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Fatwas Against Football – Repent, Mr Suarez!

June 27, 2014

Suarez Bite

I normally leave the task of monitoring the Saudi media to others who do a much better job of it than me. But I can’t resist picking up on a report in today’s Saudi Gazette that an Egyptian Islamic scholar has issued a fatwa claiming that soccer is against Islam:

With the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, users of social media were exasperated by a fatwa (religious edict) describing the event as haram (against Islam).

An Egyptian scholar appeared in a video clip circulated on social media to announce that soccer matches are haram. He claimed that they distract people from observing their religious duties. He said that watching the games was “catastrophic”.

Tweeters strongly criticized this unusual fatwa and called for stopping scholars from making such unrealistic decrees. They said that fatwas should only be issued by the concerned official religious authorities.

This is not the first time an Islamic scholar has ruled that soccer is haram. Two years ago, a Saudi scholar said the same thing. He said soccer is a Masonic game.

In 2003, Abdullah Al-Najdi, a Saudi scholar, wrote a 36-page report in which he claimed that playing soccer is haram. He put a number of conditions on how the game should be played. Among others, these conditions included the cancellation of free kicks, corners and penalties. He also said the players’ shirts should not be numbered. Al-Najdi also said the yellow and red cards should not be used by referees in soccer matches.

The writer goes on to pour scorn on scholars who issue outlandish fatwas, and asks why so many of them want to make Muslims miserable, and treat them as though they were “flocks of sheep with no freedom to choose or think”. He also has a pop at those who encourage the faithful to blow themselves up in order to go to Heaven.

He recommends that the authorities criminalise the issuance of fatwas urging people to engage in jihad (by which one presumes he means the violent type), and that only the responsible religious authorities should be allowed to issue them. He ends by arguing that “We should all realize that Allah has given us minds to think and to use for doing good and for abstaining from doing wrong”.

Well yes, I second that. And I suspect that there will be more of such well-meaning exhortations in the Saudi media as ISIS inches closer to the Kingdom’s borders.

The trouble is that Sunni Islam does not have a centralised organisation underpinning it, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, and also unlike the Shia in Iran, where church and state are indivisible. So although Saudi Arabia does have an established ulema (clergy) approved by the state, it can do little about wild pronouncements from beyond its borders. And since the Saudis are among the most voracious users of the internet, and especially YouTube, in the world, there is not much to stop them from feeding on a diet of extremism from neighbouring Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Syria, Pakistan and, further afield, even Indonesia.

Just one more headache for the long-suffering Saudi authorities.

Setting aside the fatwas endorsing terrorism, I’m intrigued by Sheikh Al-Najdi’s proposals for a halal version of soccer. In the absence of free kicks and red cards, I wonder what sanctions he would place on two-footed challenges and head-butts. Presumably he would leave it to the Almighty to deal with the relevant offenders. And taking a bite out of an unslaughtered human would be halal on two counts, which would probably result in Luis Suarez having a special place in hell reserved for him.

In case anyone thinks that the ordinary Saudi would take the Shaikh’s advice seriously, think again. They are football nuts. I remember vividly when they qualified for the World Cup in the 80s. I have never seen an outburst of jubilation in the country – streets thronged with people, processions of cars with horns honking and flags waving – before or since. Men and boys, of course, but I’m sure the women were cheering in the back rooms.

I wonder what strictures the Sheikh, if he is still with us, would place on other sports. Cricket, for example. It goes without saying that he would frown at the half-naked cheerleaders and riotous music that accompanies the 20:20 game. Actually I’m with him on that one. Far too much of a distraction from the real action. But would he ban pads and boxes to deter bowlers from slinging the ball too fast? And what about fours and sixes? Too much indecorous celebration by half. As for the long version of the game, which can last for up to five days, seven hours of cricket a day would surely meet his disapproval unless punctuated by the prescribed prayer breaks, enforced, naturally, on the spectators by stewards provided by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

I sense that bowls and curling would be OK by him – not the woman’s game of course. But other sports redder in tooth and claw, where players take lumps out of each other – such as rugby, boxing and ice hockey – would surely be no-nos. And as for Formula One, drivers defying death in front of crowds of scantily-clad admiring girls? Enough said.

Far better that the sheikhs issue fatwas against really dangerous Saudi sports, such as drifting, in which young drivers compete to put their cars through the most outrageous contortions, and wheelies practiced by motorcyclists blazing down city centre thoroughfares. But everyday life in Saudi Arabia is not noted for its thrill-seeking opportunities, so I can understand why the kids see auto abuse as more fun than camel racing.

And speaking as a Brit, I can see the attraction of having some seriously eccentric pronouncements to laugh about. Far more interesting than the mundane strictures of our beloved Nanny State.

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