and to challenge those who may disagree. It’s time to start a dialogue about the anti-Muslim culture that exists in this country and around the world.