The Islamic month of Ramadan started earlier in April, and is observed by Muslims around the world.
“Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar,” explained Dr Iqbal. “It’s quite an important month. During this time, over the 29 or 30 days, Muslims fast, which means they abstain from food from dawn right through until sunset.”
Fasting during Ramadan often presents unique challenges, with the body having to adapt to not receiving food or fluids when it otherwise would.
“A question that I’m often asked by the players [when fasting is]: 'What, not even water?!' And [yes], it’s absolutely no food, no fluid whatsoever.”
For Kouyaté and other professional footballers, the task of fasting in the middle of the season can prove to be very difficult. They have to fast while being tasked with performing at the highest level and still trying to maintain their fitness levels.
“It depends on your head,” explained Kouyaté. “It’s like mental. If you come in and say: 'Yeah, it’s gonna be hard,' it’s gonna be hard. The [harder] month is if you do it in the pre-season.”
Ramadan goes beyond just fasting, it is about community, prayer, self-reflection and charity. These are important aspects that Dr Iqbal elaborates on:
“It’s really a period of self-control, self-reflection and just appreciating what you’ve got.
“I reflect on how appreciative I am for everything I've got, remember those who are less fortunate than us and also [it's] the time for charity as well. So as well as the sacrifice that we make in terms of giving up food and fluid also, at the end of the month, we give 2.5% of what we earn to charity.”
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made some tasks during Ramadan harder. Group prayer is often conducted in mosques each day of Ramadan, which provides the sense of community. Typically, Kouyaté even shares this with members of the Palace team:
“After [training] we go to his [Christian Benteke’s] house. He does Ramadan [with] me, Mama [Sakho] and Jordan [Ayew]. And he prays with us in the night. Yeah, it's very, very good. It's a very good experience.”
The ending of the month of Ramadan is celebrated with Eid. Typically Eid is spent with friends and family, though this year will be different due to restrictions. Kouyaté adds:
“But maybe this month [isn't going to] be the same. Eid is something [that we like to] do together, enjoy the time, everything is positive, it's like a big moment for all. It's very, very good, it's an unbelievable [end to the] month for us.”
Dr Iqbal adds to this sentiment: “I think first and foremost, just hope that it's a successful Ramadan for all, be grateful for what we have and hopefully we can celebrate an Eid Mubarak [literally 'blessed festival'] at the end of Ramadan.”