In a world of money, fame, and living to excess with footballers stumbling outside nightclubs and strip joints at 2.45am on the morning before a match, it appears that now more than ever, the gap widens between the loyal blue collared fan and the fly-by-night, cash-strewn footballers in the Premier League. Everything about the Premiership screams vanity, from the diving about as though they've been shot by a sniper on a lofty terrace, tattoos that indelibly desecrate their birthday suits, flash cars and even flashier mansions. But you knew that already.
And with alleged racism rearing its most unwelcome head once again in this football season from the protracted sagas of Luis Suarez + Patrice Evra and John Terry + Anton Ferdinand, it's easy to feel disillusioned and have a mindset that all footballers are self-serving, immoral and irresponsible mercenaries. Where their agents and (ill)advisers run the show, you'd think that their behaviour was reserved exclusively for the likes of reality television 'stars' and z-listers. Or so you think.
For a relatively new movement in the last decade or so has emerged, albeit fairly quietly, but it's becoming increasingly hard to ignore. It feels very swift but due to the foreign influx of players from far-flung corners of the globe, it was inevitable that it would bring about the emergence Islam in the beautiful game.
The most notable Muslim footballers in the Premier League include Newcastle's Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse, Leon Best and Hatem Ben Arfa, Manchester City's Edin Dzeko, brothers Kolo and Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri, Wigan's Ali Al-Habsi and Chelsea's Salomon Kalou to throw in names for starters. There are rumours abound that Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie are recent converts, with the latter married to a Muslim wife. In terms of popularity, the most perhaps well known Muslim of the names mentioned is Demba Ba, whose goal celebration is the Sujood, the prostration performed in prayer to Allah, which Muslims are obligated to perform five times a day.
Further afield in France or Germany (where there is a sizeable minority of respective North African and Turkish minorities) and the names become more illustrious in Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Karim Benzema, Seydou Keita, Eric Abidal, Ibrahim Affelay, Lassana Diarra, Franck Ribery and the great Zinedine Zidane. The list goes on, and some of the mentioned names are better role models than others mentioned. The question might be asked what being a Muslim has to do with kicking a leather ball into a goal for a living?
In fairness, not a lot. However, as stated above, in a world of materialistic and heightened hysteria, Islam offers a much-needed breath of fresh air for nearly 1.6bn people worldwide, not to mention those who are sick and tired reading about kiss and tell stories on front covers of red tops. On the subject of tabloids, with Muslims being quick to be pounced upon by an ever hawkish and paranoid mainstream media and Islamophobia rampant, role models are in short supply.
Barcelona's midfield maestro Xavi has spoken of respecting the religion and its followers as having a positive influence on the team. The likes of Demba Ba take part in community projects and help to give something back in the local area, doing good, righteous deeds following the laws and duties of what is expected of a good Muslim.
Granted, some followers of any faith will be stricter than others, and the practice is very much applied in this case with footballers regardless of faith. But a follower of faith is measured only by his intentions and actions, which are very closely monitored in a voyeuristic world, not to mention Premier League footballers at their very worst. Islam teaches humanity to be respecting, peaceful and loving towards one's fellow man.
And given the climate of political correctness, intolerance for homosexuality and race, not to mention Islamophobia, its quite remarkable that there have been no known reports of religious slurs or remarks made on the terraces. It's something that can only be more than welcomed.
The Islamic faith can potentially help breathe life and faith into a Premier League, as well as add to the many walks of life and nationalities into a melting pot which is watched and idolised by around a billion people worldwide, just has it has for its followers who for the majority are pious and serve Allah in the best manner possible, then everybody would be all the better for it.
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