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Islam at the London 2012 Olympics

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Though the world of sports could be deemed a secular space, displays of ‘religiosity’ can be regularly observed. The best known examples are the: “Please God! Let Team X win, and I’ll never ask for anything again” type prayers made by desperate fans of the losing side; the odd bearded Pakistani cricket player performing sujood on the pitch after winning a test match; and of course, the ardent enthusiasts for whom following a favourite sport is a religious activity, in and of itself.

London 2012 Olympics Logo

Therefore, I should not have been so surprised to read the following questions, raised by the Conservative peer, Lord James of Blackheath during a House of Lords debate on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, enquiring whether adequate arrangements were in place for the religious needs of competing athletes and their entourage:

The other issue concerning the Olympic Village, which was much discussed on numerous occasions, is whether the delivery unit has succeeded in getting satisfactory clearance from the Islamic religious authorities in this country as regards the compatibility of the dwellings being provided for private worship. Some seven different requirements had to be met.

Having built an Islamic village for a university campus in Libya 25 years back, I know to my cost that very sensitive issues are involved. I remember having to take Colonel Gaddafi on a guided tour of the finished product, at the end of which he said: “You’ve only got one bit right, why shouldn’t I hang you?” I said, “Because you should hang the architect instead, Colonel”. He said, “Can’t do that, did it last month”.

If the Government face a similar situation, they will be confronted with adopting the same solution I had to do, which cost millions. You have a lot of work to do to put it right. Therefore, will the Government please tell us whether they have Islamic religious clearance on the dwellings?

Moving from the problems of the dwellings to the issues of religion itself, we had a very strange Statement – I think that it was again made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham – on the arrangements that were being made for the building of temples, mosques and buildings for Christian worship, but I have no recollection of being told that there would also be a synagogue. Are we omitting the Jewish faith from any religious representation on the site? What arrangements will be made to include them? It is not tactful not to include them in the present circumstances. I should like an update on that, please.

In terms of religious considerations, I would have predicted the provision of halal, kosher and vegan catering, to satisfy a potential variety of dietary requirements (though London is not short of specialist restaurants, if they had forgotten) – but never the building of mosques, temples, churches and synagogues.

Saying that, I am more than a little confused about the “seven different requirements” that are allegedly necessary for dwellings to be deemed “Islamic” by Muslim religious authorities. Further, why should fulfilling said requirements “cost millions” of pounds in taxpayers money? The discovery of such information would definitely lead to a few “Political Correctness Gone Mad!” tabloid headlines. Perhaps Lord James has been lead to believe that all new mosques should be lined with the finest imported marble, intricate mosaic designs, and inspiring displays of gold leaf calligraphy?

As far as I am aware, all that would be required of a Olympic Village prayer room is a large enough space to accommodate worshippers; some carpet would be nice. A clean bathroom for ablution. Maybe a book shelf for some spare mushafs? A reliable compass to work out the qibla direction. And of course, a nice, sturdy shoe rack – at the base of which shoes can be quickly thrown off to form the casual heap of randomly placed footwear that is the hallmark of every well attended jama’at. Am I missing something?

In terms of individual accommodation: I imagine all the rooms will be en suite, and will have sufficient floor space to walk around in, and thus would be adequate for anyone who wishes to pray in solitude. In fact, take a look at this computer-generated design of the athletes’ quarters. That is just the living room. What else would one want? Unless they plan to use pig leather bed sheets, and run wine out of the bathroom taps, I really doubt there will be any complaints on the “Islamic requirements” front, insha’Allah.

Besides, if construction of the London Markaz (i.e, the ‘mega mosque’) is still going ahead (I haven’t heard anything on the subject for a while), then any Muslims attending the Olympics should have access to a potentially awesome, shiny, new masjid to ‘rock their salat’ in.

So, Lord James: I sincerely thank you for considering the needs of Muslim athletes. But please do not waste precious money in their name – especially for an event that only lasts a few weeks – and during a recession, no less. Surely, of all the requirements that Muslims are purported to have, more bad press is not one of them.

Photo Credit: London 2012 Image Library

Dr Mehzabeen b. Ibrahim joined MuslimMatters as a blogger in late 2007 under the handle 'iMuslim', whilst still a struggling grad student. Since then, she has attained a PhD in Molecular Biology and a subsequent Masters in Bioinformatics, and now works as a specialist in this field for a well-known British, medical charity, masha'Allah. Somewhere in between she found the time to get married, alhamdulillah. She likes to dabble in photo and videography, a sample of which can be found on her personal blog: iMuslim.tv.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    sulemanc

    January 26, 2010 at 5:39 AM

    “Plans to build Britain’s biggest mosque in east London have collapsed.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/1/hi/england/london/8465694.stm

    Consideration needs to be given to the legacy of such a project – e.g. the regeneration of Barcelona in 1992. If this were combined with the construction of such a masjid then it might be attractive to such a community. (after all the legacy of the Olympics to London, apart from a massive tax bill, will be a change resulting in the construction of more facilities, of whatever nature)

    • Avatar

      iMuslim

      January 28, 2010 at 1:25 PM

      Are you referring to the legacy of prayer facilities in the Olympic Village, or the legacy of the Mega Mosque?

  2. Avatar

    PakistaniMD

    January 27, 2010 at 10:17 PM

    Did anyone note that the 2012 Olympics will occur during Ramadan? Might become hard for some athletes…

    • Avatar

      iMuslim

      January 28, 2010 at 1:24 PM

      No, I didn’t realise that at all. Well spotted. I wonder what they will do?

      • Avatar

        Hafiz SP

        January 29, 2010 at 2:38 AM

        Well as muslims we should think the best of all muslims therefore, mentally we think they will fast. Hakeem Olagiuan or Olajuwon a legend NBA during the late 80’s and 90’s and considered one of the 50 greatest platyers in the NBA used to fast every ramadhan even if it came on game day. Despite this he has still won Player of the Month and many other accolades. I believe that is down to the barakah and blessing of fasting.

        Inshallah all athletes will do as they deserve.

        • Avatar

          iMuslim

          January 30, 2010 at 9:57 AM

          Well, I thought they may have special dispensation, being travellers. At least the athletes from abroad. I’m not sure if any of the British Olympic athletes are Muslim.

  3. Avatar

    ttopo

    January 31, 2010 at 9:56 PM

    Weren’t the Olympics started with the attention to please the mthyical gods?

  4. Avatar

    diana

    February 20, 2010 at 11:33 AM

    is there any Muslim athletes living in London?
    im doing a photographic documentary project in the Olympics for University and i’m really interested in the fact that 2012 Olympics will occur during Ramadan and i would like to interview one athlet and take some.
    i would apreciate some help!

    thanks,

    D

  5. Avatar

    Russ1

    July 30, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    Dear
    Mehzabeen while your insight is well intended you should not overlook the significance of the issue raised. The Olympic movement in its origins is western and going way back based on Greek worship of their Greek Gods – nowadays hte Games is regarded as boht international, secular and free form all discrimination – London 2012 will for the first time witness all nations sending Female athlete. Also London 2012 will take place during the holy month of Ramadan and the major venues are based in East London home to many Muslim and indeed immigrates of all types nationalities and colors – so to be mindful of other is not a
    waste (of) precious money in their name it is to be mindful of the changing natuer of the games and its appeal to a wider GLOBAL audience.

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#Current Affairs

Why Sarfaraz Ahmed’s Racist Slur Strikes Beyond Cricket

Amad Abu Reem

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The Pakistani cricket team, that has been dogged with many off-field problems in the past decades, is now facing an issue that many outside the Indian subcontinent find perplexing—charges of racism, after Sarfaraz Ahmed, the team captain was caught on mic calling a South African player a “kala” (literal translation black).

Some are wondering how racism could even be an issue in a team which has all shades of brown, from very fair to very dark. In fact, racism in the subcontinent is dirty laundry that no one wants to talk about.

For far too long, racism has festered in the brown world (or “desis”—a term that encompasses the people of this region), be it the Indian subcontinent or Arab countries. And thankfully (not for Sarfaraz of course), it has been brought into sharp focus with Sarfaraz’s racial slur caught on mic.

Lets face it, the word “k*^la” is offensive and derogatory, but if you were to ask most desis about this incident, they would tell you that the word “kala” is normal part of the language and completely innocuous. While “k*#a” and other iterations of this word are indeed a commonly used “taunt”, it is nevertheless a taunt and far from innocuous.

The repercussions of a national team captain normalizing racism goes far beyond a joke.

It would not be surprising if Sarfaraz himself does not understand the gravity of the situation, because of the routine use of this word in Pakistan. Many consider it neutral. In fact, cricket fans in Pakistan often refer to the West Indian cricket team as “Kali Aandhi” (Black Storm).  The intention, many would argue, is not to insult but just a factual observation of blackness. But that explanation falls flat, because it is not as if Pakistanis call the Australian team “Chitti Aandhi” (White Storm).

Others would argue that this is just out of habit. So should we just let bad habits fester?

In reality, there is nothing innocuous and innocent about racism among brown people. The British left the Indian subcontinent more than 70 years ago, but not before infusing a white superiority complex among their ex-subjects.

The derogatory capacity of a pejorative word has far reaching consequences. Slurs perpetuate prejudices and cause intolerance and harm.

Let’s look at the negative coloring of this word- no pun intended.

As an example of why this issue extends beyond humor or innocence, ask most desis: what is the number one attribute in brides that parents look for, especially  in arranged marriages? The answer would be “light colored skin”. It is not a secret that most brown people still do not appreciate their children having dark or black spouses. While some of these folks may argue that not marrying into the black race is related to cultural differences, how come it is much more acceptable then to marry into the white race?

One needs to realize that the difficulty of considering darker/black spouses is not borne out of instant prejudice. It stems from a slow and steady indoctrination process that is common among most desis and Arabs. Many times, this process is not out of ill intent. It is not even conscious for the most part. It just happens out of routine behaviors. As an example of this process, mothers will tell their children to stay out of the sun, not because they may be harmed by sun exposure, but they may become “kala”. What is amusing and sad, is that many white people spend countless hours and money to willingly become a little “kala” by resorting to sunbathing or staying locked up in tanning parlors!

Let me speak from personal anguish—a painful personal experience that I have not shared with many others out of embarrassment. Growing up, my family used to visit Pakistan often. While I am not at the darkest end of the “brown spectrum”, I was darker than my cousins. This was enough for me to be routinely subjected to taunts of “k&*a”. Dark was bad was the message I got, as do many young children. I cannot recall if my uncles and aunts participated in this, but I do know they did not admonish their children either. Amusingly enough, I was even called “Indian” as a taunt (this continued well into adulthood too), because in the petty minds of my cousins, Indian was near synonymous to black—it was like two insults packed in one!

While I pretended to shake this off, it bothered me enough to secretly buy a stash of skin-bleaching cream, transfer it to an unlabeled container to avoid embarrassment and use it. I was only 11 or 12 years old! Please tell me how harmless these taunts must be to cause a young child to want to change his skin color that Allah gifted to him?

Recently, playing cricket with some desi friends, I was reminded of those painful times. The same “kala” slurs that you heard from Sarfaraz were targeted at a very dark friend. To make it more palatable, the taunts were packaged in jokes, such as “we need more light, because so-and-so will be in the picture”, or “don’t let your blackness rub off on the ball”, etc.

My dark friend took it with a smile or a laugh. However, I always wondered what was going on inside his mind. I regret that I did not say anything from the very first time I heard it, but being dark myself I felt hesitant to come to his defense. I never participated in the jokes; it would be hypocritical. But I know I could have—because it is like a pecking order, the lighter shades joke about the darker shades, even if the differences in shades are invisible to an outsider.

Eventually, I garnered the strength to advise my good friend (very light-skinned) who was the main source of the comments to lay off and that he may be hurting our friend’s feelings. And while I have no doubt about our fair friend’s good heart, I suspect that similar to those with white privilege, he didn’t even realize the problem with his jokes.  

It is not enough to just talk about racism and its cousin colorism, as if it only affects other societies. It is intricately woven in the desi and Arab societies. It gets passed down from generation to generation, like an inherited disease.

It is time for a change among our societies. The Muslims among desis and Arabs need to pay heed to their own Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), who forbade racism of any kind. What culture is more important than the Islamic culture of an egalitarian society, where race and color have no impact on position or influence or the opportunities for success?

It is time for all brown people, Muslim or not, to purge the scourge of racism, not just from our tongues, but our hearts. Stop telling your children to avoid sunlight to avoid becoming dark. Stop using the word “k*&a” at your homes in ANY context of someone’s skin color. Stop telling your family the color of your newborn child is congratulatory if white or a commiseration if dark. Stop your children’s friends or cousins from making any negative comments (in jest or otherwise) with respect to anyone’s complexion- this is a form of unacceptable bullying. Raise children who feel completely comfortable and beautiful in their complexion, no matter the shade.

Because black and white are both beautiful.

. هُوَ اللَّهُ الْخَالِقُ الْبَارِئُ الْمُصَوِّرُ لَهُ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَىٰ يُسَبِّحُ لَهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ

He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor of all things, the Bestower of forms. To Him belong the Best Names . All that is in the heavens and the earth glorify Him. And He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. (Surah Al-Hashr 59:24)

A Shade Less | Not Fair and Lovely

Between a Rock and a Hard Place- Black and Muslim

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#Culture

Iftar and The NBA Finals: Lebron vs Steph Episode 1

Ammar Al Shukry

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hijab

All praise is due to Allah and may the most perfect salutations be upon His messenger.

Today is a day that many people have been waiting for for the better part of a year. Today my friends, starts the NBA finals. From the beginning of the year, everyone knew that it was going to be Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. It was just a matter of time. People’s imaginations are captured by the idea of two teams meeting for the third time in three straight years, each one having one in the past two, and now this may be the deciding one; the competition being at an all time high, all of the tables are stacked, both teams healthy and loaded to the teeth, the competition is at an all time high.

It is enough to almost make one forget that they are in a competition themselves.

A real one. You see, we’re in the playoffs right now. Ramadan IS our high stakes. Every day we should be pushing ourselves to do what these players have now taken as a mantra “we’re just trying to get better each day.”

And the reality is there is a place for competition in the religion.

In fact regarding Jannah Allah says,

“وَفِي ذَٰلِكَ فَلْيَتَنَافَسِ الْمُتَنَافِسُونَ

So for this let the competitors compete. (Surat Al-Mutaffifeen v. 26)

The competition of the prophets

Bukhari and Muslim both report that when the Prophet (ﷺ) ascended into the heavens on the night of Mi’raj he met Musa and the following conversation occurred,

“When I went (over the sixth heaven), there I saw Moses. Gabriel said (to me),’ This is Moses; pay him your greeting. So I greeted him and he returned the greetings to me and said, ‘You are welcomed, O pious brother and pious Prophet.’ When I left him (i.e. Moses) he wept. Someone asked him, ‘What makes you weep?’ Moses said, ‘I weep because after me there has been sent (as Prophet) a young man whose followers will enter Paradise in greater numbers than my followers.'”

And the prophet (ﷺ) said as reported by Al-Nasa’i, Abu Dawood and Ahmed among others,

“Have many children for I will boast your great numbers over the other nations on the day of Judgment.”

The competition of the companions amongst each other

One of the most striking examples of the competition of the companions in goodness was the complaint that was presented by the poor companions about the rich companions to the prophet (ﷺ). And I don’t know any other complaint that the poor ever made about the rich that was *about* their richness.

AlBukhari and Muslim both report that

Some of the poor Emigrants came to Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and said to him, “The wealthy have obtained all high ranks and everlasting bliss.” He asked, “How is that?” They replied: “They offer Salat as we do, and observe Saum (fasting) as we do, but they give in Sadaqah (charity) and we do not, and they emancipate slaves and we cannot.” He (ﷺ) said, “Shall I not teach you something whereby you will catch up with those who have preceded you and will get ahead of those who follow you, and no one will surpass you unless he does the same as you do?” They said, “Surely, O Messenger of Allah.” He said, “Say: Subhan Allah, and Allahu Akbar, and praise Him (by saying Al-hamdu lillah) thirty-three times at the end of every Salat.” They returned to him and said: “Our brothers, the possessors of wealth, having heard what we are doing, have started doing the same.” Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “This is Grace of Allah which He gives to whom He wishes.”

And so the poor’s complaint is actually an incredible one, their complaint is not about any of the additional worldly access that the rich may experience because of their wealth, but what they feared was a spiritual access that they may have to their exclusion because of their wealth. They wanted every opportunity to be able to compete with them in giving charity. And that is an incredible testimony to the culture of the companions.

The competition of the prophet (ﷺ) and companions with previous nations

In fact, the very gift of the Night of Power (Lailatul Qadr) was a direct related to the prophet (ﷺ) and companions wanting to compete with previous nations:

In the Muwatta of Imam Malik we find:

Ziyad related to me from Malik that he had heard a man he trusted of the people of knowledge say, “The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was shown the lifespans of the people (who had gone) before him, or what Allah willed of that, and it was as if the lives of the people of his community had become too short for them to be able to do as many good actions as others before them had been able to do with their long lives, so Allah gave him Laylat al- Qadr, which is better than a thousand months.”

And Imam AlQurtubi reports in his tafseer that there was a King from Bani Israel who would go out and fight in the path of Allah daily with his wealth and sons, all while fasting during the days and praying during the nights. He did this continuously for a thousand months until he was killed. The companions upon hearing this said,

“No one can reach the station of this man.” And so Allah revealed, “Laylatul Qadr is better than a thousand months.”

The competition of the successors

The successors were that generation that came immediately after the companions. They saw the companions but did not see the prophet (S). Abu Muslim Al-Khawalani was of them and once was praying in the night. As he was praying he was overtaken by sleepiness but instead of succumbing he struck his thigh to wake himself and said,

أيظن أصحاب محمد أن يستأثروا به دوننا ، كلا والله ! لنزاحمنهم عليه زحاماً حتى يعلموا أنهم قد خلَّفوا وراءهم رجالاً

Do the companions of Muhammad think that they will have him exclusively (again), no by Allah. We will crowd them over him (on the day of Judgment) so that they know that the ones who came after them were men!

And this is an amazing notion, to feel that you are not only in competition with your own generation, but even the previous ones, in fact even the companions in a sense. For paradise is up for grabs, as is Al-Firdaws, as is the company of the prophet (S) in Paradise.

The competition is on. The activities are many; recitation of the Quran, prayer, du’a, feeding others, charity and repentance. The stakes are high. And victory in it is the ultimate triumph.
6

فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ النَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ ۗ وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ

So he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise is indeed Victorious. And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion. (Al-Imran v. 185)

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#Life

Aaron Hernandez’s Death And The Responsibility of Sports Fans

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By Abu O’baydah b. Ali

Many people will look at the passing of AaronHernandez, former New England Patriots tight end, and say look “someone who had it all, money, fame, women, super human talent on the football field and he just threw it away.” But let’s follow the trend in pop culture and take a moment to look at our part in his passing (yes, we do play a part)…

Hernandez’s dad died from complications of surgery in 2006 when Aaron was just 16 years old. According to Hernandez’s mother this when he started acting out against authority. In 2007, at the age of 17, while on a recruiting trip to Florida (where he would eventually play college football and win a National Title) he consumed two alcoholic drinks at a restaurant, refused to pay, was escorted out of the restaurant by an employee and subsequently punched the employee in the head rupturing his eardrum. No charges were ever filed against Hernandez and the University of Florida was more than happy to have him still come and play for them. During college, Hernandez was believed to be involved in a shooting that left three people injured; he failed multiple drug tests and was a known and admitted marijuana user. The repercussions for his actions? He led the Gators to a national championship, was first team all SEC and first team all American and received the John Mackey award for the best tight end in college football. And even though his draft stock dropped when news of his marijuana use leaked, he was still selected by the best team in the NFL.

The message the world was sending Aaron Hernandez time and time again was that so long as you produce on the football field, so long as you keep winning, so long as you keep making our team money, you can do whatever you want off of it. Did anyone ever think that this was a troubled individual and that he needed help? Why would they? He was always a stud on the field which must have meant that everything off the field was ok. That’s why the NFL and NBA and every other sports league for that matter have no desire to speak about or touch upon anything not sports related. Just look at what the NFL has done with the issues of domestic violence, concussions and Colin Kaepernick. And as fans that’s what we’re sold and that’s what we eat up and love. We’re taught to care about our favorite teams and players and nothing more. We don’t care if our teams players are accused of rape, murder, lying, cheating or stealing. So long as they bring us the great satisfaction of seeing our team win, then that’s all we really care about.

Is this what Islam is about? Would our Messenger ﷺ look at us supporting these teams and these organizations as something trivial? Or would it be something that he truly detests? Could he (peace be upon him) watch a video of a woman being brutally beaten in an elevator and then go on to support the organization that tried to cover that up? Could heﷺ hear about an activity that was causing massive brain damage to those involved in it and then go on to support the organization that tried to cover that up? Could heﷺ hear about an individual who stood up and spoke out against oppression and then go on to support the organization that tried to silence him and shut him up? And while we agree that Aaron Hernandez committing murder is nothing short of despicable and abhorrent, could the Prophetﷺ hear about a troubled individual who time and time again acted out and was screaming for help, yet his screams were ignored by everyone because he was just too good at his craft, and being too good at your craft means that you should be grateful and thankful and suck it all up. Could the Prophetﷺ look at such an individual and feel sorry for him because he had all the fame and fortune and still decided to throw it away? Or would the Prophetﷺ feel sorry for those who couldn’t see or didn’t want to see past the fame and fortune to help someone who was obviously troubled?

As a sports fan you’re probably saying to yourself that this man had millions and it’s not my fault that he did what he did. And as a Muslim, I’m saying to you that the fact that we all support this kind of behavior when we should know better means we are just a little to blame. Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.

Abu O’baydah b. Ali is a certified CrossFit trainer, and the president of the innovative charity org: Muslims Giving Back. He is also a doctor of pharmacy, and enjoys long walks on the beach and long car rides with older wiser men.

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