Once again we have witnessed overnight scenes which defy belief. Scenes which confirm that all reason seems to have gone in the world. No longer will people debate issues, no longer will people disagree and yet still respect others. It is the era of the bully, the extreme bully where if you fail to do what someone says, or do something they don’t like you risk losing your life.
It is amazing how often sport can act as a metaphor for life, or we can learn lessons from our sporting heroes; that is why, whether they like it or not they are important role models.
Violence and war have rarely solved anything. Muhammad Ali’s protest against the Vietnam War in 1967 was bold and brave at the time, and many failed to register what it was he was standing up for, only the passing of time has allowed us to reflect on how he, and his religious and ethnic beliefs could not in all consciousness allow him to go to Vietnam, and still today this decision polarizes opinion. Many thought Ali’s beliefs were just a way of dodging the draft, but he has stuck by those beliefs for close on 50 years.
When the September 11 attacks happened sport and its stars were the last thing on people’s minds yet on September 20th despite suffering Parkinson’s disease Muhammad Ali made a special trip to New York and went to the World Trade Centre site. It was here he explained what the attacks meant to a devout Muslim.
That quote is the one that is most used however few people ever mention his next comment, which is a shame because, who knows, it could well have had an impact on some. He said “Religions all have different names, but they all contain the same truths. I think the people of our religion should be tolerant and understand people believe different things.”
Another Boxer has followed Muhammad Ali’s lead denouncing the recent acts in Pakistan and how these extremists are defiling his faith, Britain’s Amir Khan.
Khan was actually in Pakistan, the birthplace of his parents when he spoke out in the British press of his revulsion at the massacre of 132 school children and teachers in Peshawar. To make such comments while still in the country placed his on life at risk.
“I cannot believe how sick in the mind some people are. It has to stop. Some People don’t want to talk about the Taliban or other extremist groups but I’m open. I want to speak the truth.” he told the Independent on Sunday. “I hope by coming here it will send a statement that not all Muslims are terrorists, that we despise what is happening in the name of our religion and that things like this just set the country way back. I wish to express my full support for the people of Pakistan. I’m here to help rebuild the school and to stand with the Pakistani nation. I’ve come to prove that Pakistan is a safe country for sports. I also want to give the message that sports and education will take us forward.” He added.
Khan had already donated his 24 carat gold thread shorts that he wore when defeating US Welterweight Devon Alexander in Las Vegas to the rebuilding project, shorts worth USD$30,000.
Not surprisingly former Test Cricketer Imran Khan, now a politician in Pakistan also came out and condemned the attack.
Sadly very few other high profile Muslim sports stars have stepped forward; although with anti-Muslim media campaign’s rife around the world who can blame them, but as Amir Khan said to the Independent on Sunday ‘it could make a difference.’
With the Asia Cup about to kick off in Australia, and many of those nations participating coming from Muslim nations let us hope that fans who attend these games do so purely for the sporting context. It may also be a good opportunity if any of the media outlets are willing to go out on a limb, to use these teams to educate people as to some of the Muslim beliefs. Sport is a very powerful tool, and it can be used to do so much good, by delivering a healthy body as well as a healthy mind.
Finally it is worth noting that the true Muslim advocates peace. In the Qur’an the Prophet Muhammed says “Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you,” and the greeting used by most Muslims “Salaamu Alaykum” has the literal meaning “Peace be upon you”