Recently, WaPo and NYT did pieces on the growing dominance of Christian prayer in baseball. Jesus is my designated hitter, indeed. I chuckled at the conflation of sports and religion in present day USA. Why can’t the Americans keep their religion off the pitch? The overt religiosity has always grated me in, what I perceive to be, a denomination-free zone. After all, the Aussies and the English playing the Ashes didn’t invoke Jesus. Even so, I admit that I was taken aback by own reaction to the news that the Vice Captain of Pakistani cricket team, Yousuf Youhana, a Christian by birth, had converted to Islam two years ago [He kept it a secret until now]. I still had the auto-liberal response of one’s religious choice staying strictly in the private domain. But I also felt severely irritated and quite dismayed for the Christian community in Pakistan and the political hay that the mullahs will make of all this. Instrumental in his conversion was Saeed Anwar, a retired star batsman, who joined the Tabligh-i Jama’at in the mid-90s. Anwar is indeed a devout, compassionate and charismatic individual who has a level of personal influence over the post-92 youngsters [Inzammam etc.] that can only be matched by the cult of personality that once surrounded Imran Khan. So, I am sure that he did play a part in Youhana’s conversion.
Was Youhana a role-model for christian kids in Pakistan? I don’t know. The man has the straightest bat ever. He is a role-model for all cricketing kids, that’s for sure. Now, after his conversion, he says, “If every non-Muslim settled in Pakistan has searched the light of Islam then surly Pakistan will completely turn into a pure Islamic State and no one will remain here as non-Muslim”. So much for inter-faith dialogue, eh?
One conversation rankles in my mind. I argued at a gathering on my last visit to Pakistan that Youhana should be made the team captain. I was roundly rejected on the grounds that Youhana was a Christian. I remember laughing at the “joke” only to realize that the room was dead serious. As some are already suggesting, this conversion could pave the way for him.
To my mind, the beauty of cricket was that it was its own religion. Raised as a sunni, I played with many shi’as, a hindus, two christian and that rambunctious parsi kid. Our religious holidays served the sole purpose of holding a match. I went to their religious gatherings to talk their parents out of requiring their presence. The only gods we worshipped were the gods of luck, of rain, of timing, of vengeance and retribution on the other club. There is an amazing amount of faith in cricket, or any sport for that matter, but there never was a God in cricket.