Being Muslim, English, and other dilemmas with the World Cup
By Abu Eesa Niamatullah
Unless you live in a very deep hole in the ground, you might have noticed the start of the “Greatest Show on Earth” – the Football World Cup 2006.
The universal appeal of the beautiful game can be found in its sheer simplicity and its inclusiveness for all people at all times; from the back-street slums to the most stunning stadiums, football provides humanity with the exercise and entertainment that many people often need to keep them going against the rigours of daily life.
And why shouldn’t all of us, including the Muslims entertain ourselves from time to time as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) advised, “Entertain your hearts, for hearts become blind when they are weary.” (Bukhari)
This naturally covers the playing of football with the increased benefit of keeping fit but also the watching and supporting of teams in competitions as an occasional past-time, particularly special events and indeed as Bukhari narrates that whilst the Prophet (peace be upon him) was watching a show put on by some Abyssinian entertainers and ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) expressed some concern, he said, “Leave them in order that the Jews of Madinah know that our religion has space (for this).”
Of course, from an Islamic point of view, even football can be harmful and indeed impermissible when it leads to evil and wrong. Naturally one expects all sensible good Muslims not to waste their precious time obsessed with what are effectively frivolous pursuits in this ephemeral world. Of course, this goes even more so for Muslims today where the entertainment on offer is the norm in which their lives are immersed in 24 hours a day and practising the religion properly is the occasional past-time. This warning is even more emphasised for those who waste large sums of money in supporting clubs, become fanatical over players, display extremes of emotion based upon results, and incredibly but sadly true those who neglect their obligatory and indeed voluntary duties which should be prioritised at all times such as performing the prayers on time, the seeking of knowledge and attending the circles of dhikr
Like everything in life, moderation is the key.
As well as the above, concerns have been raised in particular concerning the rulings of supporting our own team, England, in the World Cup. Is this permissible? What is the ruling on patriotism? Can we support a country which has “so much blood on its hands”? Is it a contradiction of our faith to “support the adventures of a team which have nothing in common with an Islamic way of life”? Can we fly the flag of St. George? Can we wear England shirts?
Although to many readers, particularly non-Muslims, these questions might sound very strange and bigoted almost, what one must understand is as Muslims, we always try and get a divine justification for our actions in this life – this is absolutely fundamental to the practising of our faith, regardless of whether that is in an Islamic country or a secular country such as England. So let us try and address these issues as objectively as possible.
Despite our faith, England is for many of us our country and place of birth; it is the only culture and way of life we recognise and relate to. We largely share the same ‘likes and dislikes’ in that uniquely British way which only one being British can fully understand.
Like every other Englishman minus the warm beer, we also hate that others know how much we earn, we also love cricket, we also don’t want the Euro, we also love tea, we also can’t stand arrogant people, we also pull out the barbecue at any single possible moment of sunshine we get, we also can’t stand people who don’t queue up, we also ‘hate’ the French, we also love our set holidays every year, we get embarrassed too with the brashness of Evangelicals, we also believe that there should be more history taught in schools, we also moan about the NHS as well yet are still proud that it is the greatest health system in the World – fill in the gaps as you wish, but the only real difference between an English non-Muslim and English Muslims like ourselves is that our culture is supervised by the moral framework of our faith.
It is this framework that allows us to support England as our national team, for what they actually represent in terms of sporting achievement and honour, and not the crimes and oppression that are spread by the orders of our Parliament. It is incorrect to claim that to support England is a giving of credence to the mischief and transgression of English foreign policy – one doesn’t necessitate the other, as is well known from the principles of our religion. One of the proofs for this if proof were ever needed is what has been authentically narrated by Imam Ahmad in his Musnad
that the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) who had been given asylum in Abyssinia supplicated to Allah to help and aid the then Christian King, the Negus of Abyssinia when it went to war against her enemies.
Their joy at the Negus’s victory doesn’t contradict any Islamic principles. Likewise, being patriotic to ones home country is not blameworthy under Islam as long as it doesn’t lead to a betrayal of ones faith – we should feel comfortable and happy supporting our country in that which is good, brings wealth, stability and happiness to our fellow citizens, neighbours and indeed ourselves! Likewise, it is quite right that these very same citizens should protest, criticise and complain when our country is engaged in those actions which only bring misery, oppression and injustice. Loving our non-Muslim parents doesn’t mean we love their disbelief. Smiling at the shop assistant doesn’t mean we like their hairstyle. Treating a homosexual for a broken leg doesn’t mean we approve of his deviation. It is vital for Muslims to have a deep understanding in these times of heightened emotions and international strife, and not mix issues according to our own ideas and standards in deference to those standards set by Allah and His Messenger.
Moderation again, is the key to stability in our methodology.
It should be noted though, that to support England doesn’t mean we are allowed to promote symbols and offensive ideas to our pristine monotheistic faith – St. George might have been a rather shadowy figure, claimed by many as ‘their martyr’ due to his foreign parentage, upright principles and battle against paganism and oppression but there can be little doubt about the flag or “St. George’s Cross”.
The Muslims, although ‘not minding’ the non-Muslims venerating the Cross as part of their religion, could never possibly promote such a symbol of disbelief and oppression. To do so would be to ignore the significance that Allah ‘azza wa jall
and his Messenger (peace be upon him) have given it. The Qur’an confirms, “they did not crucify him (Jesus on the Cross)”
and indeed as the Prophet (peace be upon him) confirmed as collected by Bukhari that on the return of Jesus (peace be upon him), one of the first things that he will do is to break the Cross – literally and metaphorically and surely Allah ‘azza wa jall
knows best of the reality of that Day.
To argue, as some do, that the Cross on the England flag means nothing to a largely secular nation today and that the population relate to it in a nationalistic sense and not a religious one, although being an interesting opinion, cannot be considered tenable according to the standards of Sharī‘ah.
Why didn’t England choose a rose then as its national symbol? Or indeed the Ka‘bah? Why the Cross? If other people don’t know the reality of the Cross, the Muslims surely do. The Muslims recognise that it is brandished worldwide as the sign of Christianity and the glorification of the “Ultimate Sacrifice”; that apparently God gave his beloved Son to be sacrificed for the sins of mankind on this much celebrated, yet bizarrely at the same time, much mourned Cross. It is no surprise that the more committed Christians from the Catholic and Orthodox Churches such as in Bulgaria, Greece and Russia amongst others truly venerate St. George and anything to do with the Cross. This is a flag with a major religious significance (unlike the Union Jack for example), that is well known to those who care about such matters.
How can a Muslim proudly display such a flag, which is the symbol of the greatest affront to God Almighty that history has ever seen and then later was the symbol of the Christian massacre of innocent civilians during the Crusades in the 12th Century? The people of today might have no idea or care for the realities behind their signs and symbols but which Muslim would feel safe coming to face God under a flag such as that of St. George’s Cross?
In conclusion, we can say that it is permissible and proper to support the National team in a way which is consistent with Islamic morals and ideals. It is not permissible to display or promote the English Flag intentionally, whether via flags, posters, wrist bands and especially England t-shirts and football shirts which have become widespread amongst the ignorant, for which they are excused due to their lack of knowledge but who also should be advised to leave such shirts for more simple, less loaded representations of our country.
As for those thinking of Three Lions, then think again. Replacing the Cross on your shirt with pictures of animals isn’t exactly Islamic progress.
Finally, despite the fact that magicians of Brazil or Argentina seem set to take the Cup again, England fans need not be despondent, for it was the Prophet (peace be upon him) who said after his prized racing camel lost for the first time, “…everything which reaches a high rank in this world, will come back down again.” (Bukhari)
Maybe, just maybe
, it is