In the traditional world of sumo, Egyptian Osunaarashi Kintaro is balancing the demands of being a devout Muslim with a strict schedule of fasting and prayer against a rigorous daily training and eating regimen.
So far, he's been extraordinarily successful, becoming the first sumo wrestler from Africa to rise to sekitori--wrestlers in sumo’s top two divisions, juryo and makuuchi.
At the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo in May, he captured the third highest division title through his powerful pushing and shoving techniques, earning his promotion to the juryo ranks.
“God has given me the gift (of victory) after I have gone through a lot of pain,” Osunaarashi, 21, said.
He's risen quickly through ranks after only eight tournaments since his debut. The only other non-Japanese sumo wrestlers who made it to juryo in eight bashos were sekiwake Baruto from Estonia and Konishiki, a former ozeki, the second highest rank, who was originally from Hawaii.
Being a Muslim, Osunaarashi cannot eat pork. But while many non-Japanese wrestlers are not big fans of sashimi, or raw fish, he likes it and when it comes to broiled fish, he devours it to the bones.
Osunaarashi takes time out from his busy training schedule to pray five times daily. He does not forget to pray at the Shinto altar at the training ground.
“In the same way as I worship Allah, there is something the Japanese cherish, and I admire that,” he said.
Abdelrahman Ahmed Shaalan, his real name, was born in Giza, Egypt, which is famous for the Great Pyramids. He started practicing sumo at 15 at a local club.
However, with the instructor also being an amateur, training was given only twice a month.
Aspiring to compete in “full-blown sumo,” he came to Japan two years ago, taking a leave of absence from the university.
After being turned down at various stables, he was accepted by the Otake Stable, which was established by the late Koki Naya, the former yokozuna sumo champion Taiho. The Egyptian's enthusiasm for even menial tasks, including cleaning toilets, was soon recognized.
The Nagoya tournament in July coincides with the Ramadan fast, when Muslims refrain from eating or drinking liquids during the day.
Osunaarashi coped with Ramadan last year, waking up at midnight and consuming fried rice he had prepared or eating out at fast-food restaurants, he said.
He said he will simply wet his mouth instead of drinking water this summer during Ramadan, when chances of suffering from heat exhaustion are high.
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