Arsenal's Abou Diaby: My faith has made me stronger

Thursday 17 Jul 2014
Abou Diaby has been working hard in pre-season training

Abou Diaby says he has a duty to set a good example as a Muslim footballer playing in this country.

During the holy month of Ramadan, the Arsenal and France midfielder took time to talk to about what his religion means to him, and how he combines it with his life as a professional player.

The 28-year-old said: “The young Muslims want to see role models – somebody who is dedicated to his religion but also someone who is achieving something in his life.

“There has been a big improvement in football’s understanding of Islam”

Abou Diaby 


“I don’t do it for myself but it is really important to give a positive example. When one footballer does something bad we don’t all want to be put in the same box. 

"For me Islam is to be respectful to people, to be kind and to have good relationships with people.”

Diaby, whose Gunners side will be at Wembley for next month's Community Shield against Manchester City, believes the perception of Muslims in football has changed for the better.

“There has been a big improvement in football’s understanding of Islam. But then I believe today football has a better understanding of religion as a whole. Judaism and Christianity too – all the religions.”

The period of Ramadan, which runs from 29 June to 28 July in 2014 and falls around 11 days earlier each year, is central to the Muslim calendar.

During the holy month Muslims often refrain from drinking and eating from dawn until sunset, when they break their fast with the evening meal – known as Iftar.

Diaby said: “It is a very good time. We get together at home as a family but it’s also when we strengthen our links with the community.

“We have the prayers at night where all the community pray together – it is a very powerful moment.”

Diaby would love to join the fast but feels the long days and evenings without food or water would leave him unable to fulfill his commitment to Arsenal, who are in the middle of a punishing pre-season.


'This is the most difficult moment to fast, because of the long days, because of the heat'


“This is the most difficult moment to fast, because of the long days, because of the heat,” he said.

“It is really difficult to fast at the moment, during pre-season. Some players can handle it – it is different from one player to another.

“All the days I miss during Ramadan I make up during the rest of the year – for example when I have days off or a light session I can fast, but when we have a hard session or a match I don’t fast.”

Diaby is grateful for the understanding and support he receives from Arsenal and his manager Arsene Wenger – and explains that honouring work commitments is closely intertwined with the Muslim faith.

“My contract to my club, or to whatever my profession is, is part of who I am and my own morality,” he said.

“So I need to respect that, and that’s why I don’t fast during Ramadan, but there is always a compensation. The religion is very flexible.

“Arsene Wenger knows that Ramadan is a special moment for all the Muslim players. But at the same time we have a contract to the club and we be at our best to do our jobs. So we have to find a balance during Ramadan.”

Abou Diaby in action for Arsenal last year

Abou Diaby in action for Arsenal


Balance is key in diet too – and Diaby avoids temptation to gorge during Iftar.

“I try to eat something that is going to help me – nothing too oily – something balanced,” he said. “The nutritionist sometimes gives me a protein supplement to take in the morning and maybe something to help me to recover well.”

After Iftar, Diaby heads to a mosque to pray: “If I want to pray at night I will go to the local mosque in north London or Paris – or wherever I am. As a Muslim you will be welcomed in any mosque, anywhere."

Then, when Ramadan finishes on 28 July, Diaby and Muslims across the world celebrate the festival of Eid: “It is a big celebration. And again all the family and friends gather.

“We share presents and pray. It is when we reinforce all the links to the family first and the community.”

Diaby says he cannot imagine life without his faith: “It is something that I have had in my heart. I take it from my parents and from the way I grew up. 

"It has helped me to be a better person, definitely.”

Diaby's Arsenal, who won The FA Cup last season, face Manchester City in The FA Community Shield at Wembley on Sunday 10 August. For ticket details, click here.

By James Callow Content manager