I think of Islam and the immediate thoughts coming to my mind are those of purdah, terrorism and fatwas. I can’t be faulted for that’s what I hear everyday. Some nondescript writer forces his views upon me, some celebrity with no idea of the subject tries to force her point of view on guardians of faith who seem to have less logic and even less manners in articulating their views.
Silently though, I have been noticing something emerge from the sports field. Islam is becoming an acceptable way of life for many sportspersons. Leave aside the Pakistani cricket team, some of whom say that they have found discipline and cohesiveness after “turning to Allah”.
I am talking of European football stars who are taking to Islam. Surprised? So was I when I heard that the Brazilian Ricardo Kaka and the Argentine Lionel Messi, both stars in Europe, have converted. The news hasn’t been confirmed. It’s still projected as rumour by some, and the players themselves haven’t spoken about it.
But the fact that many others have converted to Islam is true. Frank Ribery, Nicolas Anelka, Robin Van Persie (who has, however, never disclosed his faith) and Phillippe Troussier (who coached Japan in the 2002 World Cup) are converts.
What is interesting is that some players hid the fact of their conversion for a while from their families and society. Anelka hid it for three years and Mohammed Yousuf, the Pakistani cricketer earlier named Yousuf Youhana, kept his conversion from Christianity to Islam a secret for a few years.
Black American sportsmen like Cassius Clay and Kenyan athletes moving to Gulf States have converted to Islam in the past. Perhaps, there was a sense of persecution involved in the former case and the lure of money in the latter. Their case is different from the present conversions.
It is interesting to note that players who suffer no social insecurity and are well-off enough not to be lured by money have converted in times when being a Muslim can be a risky proposition, especially in the West. I cannot explain the movement.
I once asked Mohammed Yousuf about it and he said, “For me, the after-life is more important than this life.” Shahid Afridi told me the same thing when I asked him about his transformation into a strong believer. What it will lead to, we don’t know. But in times of self-doubt like these, my feet are stationed a bit more firmly on the ground than others.