Every religion permits its followers to invite new people to join it. We call it preaching or proselytizing. Traditionally, Muslims and Christians have preached everywhere; in some areas, however, such as international sports, religion, race and politics have historically been considered off-limits.
Now, it seems, Muslim players have begun violating this practice.
Formerly, in 2003, Zimbabwean star cricketers Andy Flower and Henry Olonga were punished for wearing wristbands against Robert Mugabe's brutal acts. And in 2006, former Australian test player Dean Jones was sacked from his job as a commentator when, presumably as a (bad) joke, he remarked about Hashim Amla, a devout South African Muslim cricketer with long beard, that "the terrorist has got another wicket."
Last year, however, despite an International Cricket Council ban on displaying political messages, the English national team cricketer, Moeen Munir Ali, a British-born Muslim of Pakistani descent, wore wristbands with the slogans "Save Gaza" and "Free Palestine" during the third test match between England and India, July 27-31, 2014. Instead of being fined, however, Ali was praised by Muslim players representing England. Cricketer Ajmal Shahzad of the Nottinghamshire cricket team tweeted, "Absolutely love this! Well done Moeen bro! Keep showing your support! #prayforGaza." The English authorities evidently did not think Ali had done anything wrong. They argued that his messages were not political, just "humanitarian." Ali was softly warned not to wear the bands again during international matches.
While Western sports authorities are highly respectful of other cultures, such as the Muslims', it often seems that Muslim players are not.
As Muslims are not allowed to drink alcohol, Hashim Amla was permitted not to wear the logo of Castle Beer, which sponsors South African cricket. Also, Pakistan-born Australian cricketer Fawad Ahmed did not wear a beer logo on his shirt during his debut international match against England.
"Cricket Australia and Carlton United Breweries are respectful of Fawad's personal beliefs," Cricket Australia's executive general manager for operations, Mike McKenna, said, "and have agreed with his request to wear an unbranded shirt."
Muslim players are also being privileged in cricket, soccer and many other sports.
In September 2014, Pakistani cricketer Ahmed Shehzad was caught on camera during a game telling Sri Lankan batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan, "If you are a non-Muslim and you turn Muslim, no matter whatever you do in your life, straight to heaven." Dilshan's reply was not audible; Shehzad went on to say, "Then be ready for the fire." Shehzad was found to have breached Article 2.1.4 of the International Cricket Council [ICC] code of conduct for players. The charge was made by on-field umpires. Yet the ICC took no significant action against Shehzad and he has not been condemned -- at least not the same way as Dean Jones, Henry Olonga or Andy Flower. Shehzad was rewarded a minimum penalty of 50% of his applicable match fee.
Bilal Franck Ribéry, a well-known midfielder on the Bayern Munich soccer team, asked the club for a small prayer room for Muslim players. In response, the most popular German club decided to build a mosque at Allianz Arena stadium to serve its Muslim players and fans.
Not only are some Muslim players trying to insert their religion into the field of sports, but some wealthy middle eastern sheikhs also seem to be trying to push Islamic ideology into the games. Real Madrid, a leading Spanish soccer team, removed the Christian Cross from atop its official emblem to appease its new sponsor, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. The Daily Mail wrote, "It is believed that the change is to pacify Muslim supporters in the UAE."
The emblem of Real Madrid before (left) and after its cross was removed to please its sponsor, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi.
At the time of the first acquisition of a European club by a middle eastern interest in 2008, fans of Manchester City -- which was bought by Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Ltd -- greeted the players by wearing Arab headdresses and waving British Pound notes, but with the picture of the Queen replaced by a Gulf sheikh. The club also has a £400-millio sponsorship deal with Etihad, an Abu Dhabi airline.
In the United States, Dion Waiters, a Muslim basketball player with the Cleveland Cavaliers, avoided singing the national anthem before a game against the Utah Jazz last November, claiming as a reason, "It's because of my religion... That is why I stayed in the locker room." There is, however, no religious wording in America's national anthem, so it would be interesting to hear what Waiters meant.
Islamic countries strongly discourage women's participation in most games. Members of the Afghan Taliban threatened the Afghan National Cricket Board by phone : "You should not develop women's cricket. It is not in Islam or in Afghan culture," the caller said. The Afghan national women's team, founded in 2010 by Diana Barakzai, is now defunct. "[The] Afghan cricket board," she said, "does not support cricket for women."
Some Muslim countries punish women for even watching a men's soccer match. In Iran, for example, women are not allowed to attend men's sporting events.
Choncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian law graduate, was arrested in June 2014 because she attempted to watch a men's volleyball match at a Tehran stadium. According to Amnesty International, she has been placed in Tehran's infamous Evin prison. Since her arrest, she has apparently been kept much of the time in solitary confinement.
Recently, Iranian soccer players have even been warned by the Iranian authorities that they could be punished if they take "selfie" pictures with female fans, after women posed for photos with the players at Iran's January Asian Cup match in Australia.
Saudi Arabia also practices systematic discrimination against women's sports. It does not allow women in international women's soccer, cricket, hockey, tennis, swimming and other popular sports. Soccer stadiums are strictly prohibited to women. In December, a young woman was arrested after reportedly disguising herself in male clothes to attend a game.
Some ultra-conservative Muslim countries, however, do allow women to participate in a few sports, like Judo and Track and field, if the woman is wearing a hijab [head-covering].
It is not known why so many Muslim players seem extremely sensitive when it comes to their religion, yet so extremely insensitive about embarrassing their people and their religion when it comes to their behavior in international sporting events.
Monir Hussain is a journalist based in Pakistan.