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Interfaith Dialogue (22 Jun 2014 NewAgeIslam.Com)



The Melting Cup: Muslim Footballers Kick Stereotypes in Brazil

 

By Saif Shahin, New Age Islam

22 June 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the stroke of half-time, Karim Benzema shot from the penalty spot into the corner of the Honduran net as a nation of 66 million erupted in euphoria. Three minutes into the second half, the Frenchman’s volley deflected from the far post into the hands of the Honduran goalkeeper Vallardes before leaking past the line. Benzema kicked in once again 24 minutes later to exorcise the demons of South Africa 2010 and single-footedly lead France to its first victory in a World Cup match in eight years. As the players hugged each other, Benzema softly muttered a prayer of gratitude—in Arabic.

Welcome to Brazil 2014, where Algerian-origin Benzema is among a clutch of Muslim footballers featuring in the starting line ups of mostly white and Christian European teams and having an impact—perhaps not just on the pitch. Benzema’s teammates include Moussa Sissoko, a Muslim of Malian descent, and Mamadou Sakho, whose family hails from Senegal. Better known than all of them is Mesut Ozil, a Turkish-origin Muslim who plays for Germany. Also in the German team is Sami Khedira, a Muslim of Tunisian descent. And the Swiss national team at the World Cup has as many as seven Muslim players: Albanian-origin Xheran Shaqiri, Macedonian-born Admir Mehmedi, Bosnian Muslim Haris Seferovic, Turkish-origin Gokhan Inler, Kosovo-born Valon Behrami, Yugoslav-born Blerim Dzemaili, and Philippe Senderos, who converted to Islam two years ago.

Ironically, these are also the countries that harbour some of the highest levels of Islamophobia and anti-immigration sentiments in Europe. The same France that rejoiced in Benzema’s goals often witnesses riots against Muslims of Algerian and Tunisian-descent, such as Benzema. The governments of both France and Switzerland have banned Muslims from wearing the face-veil in public. Switzerland has even prohibited mosques from constructing minarets. Meanwhile, Chancellor Angela Merkel has rued how Germany’s efforts to create a multicultural society, especially one that is warmer towards its 3.5 million Turks, have “failed, utterly failed”.

Multicultural Muslims

Benzema’s family hails from the Algerian village of Tighzert, where one of his uncles is reportedly still an imam. They moved to the French city of Lyon in the 1950s and that is where Benzema played in his early years. Since making his professional debut in 2004-05, he has represented France in more than 65 internationals and has been named the French Player of the Year twice in succession—2011 and 2012. His impact on France’s opening match of the ongoing World Cup was, therefore, hardly a surprise.

Ozil made his mark as a playmaker at the last World Cup itself, creating golden scoring opportunities that helped Germany win a third place and earned him a nomination for the best player of the tournament. He is a third-generation Turk who began his career playing for minor German clubs before his World Cup breakthrough earned him a transfer to the Spanish giant Real Madrid in 2010. English Premier League club Arsenal bought him last year in its steepest purchase ever, a move that also made Ozil the costliest German footballer of all time.

Both Benzema and Ozil are practising Muslims. Benzema prays regularly and fasts scrupulously during Ramzan—even if he is playing. Ozil reportedly fasts only when he isn’t playing, but he prays and recites the Quran before every match. “I always do that before I go out [on the pitch]. I pray and my teammates know that they cannot talk to me during this brief period,” he told the Berlin daily ‘Der Tagesspiegel’ during the last World Cup.

The ascendance of Muslim players to the top echelons of international football, while rare, is not unheard of. Algerian-born Abdelkader Ben Bouali represented France as early as the 1938 World Cup. Perhaps the best-known Muslim footballer is Zinedine Zidane, who led France to its only World Cup victory in 1998 and the European Championships two years later. Algerian-origin Zidane also won a plethora of titles with his clubs Juventus and Real Madrid, was voted the best European footballer of the past 50 years in 2013 and is widely recognized among the greatest footballers of all time. In an interview with ‘The Guardian’, he called himself a “non-practising Muslim” who was very close to his roots. “Every day I think about where I come from and I am still proud to be who I am: first, a Kabyle [the region of Algeria from which his parents emigrated] from La Castellane, then an Algerian from Marseille, and then a Frenchman,” he said.

While Zidane, Benzema and Ozil illustrate the victory of individual brilliance, the Muslims in the Swiss national team exemplify how “team spirit” can forge success. Switzerland used to be a fringe competitor in European and international tournaments. But the emergence of this young generation, dominated by mostly Muslim immigrants, has catapulted the team to the sixth place in world rankings. It won 2-1 in its World Cup opener against Ecuador—with both goals coming off Muslim boots, including Seferovic’s dramatic winner moments before the final whistle.

Inclusive Identities

Can the success of these Muslim players and the cult status they are gaining kindle a warmer acceptance of Muslim immigrants—and of Islam as a religion—in the heart of Europe? On current evidence, it seems rather unlikely. Just this year, Switzerland passed a referendum to impose strict limits on immigration. Contesting on anti-immigration and often blatantly Islamophobic platforms, several far right parties won substantial victories in the recently held European parliamentary elections.

For obvious reasons, these Muslim players are typically reticent on such issues. But occasionally they do speak out. Ozil, after winning an award for ‘successful integration into German society’, said: “This is a great honour for me and I’m very happy. Integration creates something new and makes for a more colourful Germany.” And referring to France’s National Front, Zidane once warned, “Think—and I stress my words—about the consequences of voting for a party that does not at all correspond to the values of France.”

But perhaps these players can have a larger impact on Muslims themselves—those who are living in multicultural societies like theirs or elsewhere. Benzema, Ozil and the rest don’t just represent a “positive” face of Islam to Europe: they make the same representation to Muslims as well. They show that it is possible to be an Algerian and a French, a Turk and a German, an Albanian and a Swiss, an Arab and a European. It is possible to be a devout Muslim and live in harmony with non-Muslims, sweat on the same pitch, drink from the same bottle and share in each other’s joys and sorrows. It is possible to pray and fast and simultaneously play football—not simply in a physical but also in a cultural sense. None of these practices and identities are, or need be, exclusive to each other.

Saif Shahin is a regular columnist for New Age Islam and a doctoral research scholar in political communication at the University of Texas at Austin, United States

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/interfaith-dialogue/saif-shahin,-new-age-islam/the-melting-cup--muslim-footballers-kick-stereotypes-in-brazil/d/97665

 




TOTAL COMMENTS:-   11


  • @Muhammad Yunus

    " Imagine if any one of the Muslim footballers had committed a run of the mill crime in Europe such as kidnapping or daring robbery, the world would have known their Islamic identity and they would have added yet another stigma to Islam. But they make great International news and Islam gets no kudos."

    I want to ask you who is responsible for stigmatizing Islam? Is it the non muslims? Or the muslims?

    Please tell me who claims to have killed and raped in the name of Islam? Is it the Muslims or the non Muslims?

    Muslims are primarily responsible for maligning their own scripture and religion.

    Also, as an aside, if these footballers had claimed that they are playing in the name of Islam, maybe the media would have reported that also. :)

    But it does sound silly doesn't it? Like Pakistanis come to India and offer salah on the stadium, just to enrage people and make a silly statement and then finally lose the match.

    Where is the sense of priority and proportion?

    Muslims will do very well if they leave Islam to their homes.

    Overdose of religion has, I'm sorry to say, turned a majority of Muslims into zombies.

    By non muslim - 7/2/2014 8:24:51 PM



  • It is a great article and a resounding reminder of the ambivalence of human mind. Imagine if any one of the Muslim footballers had committed a run of the mill crime in Europe such as kidnapping or daring robbery, the world would have known their Islamic identity and they would have added yet another stigma to Islam. But they make great International news and Islam gets no kudos. It is indeed a well researched article and it was pleasure to read it. At a time when Muslims are probably hitting the rock bottom of their decline, and any perceptive Muslim has little cause to feel spirited, your article is a source of joy.  Thank you

    By muhammad yunus - 7/2/2014 11:57:54 AM



  • Dear Sadaf, thank you for your comment. Of course, people can have many kinds of identities and their religious identity is only one of them. It is not even necessary or important for them to profess a religious identity. But we live in an age in which religious identity has become highly salient, especially for Muslims, and that makes it necessary to talk about it.

    I wrote this article with two purposes in mind. One is to draw attention to the fact that many Muslims -- including those who live in increasingly Islamophobic societies - are engaged in "normal" activities such as playing football. News often tends to focus on the grotesque and extraordinary, and that is one reason why a lot of news regarding Muslims talks about terrorism and honour killings and so on. That, in turn, perpetuates the view that Muslims are only engaged in such acts and reinforces anti-Muslim bigotry in the society at large. So we need to talk about other "normal" things that Muslims are doing.

    My second purpose is to point out to Muslims themselves that it is not so hard to do "normal" things and be a part of a multicultural society even while practising Islam on a daily basis. This is aimed at Muslims who think that being Muslim must come at the exclusion of being anything else. I have argued earlier on this website such thinking is instrumental in breeding the ideology of fanaticism and terrorism.

    Of course, on people like you, who already profess multiple identities and may not even take their religious identity very seriously, this particular objective of my article is lost. But please bear with me and other authors who write with such an objective in mind, knowing that there are plenty of souls who are not as enlightened as you are.

    By Saif Shahin - 7/2/2014 10:47:02 AM



  • "Benzema, Ozil and the rest don’t just represent a “positive” face of Islam to Europe: they make the same representation to Muslims as well. They show that it is possible to be an Algerian and a French, a Turk and a German, an Albanian and a Swiss, an Arab and a European. It is possible to be a devout Muslim and live in harmony with non-Muslims, sweat on the same pitch, drink from the same bottle and share in each other’s joys and sorrows. It is possible to pray and fast and simultaneously play football—not simply in a physical but also in a cultural sense. None of these practices and identities are, or need be, exclusive to each other."

    Congratulations Dear Mr. Saif Sir, for doing such a nice research and bringing us such things to read.

    However I guess, there are several kinds of well meaning Muslims, some of whom will like such information more than I really did. 

    Please do not get me wrong as I acknowledge your this writeup as a very well meaning one.

     My only point is that I in particular, am absolutely comfortable with my identity as an Indian just as I am comfortable being a Muslim. I do not see why cannot anyone have identity based on just anything. Finding an identity based on just religion, I feel is like intoxicating self with a misunderstanding of many things, including that of the religion. My view point isl like, what is it so great about these players being a Muslim, even I too am a Muslim. I too work hard physical labour even as I fast in the month of Ramzan and never ever have I made Ramzan an excuse to sleep in daytime or ask for a slightly comfortable working schedule. In fact, people around me do not even know that I am on fast except that they miss my gaalies and they suspect that something is wrong. Yes I give a miss to lunch too.

    By sadaf - 6/26/2014 2:24:16 AM



  • C’mon Germany, America Needs a Draw

     

    With all the things the United States has done for Germany, isn’t it time

    for a little payback?

     

    By Daniel Altman June 23, 2014

     

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/files/imagecache/860x/images/germany_-_afp_-_getty_images.jpeg

     

    Okay, so maybe things between the United States and Germany haven't been so cool

    lately, and by cool, I mean friendly, not Greece-Turkey cool. Yeah, we tapped a few

    phone calls and stuff -- hey, at least we admitted it! -- and you sort of took that the

    wrong way. (It was because we care about you, bro!) And yeah, maybe we didn't listen

    enough to your warnings about the financial system. (That was totally good advice, btw.) But we really need a tie game in the World Cup match on June 26, so if it's no big deal, maybe we could talk about all the awesome things we Americans did for you German folks? I mean, there are a lot of reasons why we can just wrap this whole soccer/football thing up today, right? Okay, here goes:

     

    1. We liberated you from the worst tyrant in history. You know who else tried

    to beat America? Okay, you didn't thank us for it at the time -- you were drunk! it's

    cool! -- but that dude was ill, and I don't mean the good Wu-Tang kind of ill. Yeah,

    he was pretty organized and definitely had the fire inside -- probably would have

    made a good coach, too. But seriously, those black shirts are not your best look.

    Stick to the white and green ones.

     

    2. We gave you the Marshall Plan. C-A-S-H. M-O-N-E-Y. See, when we break things, we fix them -- just like in Iraq. Okay, bad example, but we gave you like $120 billion in today's dollars to put your country back together, all Humpty-Dumpty style. Okay, bad example, but at least American football wasn't part of the deal. That came later. And we're really, really sorry about it.

     

    3. We fed West Berlin for a year. Can you smell what I'm cooking? You could in

    1948 and 1949, when we dropped all that food -- and I'm not talking about those

    lame Meals-Ready-to-Eat -- into the city to piss off the Commies. And you know what?

    Those Berlin folks were some hungry people. All I'm saying is we had the Hershey

    factory working overtime, you know?

     

    4. We protected you for half a century from the Red Menace. How psyched do

    you think your players would be about trying to beat those Russian dudes for places on the USSR national team? Okay, bad example, but I bet your players prefer their salaries at Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund to a few hundred kopeks a month at Spartak Moscow, am I right? (Wait, a billionaire owns Spartak Moscow? Shoot, you know what I mean!)

     

    5. We usually let you win. We know this soccer/football thing is really important for

    you, so we like to let you shine your little light, okay? I mean, we may be more powerful and richer and all, but

    soccer/football is totally your thing. So since you all became one big happy country in 1990, we only beat you, like -- wait, we beat you three times out of nine games? Dude, that's awesome!

     

    6. You've done this kind of thing before. Remember the 1982 World Soccer Cup in Spain? Yeah, I don't, but you know how all you needed was a win over Austria for both teams to make the next round? Remember how you scored after 11 minutes, and nobody did jack squat for the rest of the match? Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. You guys are old hands at this. We'll buy the big jugs of beer after the game, okay? I know this awesome place in Recife...

     

     

    https://secure.foreignpolicy.com/sites/all/themes/fp/projects/identity/logo.png


    By Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia - 6/25/2014 9:28:37 PM



  • Dear Saif,

    I agree with what you say and your article was a pleasure to read.

    We make our mark in different ways and as long as these make a positive contribution to society, we must celebrate it.



    By Observer - 6/23/2014 10:40:53 PM



  • Saif says, "these footballers are "challenging" that stereotype by showcasing a very different kind of Muslim to the world." . . .


    True! If Muslims are Europeans, let them be good Europeans. If Muslims are Indians, let them be good Indians. It is wholly consistent with being good Muslims.



    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 6/23/2014 2:02:15 PM



  • Dear Observer sb., thank you for your kind comments and appreciation. I don't, however, understand your question, "Should the Muslim community be stereotyped by the few who make news such as World Cup footballers and extremists?"

    Stereotyping in any form, and based on any subset of the community (footballers and extremists) is problematic. Muslims are often stereotyped on the basis of the extremist subset. I am saying that these footballers are "challenging" that stereotype by showcasing a very different kind of Muslim to the world -- and not that these footballers ought to become a new stereotype.

    Please share with us your "internally unresolved thoughts" on the issue. I think that is the whole point of a forum such as NAI -- to help us resolve our confusions and dilemmas (and all of us have them) through a mutual sharing of ideas. That, I believe, is also the point of the Islamic institution of "shura." Many thanks once again.

    By Saif Shahin - 6/23/2014 1:48:13 PM



  • Mr Sultan Shahin,

    Patience is not one of your virtues! Why do you think every article should be read and commented the moment it is published?

    Anyway, I had read it and liked it but could not make up my mind on what to say.

    In general, I like Saif's articles and this is as good as any.

    The question about stereotyping is however a tricky one. Should the Muslim community be stereotyped by  the few who make news such as World cup footballers and extremists? Lack of comment was because of some internally unresolved thoughts on the topic. 

    However, kudos to Saif for a well researched and written article. While going through it, I was desperately trying to recall the name of the French star of the cup the French won (8 years ago?) and was happy to find him mentioned when I read through the article -Zidane the hero of the French team who was unfortunately involved in head butting a rival player who taunted him with a racial slur.


    By Observer - 6/23/2014 12:23:46 PM



  • A bit of good news, positive reporting about Muslims in which most Muslims are not interested. And we are blamed for publishing negative stories about Muslims which everyone wants to read and comment on. Where are you Mr. Sadaf, Mr. Naseer Ahmed? Have you read this article, by any chance? Why can't you post a few words of encouragement to the writer who has managed to find something positive about Muslims in this milieu of gloom and doom?
    By Sultan Shahin - 6/23/2014 9:21:19 AM



  • It is really fascinating to see so many identities "play" and merge together to reach the same "goal".
    By Aiman Reyaz - 6/23/2014 2:23:20 AM



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