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The Roar


'It reminds us of how helpless we are': Life as an NRL player during Ramadan - with a little help from Hazem

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26th March, 2024

It’s a fairly striking sight.

The sun goes down over Belmore Sports Ground, the train rattles by along the adjacent track and, as the Islamic call to prayer sounds over the suburban ground, hundreds of Bulldogs fans get ready to pray on the pitch and then break their fast in the grandstand.

Monday night hosted the annual Bulldogs iftar event, organised by the club and the local community to celebrate their Muslim supporters during Ramadan.

It was first organised in 2022 with the help of club legend Hazem El Masri, the first Muslim to play in the NRL, who

One player following in his footsteps is Khaled Rajab, now just one of three active players, along with Brisbane’s Payne Haas and Canberra’s Emre Guler, who are fasting throughout the holiest month of the year in Islam, in which adherents neither eat nor drink between sunrise and sunset.

The Roar spoke to Rajab just before he broke his fast, and raised how hard it must be to compete as an elite athlete while observing Ramadan.

“It’s been tough,” he admitted.


“Usually at the start of Ramadan it’s pretty hard coming to training or even drinking water, then seeing the boys have a sip, but you get used to it and you realise that we fast because we want to feel what other people feel.

“It reminds us of how helpless we are. We live in a country where we can do whatever we want and where we have freedom, other people don’t have that.

“You gain that mental strength when you remind yourself of the people in need. It’s nothing compared to what they go through.”

Rajab added that he had received nothing but support from coach Cameron Ciraldo and his teammates, and appreciated how the club had encouraged him to observe the fast.

“It’s incredible what the Bulldogs do and how they involve all cultures,” said the five eighth.

“We just had Multicultural Round last week and had a big function where everyone in the team got to get up and share their culture.


“For me, being a local kid who grew up in the area my whole life, to see the embrace of different cultures and religions is a heartwarming feeling and I’m incredibly grateful to be here.

“We talk about sacrifice a lot in rugby league and that’s what Ramadan teaches us.

“The boys are very supportive of me. They always ask questions. They’re asking if I need a rest or if I need to go pray.

“From the coaching and playing side, I’ve been heavily supported and that’s all you want, you want to feel comfortable doing your stuff.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 25: Hazem El Masri of the Bulldogs kicks a goal during the NRL Preliminary Final match between the Bulldogs and the Penrith Panthers at Aussie Stadium September 25, 2004 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

(Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Leading the event was Bulldogs deputy chair John Khoury, who said that events such as the iftar and the Multicultural Round match at Belmore on Saturday showed how the club can touch areas that others could not.

“Most major Australian cities are very multicultural, but in this area especially, we have people from all cultures and religions,” he explained.


“Sometimes the best way to bring people together is through sport. The Bulldogs not only say it but do it through our junior leagues.

“We’ve got 12 junior clubs that aren’t only socially diverse but also economically – you have wealthy and not wealthy, from the edge of Liverpool to Clemton Park and Earlwood.

“If you look at our superstars in modern history – Hazem El Masri came here as an economic refugee from Lebanon, played soccer and didn’t know what rugby league was but ended up as the greatest pointscorer in Bulldogs history and the second highest ever to date in the NRL.

“He broke boundaries and is still very much a representation of all these young kids that aspire to be part of this club and community.”