By Asim Ali
Like the members of any other recreational soft ball league the members of the “Better Halves” head to games with bat and glove. Yet, unlike the many teams they have faced over the past month the team won’t be pausing for water breaks – at least until after sunset. That’s because the members of the Batter Halves have been competing in soft ball games for the past month while also observing the month of Ramadan. During Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar Muslims abstain from food and water during the daylight hours.
Yet, this hasn’t stopped the Batter Halves from taking part in their community through softball. Indeed, community is one of the key focuses of Ramadan which is also a time for prayer and reflection in addition to the daily fasting for Muslims.
“We have two full time teams that have been going for years,” says Arif Harsolia, “The men’s team is 10 Muslim guys and the co-Ed team which consists of five couples. Most of the women hadn’t played organized sports and most of the guys hadn’t played softball before we started this team.”
Starting from this background the first couple years of the team involved a learning curve. When the team first started, they were catching balls with the opposite hand – that is the one without the glove. They also had to learn to not carry the bat first base like the game of Cricket in which many would be familiar.
“Not only does it strengthen ties within our families, it builds relationships with the community at large. People we’d never run into in a casual setting, see us playing and having fun. We are always respectful yet competitive. We know for many of them, we are their Muslim face, and we take that very seriously.”
There are many ways to spend time in the California sun but, team members choose this sport for the same reason it appeals to millions of other Americans it can be played by all ages and a great event to put on the family calendar. At one point they had both a 70-year-old and an 18 year old playing during the Sunday recreational league. Santa Clarita, CA league officials have made reasonable accommodation for the team during Ramadan by scheduling its game as late as possible each day so that they fall close to the sunset the time of “iftar” or the opening of the fast during which Muslims enjoy a communal meal.
“I’ve played against them many times…really great people,” said Lee Morrell, another softball player in Santa Clarita in a public social media post, “When they started they were worse then the Bad News Bears…they kept playing and got better and better…great attitudes.”
Fasting during Ramadan offers its own unique challenges for members of the team as well.
“The feeling of being tired absolutely exists. It’s similar to when we go pray Taraweeh,” Harsolia says in reference to the nightly prayer many Muslims observe during Ramadan, “You are tired before it starts but then afterwards you are energized and feel fresh.
Being a good sport is also what the Quran teaches Harisolia says. So when the umpire awarded the team an extra run at a late April match they corrected the error to the shock of the opposing team and the umpire we shocked at that level of sportsmanship.
“ During the game we told them that were fasting. Afterwards the other team and the umpire came up and began asking us questions about Ramadan. I think being out there helps us humanize Muslims in general.”