The Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan is being observed by more than a billion people across the world. The dietary restrictions could pose a dilemma for Muslim players at soccer's World Cup contest in Brazil.
The world's estimated 1.6 billion Muslims began marking the beginning of the holy season of Ramadan this weekend, during which many believers abstain from eating, drinking smoking and having sex from dawn until sunset.
Ramadan is sacred to Muslims because tradition says the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed during that month. The Ramadan season ends with the fast-breaking festival of Eid al-Fitr.
The holy season comes at a time of unprecedented turmoil in the Muslim world, with sectarian conflicts in countries such as Syria and Iraq, and governments battling Islamist extremists in Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt.
In a speech, Saudi King Abdullah accused religious extremists of "sowing discord" among Muslims, saying that Islam was a "religion of unity, fraternity and mutual support."
In the comments carried by the Saudi state news agency SPA, the monarch said extremists "confused reform with terrorism."
"We will not allow a handful of terrorists, using Islam for personal aims, to terrify Muslims or undermine our country and its inhabitants," Abdullah said, adding that his country was determined "to face and tackle this scourge."
The strict diets that believers follow at Ramadan could prove problematic for some Muslim players in the World Cup.
However, the president of the German Football Association (DFB), Wolfgang Niersbach, said an agreement had been reached with the Central Council of Muslims in Germany that the time of fasting could be postponed under the exceptional conditions.
"We respect Ramadan, but are happy about this concession," Niersbach said.
This means the German Muslim players Shkodran Mustafi, Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil will be able to stick to the diets recommended by their trainers to promote optimal performances on the pitch.
But the problem could be more pressing for the Algerian team, which plays Germany on Monday, as Algeria is known to impose prison sentences on those who break the fast.
Players' weakness caused by fasting is thought to have played a role in Algeria's losing its first-half three-goal advantage over Chile in the 1982 World Cup to end the game on 3:2. The score ultimately resulted in the Algerian team not progressing any further in the tournament.
It is the first time since 1986 that the fast has coincided with the World Cup.
tj/ipj (SID, dpa, AFP, AP)