A coed softball team of all-Muslim players is showing the Santa Clarita Valley what it means to combine faith, fasting and sports during Ramadan.
Each year for the month of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims abstain from eating or drinking anything — including water — from sunrise until sunset each day.
The Batter Halves, a team comprised of five Muslim couples, has been doing just that — even on Sundays, when they have evening softball games.
Typically known as a month of fasting, prayer, giving and community, Ramadan is also a month of sacrifice for these Muslim athletes.
“You’re not supposed to change your daily activities, so for us, if (softball season) happens to land in the month of Ramadan, we don’t cancel, we don’t forfeit, we just say, ‘We’re just going to keep on going,” said Arif Harsolia, the team’s captain.
While there are exceptions to the fasting for those who are sick, elderly, pregnant or traveling, for example, most continue on, finding the balance between fasting and their daily activities, such as sports, uplifting and almost better, in some ways.
“It’s weird because you would think you’d be a lot more tired … but it’s a spiritual time, so you just gain this extra energy,” Arif said. “For some reason, I think I play better when I’m fasting.”
“If anything, I feel lighter on my feet,” added Saif Islam, one of the team’s quickest players.
At sunset, Muslim family and friends typically gather for iftar, or the breaking of the fast, and The Batter Halves do the same after their games at Central Park, often inviting the opposing team to join them as well.
“The city has been really accommodating in giving us later games so we can (break our fast) right after the games,” Mona Harsolia added.
The whole thing has been a learning experience for the team, as many learned to play softball at the same time as they learned to balance the sport with fasting.
“Actually, 90% of our team never played before — ever,” Arif said. “They didn’t even know how to hold a bat, never held a glove … didn’t know the rules.”
As their softball skills have grown, the team’s kids have grown up together at Central Park, but it’s the community’s growth that the team has really cherished.
Through the nine years the team’s now been playing, the SCV softball community has gotten to know them and their routine, as they gather to pray together either before or after the game.
This, along with their Ramadan practices, has helped to ease the stereotypes and stigmas of their religion, Mona said.
“It’s been a really, really great experience to see how people have been comfortable getting to know us,” Mona said. “A lot of people I don’t think have really known many Muslim people, so when they see us out there playing an American sport and doing all these activities with them, and they find out we’re Muslim, they’ve been so kind and extremely accommodating. … Santa Clarita is such an open-minded, great community, so we’re really lucky.”
Through Ramadan, the focus on fasting and prayer has also allowed the team to reflect on both their opportunities and responsibilities as athletes and SCV community members, Arif said.
“Ramadan is a peaceful time that brings a deep sense of gratitude,” Arif added. “You would be shocked at how thankful we are every night after we get our first sip of water.”
Ramadan is all about giving and community, which is why team members have appreciated the opportunity to educate the SCV softball community about their religion and its practices.
Also in celebration of Ramadan and because the pandemic halted many local charity efforts, the Harsolias’ oldest daughter, Inaya, decided to put together a toy drive for inner-city Muslim youth, as well as hygiene kits for teens, so they can also have gifts typically given at Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan.
Eid toy drive donations are set to benefit Islah LA and are being collected through Friday. Donations can be dropped off at Allstate, located at 24502 Lyons Ave., Unit 3, in Newhall.