Here’s one thing that Muslim WWE superstar Mustafa Ali would like you to know about the holy month of Ramadan:
“No, we don't fast for 30 days straight, I assure you,” he told TODAY with a laugh. “We’ll get water at some point. ‘Oh, Ramadan, is that when you guys don't eat for 30 days?’ No! No, ‘cause I would die (laughs). No. That's my big takeaway, ladies and gentlemen: We have water and we have food before sunrise and after sunset.
“We’re good. We’re great. We’re happy.”
Ali, whose real name is Adeel Alam, is currently fasting in observance of Ramadan, the month when Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. This year, Ramadan — a time of reflection, prayer and sacrifice for Muslims around the world — began April 12 and ends May 12.
Ali shared with TODAY what it’s like to fast and train during Ramadan while performing for WWE.
Flipping the schedule
Ali, a Chicago native whose father is from Pakistan and whose mother is from India, has wrestled for about 17 years, including the last several with WWE, so he’s accustomed to adjusting his routine for Ramadan. He explained that he takes his schedule and he’ll “flip it upside down.” For example, he normally wakes up in the morning and does what he described as empty-stomach cardio, but during Ramadan, he delays the workout until much later in the day.
“I wake up and I’ll have a small meal and I’ll make sure I’m hydrated. And then when the sun rises my fast begins, so I avoid any sort of training until very, very late in the evening. Approximately 45 minutes to an hour before I break my fast I'll do my empty-stomach cardio,” Ali, 35, said.
“I’ll have my meal; I’ll head to the gym. Then in the evening, late at night, have a weight training session, come back and then that’s when the big meal happens,” he added.
Stepping into the ring and performing for WWE during Ramadan can present its own challenge. For example, one night last week, Ali was scheduled to wrestle a match right before sunset.
“I had to go out there … no water, no food in me. We got through it and I was fine,” he recalled. “But it’s something that, it does mean something to me. You know how the saying goes: If it means something to you then it’s no problem at all.”
No special treatment
Ali said he’s been blessed in his career with co-workers who’ve understood and respected the fact that he fasts during Ramadan.
"I've performed and I've literally come back to the locker room and had someone make me a hot plate. And they knew that, sunset, so they warmed up the food for me and were like, ‘Here you go, man.’ Someone would go get me a Gatorade or whatnot,” he said. “Even (the) WWE medical (team) is awesome. They know that I’ve got it under control but they kind of poke their head in and check: ‘Hey, you're good? You're doing all right? You're staying hydrated?’ Reminding me that, you know, stay hydrated after my match.”
While he appreciates the thoughtful gestures of his colleagues, he also stressed that he does not want special treatment simply because he’s fasting. The way he sees it, he’s just doing his job.
“I don't want any sort of accommodations or, ‘Take it easy on him because he's fasting.’ (Recently) I did four hours of media. Again, no water. I'm designed to do this. It's all mental. I feel like — I hope this doesn't sound too weird — I don't feel like they need to do any accommodations because this is something that I'm doing for myself,” he said.
One of Ali’s fellow superstars, current United States Champion Sheamus, learned firsthand the challenges of fasting when they filmed a video for Sheamus’ “Celtic Warrior Workouts” YouTube channel a few years ago.
“He fasted from sunrise to sunset, we broke our fast with something small, we did the (WWE) show. And then we headed to a gym in the middle of the night. … I put him through my plyometric-based workout, and that man was gassed (laughs). He was like, ‘How do you do this?’”
A time for family and a time for gratitude
During Ramadan, Ali enjoys getting together with extended family to break the fast at sunset, known as the iftar meal.
“My mother-in-law cooks the best, most authentic Pakistani and Indian cuisines. Anything she makes is just mouthwatering good,” said the married father of two, adding he eats “a lot of chicken, a lot of rice.”
Ali has his moments before the daily sunset meal when he feels hungry or thirsty, but he keeps it all in perspective.
“It’s important, instead of looking at the clock and being impatient and, ‘oh, I can't wait to eat,’ you have to feel that hunger and you have to feel that thirst and you have to realize that within a few minutes or a few hours, it is fact that you will eat,” he said. “No matter what happens in my day, I'm going to eat today. If there's no food in the fridge, I've got a credit card. I'm going to drive down the street to a Taco Bell and I'm going to get a meal. It's fact.
“There are people in this world that don't know when that hunger that they feel is going to be satisfied, when that thirst that they feel is going to be quenched,” he continued. “They have no idea. It's not hours. It's not minutes. It could be days. It could be weeks. They feel that same hunger and that same thirst that you feel in this moment, but they don't have that certainty. They don't have that assurance that in a little bit, it's going to be fine. And then when you take that moment to realize — everything clicks. You go, ‘What do I have to complain for?’”
In addition to the gratitude that he feels, Ali shared one other lesson he takes away from observing Ramadan.
“At the end of the day, no matter what you believe in, what you practice, I think the common goal is just to be a good person and treat people with respect and kindness. And that's it. And if we did that, we'd all really be one religion then, wouldn't we?”