Image 1 of 15: Germany’s roster includes Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira. The dynamic Muslim midfielder caught some heat for a 2012 magazine cover featuring a racy picture of the Tunisian in a clutch with his naked model girlfriend! Three journalists were detained for publishing the picture - but Khedira was unpunished for acting as a “human bra”.
Image 1 of 15: Arsenal’s Mesut Özil, representing the German national team, recites the Quran before matches. “I pray and my teammates know that they cannot talk to me during this brief period." As for Ramadan fasting during the games, he told Goal.com, "Because of my job I cannot follow Ramadan properly. I fast only when I have a free day.”
Image 1 of 15: Manchester City striker Edin Džeko shirts up for Bosnia and Herzegovina in its first-ever World Cup appearance. Tagged as “The Bosnian Diamond”, he survived a terrible childhood in war-torn Sarajevo to become 3-time Bosnian Footballer of the Year. A devout Muslim, Džeko became Bosnia’s first UNICEF ambassador, preaching unity and tolerance.
Image 1 of 15: As a child, Mostar-born footballer Senad Lulić moved to Switzerland to escape the Bosnian war. Nicknamed “The Train”, he represents Italian club Lazio as well as the B&H squad. Hard to find much intel on this young Muslim powerhouse - but his Facebook page is loaded with his charity events.
Image 1 of 15: Frenchie Mamadou Sakho plays for Liverpool and France’s national team. The talented tackler, known for eccentric hairstyles, tweeted that his first paycheck covered the cost of sending his father to Mecca, “because he wanted to perform the Hajj". Fantastic athlete and wonderful son - adorbs, ladies, don’t you agree?
Image 1 of 15: Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna also won a spot on the French team. He’s considered the best right back in the Premier League - with a heart of Islamic gold! In 2011, this defender with Senegalese-roots became a Grassroot Soccer ambassador: the charity taps the power of football to educate and mobilize communities against the spread of HIV.
Image 1 of 15: France also boasts Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema. In 2007, at the tender age of 19, he ranked as top scorer in all European leagues - but seems he also has a rep for off-field scoring! He and his teammates were investigated in 2010 for connection with a Parisian prostitution ring - haram! - but he was cleared of all charges in January.
Image 1 of 15: French-Algerian Feghouli plays for Valencia CF and Algeria’s national team. He hasn’t said if he’ll be fasting yet, but he told FIFA.com that playing in the competition is “a dream I’ve had since I was a kid and now it’s going to come true. In a few days I won’t be a spectator any more. I’ll be part of it all!”
Image 1 of 15: Ivory Coast's Yaya Touré is struggling with a thigh injury, and it looks doubtful that the Man City star will start in his opening World Cup game with Japan. A practicing Muslim, he passed on traditional Man-of-the-Match champagne after a league game against Newcastle United. Send up some healing prayers for Yaya!
Image 1 of 15: Liverpool’s Kolo Habib Touré plays for Ivory Coast - alongside younger brother Yaya. He observes fasting during Ramadan, saying, "It makes me stronger. You can do it when you believe so strongly in something. A normal human can be without water for much longer than one day."
Image 1 of 15: Mousa Dembélé plays for Tottenham Hotspur and the Belgium team, With over 50 caps, he was ranked 91st in The Guardian's list of the 100 best current footballers in 2012. The former Olympian was born in Belgium to a Malian father and a Belgian mother. Dembélé, a practicing Muslim, has not stated whether he will fast during the competition.
Image 1 of 15: Roma’s Miralem Pjanić plays for Bosnia & Herzegovina (his family moved to Luxembourg before the start of the Bosnian War). Listed 81st in The Guardian’s The 100 best footballers in the world, he’s not too cool for school! He’s enrolled in University of Sarajevo; fluent in Luxembourgish, French, English, German & Italian; & a devout Muslim.
Image 1 of 15: Man United’s Marouane Fellaini plays the Belgium national team.Born in Belgium to Moroccan parents, he could play for either Belgium or Morocco. He’d managed by his dad, a former goalkeeper for Raja Casablance and Hassaina Agadir. A practicing Muslim, he will make up his fasting following the matches.
Image 1 of 15: Bayern Munich star Franck Ribéry was sidelined from the French team by persistent back problems. "I leave my team-mates with a heavy heart”, he said, adding that his withdrawal from the World Cup squad was "soul-destroying". Ribéry is a convert to Islam - he adopted the name Bilal Yusuf Mohammed.
Image 1 of 15: Fluminense’s Fred plays for and moved to Lyon in 2005 was reportedly behind his contact with Islam, but his relation to Islam remains uncertain. He once scored during WC 2006 where viewers were surprised by Fred’s celebration, as he kneeled on the ground in a form of gratitude often associated with Islam.
Over the next four weeks, 32 nations will battle it out on football fields across Brazil during the FIFA 2014 World Cup football tournament - but only two teams will represent the Middle East.
Proud props to Algeria and Iran - (and mabruk for a winning outcome!) - but while MENA nations may not be crowding the roster, these international games are increasingly dependent on contributions from dozens of Muslim players, many of whom are challenged with integrating faith with career.
This year, the last weeks of the World Cup coincide with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when the world’s one billion Muslims are expected to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex, from before sunrise until sundown. How will practicing Muslim athletes cope?
As with last year’s summer Olympics - also twinned with Ramadan - some athletes may choose to fast throughout the entire month, including days when they train or play matches. Others may seek to defer fasting days until after the competition in order to ensure peak fitness and maximum hydration.
Nick Worth, Medical Director at the Abu Dhabi club Al Jazira, has experience helping Muslim footballers get through Ramadan. “The players I advised usually had a plan before Ramadan started. They would speak to their spiritual advisors and make a decision,” he told Goal.com. “Are you going to expect a Muslim player to be performing as well? Maybe you don’t play them from the start or use them in a different way,” he added.
Not everyone is so flexible. London-based Imam Ajmal Masroor, a member of the Muslim Council of Britain, said, “Firemen have to fast, police officers have to fast, school teachers have to fast - this is part of the challenge we [Muslims] endure.”
See our sampling of elite Muslim footballers heading to Brazil. Not all claim adherence to the mandates of their faith, nor do they broadcast their personal strategies for coping with Holy Month requirements. Most agree it’s a personal choice - handled on a case-by-case basis.
Let the games begin, and watch these Muslim stars shine.