Breaking down Barriers
Whenever we feel like the world is making progress by uniting and accepting people of all religions and races – world leaders like Donald Trump take us ten steps back by implementing rules to ban Muslims from entering the United States. However, in times of turmoil, the world of sports has witnessed a beautiful change in direction as Muslim’s such as Mesut Ozil and Ibtihaj Muhammad have been making history and breaking records.
“We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda…. Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam…” - Muhammad Ali
There was once a time in the sixties where Muhammad Ali was punished by both the U.S government and the sport of boxing for his refusal to join the U.S army. Due to his conversion to Islam, he said he would not harm or kill other human beings as that would be going against the religion, which stands for peace.
Even in more recent years, it was thought that the sport of weightlifting did not change its rules or thought process when it came to women competing while wearing hijabs (headscarves for ladies). Certain commissions did not want to change the rules that had existed for so many years, and they also did not believe that Muslim women would ever want to compete at a high level in the Olympics.
In today’s world, the media have constantly associated the religion of Islam with Isis, despite the terrorist organization going against everything the religion stands for. Even president Trump, who currently leads the world’s most powerful country, America, spent an entire presidential campaign proclaiming that Muslims are at the root of the country’s problems.
And while Trump’s racist and disgusting ban looks to be slowly coming into effect, there are positive perceptions of Muslims and their place in the world. This change is taking place in the world of sports, as football clubs, athletic commissions, and fans have seen a rise in athletes who are practising Muslims. Not only are they growing in numbers, but they are becoming more prominent figures as well.
“If He’s Good Enough For You, He’s Good Enough For Me. If He Scores Another Few Then I’ll Be Muslim Too” – Liverpool Fans Song For Mo Salah
In the Premier League, which is touted as the biggest and most popular football league in the world, we have witnessed an incredible influx of Muslim players. Not only is there an increasing number, but they are also at the heart of some of the biggest clubs recent successes.
Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian born Liverpool midfielder has been a prolific goal scorer for the Merseyside club, and the Liverpool supporters showed their appreciation by creating a song for him. In that song, they even incorporated his religion, and while it may be a football song – lyrics like: “Sitting in the Mosque that’s where I wanna be” is a sign of respect more than anything else.
In Islam, people pray to Allah (God) and believe that all the good that happens is a blessing from the Almighty. In the Mo Salah song, the lyrics are fun, light-hearted, and also a kind gesture to Salah and the belief of all Muslims that due to his faith he is having such success.
However, it does not just stop at Liverpool; Manchester United signed Paul Pogba in 2016 for what was at the time a world record fee of a hundred million. The significance here is that the French international is also Muslim, and over in London, Arsenal’s midfield wizard Mesut Ozil recently signed a deal that makes him one of the top three highest-paid Premier League players.
These players have been able to perform at the highest levels and even reap the rewards of big contracts, but more importantly, they have been respected and accepted just like any other player would be.
Before every game, we see Mesut Ozil reciting the Quran, and he once said that: “This really helps me to keep me focused. I pray and my team-mates know that they cannot talk to me during this brief period”.
A Peaceful Protest
In 2016, Trump was spewing uneducated opinions in-regards to Islam. While many may have seen through his foolish statements, it still left many Muslims like me worried about what some people may say or think about our faith. It was also infuriating because he did it to put himself in a position of power without a care in the world about who he may be hurting.
But despite Trump claiming “Islam hates us” - it is a religion of peace, and in the 2016 Olympics, Ibtihaj Muhammad fought back in the most beautiful way... by making history.
Ibtihaj Muhammad represented America in fencing in the 2016 games, not only was she a Muslim woman representing America, but she also did so while wearing a hijab. She went on to win a bronze medal, and by doing so, she became the first Muslim-American to medal in the Olympics. She was a symbol of “intolerance” and “diversity”. By medalling for America, it was the ultimate protest, as Ibtihaj showed America and the world that Muslims are no different than anybody else, and they certainly are not advocates for violence and hate.
Her success is also a message to Muslim families, who often play down the significance of sport, especially when it comes to women. Parents may allow boys to continue playing sports as they get older, but they may not be fond of the idea of girls participating because of the types of clothes they may have to wear.
But if these families want a world where they are appreciated and treated like everybody else, sports should be encouraged, and even be given as much importance as academic subjects.
With the sports world becoming an increasingly open and united community, is there ever a better opportunity for Muslims to continue to help and build a world where their religion does not overshadow their success? The more men and women who enter the sports world, the more likely it is that we will see a day where their outfit or faith will not be made into such a big deal, and their success will be viewed the same as everybody else in this world.
Words: Humza Sports Editor
Images: Getty Images / Ezra Shaw