Britain can pride itself in sport with great dedication from its British Muslims – from Mo Farah who is a sprinter to the famous boxer, Amir Khan.
Mo Farah CBE:
Mohamed Muktar Jama Farah also known as Mo Farah was born on 23rd of March 1983 in Somalia, Mogadishu. His British Somalian father met his mother on holiday in Africa and they lived in Somalia. As civil war broke out in Somalia, the family had to flee to neighbour country Djibouti. At the age of 8, he moved to live with his father in Britain.
Farah is a Muslim Londoner, double Olympic, European Athletics and World champion. He become the first athlete to win three long-distance doubles at successive World Championships. Farah holds many records in sprint running – from the European to the Olympic World. He is the second man in history to have won both the double gold victories in both the 2012 Olympics Games and 2013 World Championships. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, Farah won his fourth Olympic gold and became only the second man to retain the 5,000m and 10,000m titles.
About his religion, he has said: “I normally pray before a race, I read dua (prayers or invocations), think about how hard I’ve worked and just go for it” (Muslim Writers Awards in Wikipedia). He has also commented on: “the Qur’an says that you must work hard in whatever you do, so I work hard in training and that’s got a lot to do with being successful. [It] doesn’t just come overnight, you’ve got to train for it and believe in yourself; that’s the most important thing” (Cahil, The Independent, in Wikipedia).
Amir Iqbal Khan was born on 8th December 1986 in Bolton, Greater Manchester. He has Rajput roots from the Punjab in Pakistan.
Khan’s boxing career began early at the tender age of 11. For his ‘amateur career’, he won three English school titles and impressively moved up to gold at the 2003 Junior Olympics. His other prizes comprise of gold medal at the European Student Championship in Lithuana and he was later known for defeating famous American boxer, Victor Ortiz. In progressing to his professional career, he was soon described as the youngest boxing medalist, winning silver at the age of 17 in the 2004 Athens Olympics. At the age of 22, he was also the youngest to win the WBA Light Welterweight.
Getting rid of that kind of stress is necessary. For Khan, he uses his religious practices to relax: “Mentally, we need a break. It’s almost as if mentally we need to get fat but people think we don’t respect the sport. I don’t drink but I like to stay at home and chill. Sometimes, you need to empty your mind of what you do. Ramadan is good for that. It will be hard for me but I’ve read that it is good to starve the body because it trains the mind. That is why the mosque is important. I sit there, do my prayers and feel free. In the mosque I’m treated as a normal person. Nobody sees me as different. That’s what I love about going there. I am normal. Sometimes, I think I should catch the bus to go” (Rich, The Independent).
Mohamed Sbihi was born in Kingston upon Thames on 27th March in 1988. His father is Moroccan and mother is English.
He was a professional oarsman by the age of 15. Sbihi became especially known as he was part of a team that won the bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. In 2014, he finally won gold medals in the coxless four at the European rowing Championship in Belgrade and the World Rowing Championship in Amsterdam.
For Muslim sports people, it is hard to both train and fast during Ramadan. However, a solution was presented to him in Muslim’s Holy book, the Quran. In there, it says that for every day a believer intentionally breaks his fast, one needs to make up for the days or feed people. Sbihi therefore pledged to feed 1,800 people at Morocco for around £2000. He said: “It gives me a feeling that I’ve done something, although I still hate missing my fast. I enjoy it, the feeling you get, the tradition of it, being around people doing the same. When I’m training and fasting I can still beat a lot of the guys on the ergonometer. The problem is there is a risk of dehydration. As a squad we’re all so close. You don’t want to lose your chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity.” In confronting these dilemmas over fasting, he continued to say. “I hope I am an inspiration to young Muslim kids. Hopefully I can show they can participate in sport and be practising Muslims as well. It’s a privilege but also a shame. It’s great that I’m the first but why should I be? There are plenty more Muslim people in this country who could have done what I’ve done” (Kitson, the Guardian).
Khadija Safara is an English-Italian convert to Islam and decided in her teenage years to live in the UK. While she was pursuing her studies in Graphic Design and Advertising at London College, she tried to occupy her time with another martial arts as she had been practicing Taekwando since the age of 18. She felt in love with Muay Thai.
Safari is the first female Muslim instructor in kickboxing and has a black belt in Muay Thai. She was taught by her own husband who was a World Champion in this sport discipline, Master Karim Safari.
In the lifestyle magazine EMEL, she comments on why she choose kickboxing as her favourite sport: “My love for the sport is matched by my desire to help my sisters and all women realise their potential, learn new skills and keep fit and healthy. The end result is immensely rewarding, and of course it’s a plus being able to spend time with like-minded women.” Although she is not pursuing the sport professionally, she is very excited as: “The 2012 Olympics will be the first time that women’s kickboxing is being entered as a sport, and it is also the first time that Muslim women will be competing, which is fuelling my desire to run more classes and encourage more women to join” (EMEL, 2010).
Zeeshan ‘Zesh’ Rehman was born on 14th October 1983 in Birmingham. He is from a Pakistani background.
His football talent was spotted when he was just 12 years old and moved with his family where he joined the Fulham Academy in London. After successful years of progression, he signed his first professional contract with Fulham. In football, his position is known as the defender. His youth career with Fulham continued to 2003.
In his senior career, he played over 300 games with four different nations, all located in Asia: Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Pakistan. For his country of origin, he participated in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup.
In encouraging more young people to follow in his footstep and viewing ethnicity and religion as important, he established his own charity organisation known as the Zesh Rehman Foundation. On its wesbite it further explains its purpose and so that it is working to: “….help change perceptions and myths surrounding British Asians in football by providing more opportunities in disadvantaged communities – combating cultural and religious barriers associated with communities which have a high number of South Asians” (ZRF).
Moeen Munir Ali was born on 18th June 1987 in Birmingham. Ali is of Pakistani origin from Kashmir.
Like most recognised sports personalities, he was discovered at an early age. From the age of 15 up to year 2006, he successful played for England’s under 19s against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. He continued to impress the world with his performance at Worcestershire and later could be seen on the international arena by being included in the English Squad for the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh. For this tournament, he scored many runs against the West Indies.
By holding his religious principles dear to him, he openly supports the idea of a ‘Free Palestine’. In fact, for one of his games he wore a wristband that said ‘Save Gaza’. In sports, football players are not allowed to send messages related to political, religious or racial activities and causes. The England Wales and Cricket Board however ruled that his indirect statement was humanitarian rather than political in nature. His long beard and ‘Islamic appearance’ have also contributed to some not viewing Ali as ‘English’. The Telegraph published an article with the title, “You are playing for England, Moeen Ali, not your religion” (Henderson, the Telegraph). For those comments, Ali has said: “It doesn’t bother me too much, to be honest with you.” And then continues: “Some of the stuff is quite funny. People have their opinions about everything. I’ve been called worse.” For him, the beard is part of his identity and he would like to remove stereotypes about Muslim men who choose to grow one: “Yeah, definitely. That’s whole beauty of it. If I can play, and change the mind of one person about being a Muslim player and having a beard, then I’ll feel as if I’ve done my job” (Hasan, the Huffington Post).
- BBC Religions, 2009, ‘History of Islam in the UK’. Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/history/uk_1.shtml
- Cardiff University FutureLearn, 2014, ‘Muslims in Britain’. Link: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/muslims-in-britain-2/todo/1620
- Emel, 2010, ‘A Week in the Life of Khadija Safari.’ Link: http://www.emel.com/article?id=75 HYPERLINK “http://www.emel.com/article?id=75&a_id=2161” HYPERLINK “http://www.emel.com/article?id=75 HYPERLINK “http://www.emel.com/article?id=75&a_id=2161″& HYPERLINK “http://www.emel.com/article?id=75&a_id=2161″a_id=2161” HYPERLINK “http://www.emel.com/article?id=75&a_id=2161″& HYPERLINK “http://www.emel.com/article?id=75&a_id=2161” HYPERLINK “http://www.emel.com/article?id=75 HYPERLINK “http://www.emel.com/article?id=75&a_id=2161″& HYPERLINK “http://www.emel.com/article?id=75&a_id=2161″a_id=2161” HYPERLINK “http://www.emel.com/article?id=75&a_id=2161″a_id=2161
- Hasan, M. 2014. The Huffington Post, ‘Moeen Ali Interview: “I Am A Muslim, Yet Very English”. Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/09/11/moeen-ali_n_5803422.html
- Henderson, M. 2014. The Telegraph, ‘You’re playing for England, Moeen Ali, not your religion’. Link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10897999/Youre-playing-for-England-Moeen-Ali-not-your-religion.html
- Kitson, R. 2012. The Guardian, London 2012 Olympics: Champions aren’t made easily, says Mohamed Sbihi’. Link: http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2012/may/03/london-2012-olympics-mohamed-sbihi
- Muslimness, 2011, ‘Khadija Safari, Professional Kickboxing for Faith, Women and Community.’ Link: http://www.muslimness.com/2011/07/khadijah-safari-professional-kickboxing.html
- Rich, T. The Independent, 2013. ‘Amir Khan ingterview: One second could end my boxing career.’ Link: http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/others/amir-khan-interview-one-second-could-end-my-boxing-career-8621877.html
- Smith, D. GiveMeFootball in Wayback Machine, ‘Zesh is a perfect role model’. Link: http://web.archive.org/web/20081007024229/http://www.givemefootball.com/pfa/pfa-news/zesh-is-a-perfect-role-model
- Usborne, S. The Independnet, 2012. Mo Farah: Young man in a hurry. Link: http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/olympics/athletics/mo-farah-young-man-in-a-hurry-8007127.html
- Zesh Rehman Foundation. ‘Who We Are’. Link: http://www.zeshrehmanfoundation.org/index.php/who-we-are
- Wikipedia on Amir Khan. Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amir_Khan_%28boxer%29
- Wikipedia on Mo Farah. Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mo_Farah
- Wikipedia on Moeen Ali. Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moeen_Ali
- Wikepedia on Mohamed Sbihi. Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohamed_Sbihi
- Wikipedia on Zesh Rehman. Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zesh_Rehman