The Influence Of Islam On English Football
Long gone are the days when black footballers would be assaulted by the majority of a crowd in an average football match. Long gone it seems, are the days when I would be too scared to accompany my mother for a trip to Upton Park (home to West Ham United) on a Saturday afternoon for shopping as a child. British football is changing, and that’s a fact. What we are now starting to see (for those that follow football), is both the surprising influx of Muslim footballers in the English football league, as well as their Islamic influence on the game for all those watching.
Now it seems, that only 20 years after a period when not a single Muslim could be spotted in a football stadium; the sight of players doing Sajdah or gesturing the Shahaadah with their fingers is a common feature. Some go even further with t-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as Samir Nasri of Manchester City dedicating his Eid day goal celebration with a T-Shirt printed with ‘Eid Mubarak’ at the front. His North African compatriot, Adel Taarabt, of Queens Park Rangers went even further to proclaim his love for Allah with the slogan “I love Allah” across the front. In fact, the sight is so common all across the world, that players in the popular FIFA game series even have the ability to celebrate a goal with a Sajdah!
For me, as a Muslim who is passionate about the beautiful game; it is a great sight to see. As far as I’m aware, the typical demographic that watch football (at matches primarily), is the average majority of the English population; the white working class. These are the exact same people that are targeted and influenced by popular media to fuel stereotypical Islamophobic beliefs. To then have these same people go on to completely obsess with someone (as they do!) that is supposed to be “backward”, and is clearly excelling in something – it really goes a long way to combat these mindsets – even if it is by a small amount.
However, it’s not just the fans that are feeling the impact from the influx of these Muslim players. Many clubs have seen the immediate success of their players, as well as their influence both on and off the field. Newcastle FC for example, have seven first team players who are Muslim, resulting in the newly created prayer room at the clubs training facilities. Manager Alan Pardew commented, ‘You have to respect that some players have a different religion to most of the footballers in this country. We need different facilities for them. It’s important that whatever the religion, we take care of it and understand it.’
Newcastle FC are not new in this regard; Bolton also have a prayer room, as do Manchester City who have four practising Muslims in their first-team squad. In fact, the Premier League’s first multi-faith prayer room inside a stadium was unveiled four years ago at Blackburn. That was as much in response to the needs of fans as to the demand from players – proving first hand, the change in demographics of those visiting football grounds.
I, for one, hope that this trend continues to increase and that Allah allows this to become an unconventional form of Da’wah to an ever increasing Islamophobic society. ‘Football as a form of Da’wah’ may seem like a weird statement, but to understand that it is the passion of the whole country, and one that is “religiously followed” (no pun intended) – it may not be a statement too far-fetched!
However, despite its abilities in combatting Islamophobia, my biggest hope is that this new trend will play a greater role; a stimulus that will allow Britain’s many Muslims to participate in sport, football or otherwise. It is common knowledge that the majority of Muslims in the UK are either first or second generation immigrants – both of whom have a large percentage of health issues. Islam of course emphasises how much one needs to look after his or her body; it is an Amanah from Allah and one that needs to be maintained and well nourished. The Prophet (SAW) led by example, and the Sahaabah were physically fit – available for long treks, gruelling battles and hunting to name a few. So instead of just commentating on the increase of Islamic influence on sport and its impact on greater society, let us all take a lesson from this and use these new role models to encourage us in how we look after yourselves and our health inshaAllah.
By Abdul Aleem