This week marks the beginning of Ramadan, the month where Muslims all over the world devote themselves to their faith through prayer, good deeds and fasting between dawn and sunset. We spoke with Total Computers Scholar and coach Asma Amla on how she balances this holy month with work and keeping active, as well as her aspirations to champion Muslim riders across the cycling community, from grassroots to podiums.
During Ramadan, it is common to have one meal (suhoor) just before sunrise, and (iftar) just after sunset for the evening meal. Like many religious holidays, Ramadan is about coming together as a family and a community.
Asma, a British Cycling City Hub Coach based in London, said: “Considering my hub sessions generally take place after lunch, I am usually well fed and have an abundance of energy to go. And so before the body adapts to the reduced intake of food and water, you really do feel and hear the tummy rumbles and hope no one else is listening!
“After the first few days, you notice your body's incredible ability to adapt and after this, it’s pretty much ‘business as usual’ with a hint of lethargy.
“Ramadan is as much about training the mind as it is the body, and so I find that I can still accomplish a lot, usually a lot more than usual, when I take out the habitual eating during the day. I find that I have enough time, and crucially enough energy to work, exercise and achieve additional spiritual goals throughout Ramadan.”
Having been one of 18 scholars on the Total Computer Scholarship programme back in 2022, Asma embraced the British Cycling coaching initiative and learned valuable skills to go on to be employed by British Cycling as a City Academy Coach.
The City Academy initiative, in partnership with the Rapha foundation, aims to help improve the gender balance of the sport, increase involvement from diverse ethnic communities and encourage greater engagement amongst young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and provides local opportunities for people to access cycling, supported by coaches from their area.
For Asma, this means breaking down barriers in the sport, and celebrating Ramadan vocally to support others in the cycling community.
She said: “Some of the team will be getting together and having our iftar (breaking of the fast) together - I think it’s a great way to celebrate together and share with others. I know that by people like me joining the team, it opens the doors for others to join too.
“The bread and butter of the City Academy project is about getting people from diverse areas involved in cycling, and this is what I, as a coach, am about. I want to give the opportunity for everyone to get involved in cycling regardless of barriers, whether it's financial, religious, or just accessibility. Providing free sessions with free equipment is a great way to get things sparked in the community and by being a Hijabi, a Muslim, and a woman, I know it makes it easier for certain parts of the community to engage.
“Along the way, I’ve made a point of exposing myself to new events and opportunities to show that if I can do it, anyone can. A big obstacle I’ve seen is basic access into the sport at a competitive level and so part of my job now is providing access and setting the early foundation necessary to working towards seeing not only a Hijabi, but British people of colour represented in our races and on our cycle podiums.”
Many Muslims feel a sense of spirituality when cycling during Ramadan, and Asma is ready to champion those like herself that are inspiring future generations of Muslim cyclists.
She added: “I think as a Muslim community, we have done brilliantly in seeing a steady increase in Muslims cycling recreationally and encouraging one another to keep fit on our two wheels. Personally, I’d love to take this to the next level and see our diverse community competing at the highest levels and eventually represented on the podium. I think this could have a tremendous impact on attracting more young people to take cycling more seriously - something that I didn’t have when I was younger.
“My favourite part of Ramadan is renewing my spirituality - outside of it we get bogged down in our everyday duties and become dulled by the repetitiveness of life. Ramadan puts a spotlight on what’s really important - families, children, parents, and the community we are a part of. We forget our most valued areas of life and Ramadan reminds us that spirituality is in all things around us, giving us time to build on our closeness to God. It gives us a month to work on ourselves which is really fulfilling. Of course, our stomachs are empty, but in the end, it re-energises and gives nutrition to the heart and soul.”