cricket lead to religious piety? Or is religious piety so deeply ingrained in
certain players that they go “pious”, which in Pakistan means growing a flowing
beard, shaving off the moustache and putting a cap on? In Pakistan it is not a
“phase” that you outgrow — it is a permanent transformation. And, it seems to
pay off. In India, former cricketer Gautam Gambhir has embraced Hindutva but it
is not the same thing. In Pakistan, you can even become the prime minister.
In the case
of Imran Khan, it is all explained in his book Pakistan: A Personal History
(2011), where he recalls the “early signs” of being “chosen”. He writes: “Pir
Gi from Sahiwal said I would be very famous and make my mother a household
name.” But the man who stood by him as his spiritual mentor was Mian Bashir,
who shocked him by naming the Quranic verse his mother used to read to baby
Imran. Bashir also predicted that Allah had turned the tables in Khan’s favour
in the Allan Lamb-Ian Botham libel suit whose reparations would have pauperised
1992 World Cup, no one prostrated before Allah Almighty after getting a rival
player out or scoring a century. Today, it is an unspoken rule. The selector,
former captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, is today heavily bearded. He was the one who
“changed” during his captaincy and “persuaded” the entire team to “embrace
Islam”. In the book, White on Green (2016), Richard Heller and Peter Osborne
note the “piety” trend gaining ground after preachers like Dr Israr of Lahore
called cricket a lascivious anti-Islam entertainment with Khan rubbing the
cricket ball “sinfully” in the “groin area”.
another captain, Fazal Mahmood, had suddenly become Islamic after retirement
from the police department, writing a book, Urge to Faith (1970), indicating
that something indeed happens to famous sportsmen forced to stay away from
normal life during their careers. Before Khan, there was the former captain
Saeed Ahmad who first “played around”, marrying and divorcing a “society girl”,
before growing a beard and joining tableeghi jamaat that has transformed many
other cricketers since: Ahmad himself often barged into dressing rooms and
treated the team to sermons of piety.
The case of
leg-break bowler and test player S F Rehman is serious. He is now Maulana
Sheikh Fazlur Rahman Al Azhari following the Wahhabi path of Islam — this after
an MA degree and a PhD in Islamiat, and going to Cairo to embrace the “hard
Islam” of Wahhabism, which rejects the “imitative” jurisprudence of Pakistani
Islam. He defended the killer of Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer, saying that
the act represented a reaction against “liberalism” that aims “to destroy all
faiths”. Taseer had defended a Christian woman wrongly accused and convicted to
death for blasphemy.
and Christian Yusuf Yohanna secured himself against trouble by converting to
Islam during his career as a batsman. He benefitted from conversion but many
Christian men who tried to follow his example were not similarly rewarded.
Though, leg-spinner and Hindu test-player, Danish Kaneria, usefully cultivated
the habit of saying InshaAllah and Mashallah as part of his conversation in a
state increasingly hostile to non-Muslims, something like what India is in the
process of becoming.
Jamaat seduced Shahid Afridi too but this was nothing compared to the
marvellously gifted opener Saeed Anwar who, understandably, succumbed to
Inzamam’s evangelism after a tragedy in his family.
refers to an article in the 2006 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack: “Rare
today in the Pakistani cricket is the soundbite or even private utterance not
bracketed by Bismillāh (in the name of Allah) or InshaAllah (God
willing). The team prays together fastidiously, recites Ayats (Quranic verses)
in its huddles and celebrates personal and collective milestones with Sajda (the
act of kneeling in Muslim prayers); they all fast during Ramadan, some
even during games.”
Ahmed is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan
Source: The Indian Express