Thursday, December 28, 2006

Soccer Jihad

What could possibly be wrong with soccer? Well, if you are Muslim, everything. In case you missed it, a fatwa (religious decree) has been issued against the sport of soccer.
The fatwa itself was issued anonymously by radical Islamic clerics, and published on August 25th, 2005, in a daily Saudi newspaper, Al-Watan.
"Radical" only in the sense that they take their religion seriously.
It is based on a hadith (prophetic tradition) that Muslims ought not imitate Christians and Jews, and as such, does not actually ban the sport.

Rather it states that the sport is permissible only when played in a manner that in no way resembles the international game. For example, Muslims should not "play soccer with four lines [surrounding the field], since this is the way of the non-believers."
Well, if that's the case, then using guns, vehicular transportation, and anything requiring electricity should also be banned. Sounds rather selective to single out soccer.

It also rejected using "polytheist," soccer terminology, such as "corner kick," "goal," or "foul."
Yep, just saying "corner kick" makes me want to go worship some idols.

However, a study released this month by PRISM, a Herzliya think-tank on Islamic social affairs, alleviates such fears. It reveals that radical fatwas on soccer have actually had a very limited effect on the Islamic world. According to the study's author, Moshe Terdman, "the popularity of the soccer game among the Arab and Muslim peoples, as well as among the radical Muslims themselves, keeps [the sport] alive and beats all the Islamist attempts to dissuade Muslims from watching or playing it..."

The fatwa also generated significant criticism from Saudi religious officials on the grounds that soccer is not an appropriate subject for a religious decree, as it is not mentioned in the Koran.
Cartoons of the prophet Mohammed are not in the Koran either, but we had religious decrees galore. But when it comes to soccer and fatwas,it seems that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Terdman believes that this fatwa provided a "significant test case" for the ambitions of the Islamic courts, which seek to capitalize on soccer's popularity for their own cause.

"Soccer is just one element, which the Jihadi-Salafi (radical Islamic) scholars exploit in their social-cultural-political fight within the Muslim world. Their challenge is greater and more interesting as a result of the popularity of soccer," Terdman states in his conclusion.

The most alarming ingredient of the fatwa is its direct link from soccer to jihad: "You must play the entire game with the intention of improving your physical fitness for the purpose of fighting jihad for Allah's sake and preparing for the time when jihad is needed... you should speak about your body, its strength and its muscles, and about the fact that you are playing as [a means of] training to run, attack, and retreat in preparation for [waging] jihad for Allah's sake."
So one can play soccer to get in the best physical shape for the purpose of blowing one's self up. Doesn't sound like something to take seriously, unless you are one of the faithful.

In August of 2005, with the countdown to last summer's World Cup in Germany underway, three players from a well-known Saudi soccer club abruptly quit the team because of an anonymous fatwa, religious ruling, that led them to believe soccer was forbidden by religious law. One of those three, Majid al-Sawat, was later arrested while planning to carry out a suicide bombing in Iraq.

As soccer is not just a sport, but also a social institution across the Arab world, many in the West are frightened by the power of a fatwa that can turn a professional athlete into a suicide bomber overnight.
You betcha!

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