Faith in Cricket

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.

24 Replies to “Faith in Cricket”

  1. Sepoy, I couldn’t agree more. Cricket is a religion that needs no other. Come to think of it, it might just be the perfect religion. It has a ritualistic, mystic charm which often orbits around seemingly-ordinary objects that are elevated exclusively through the context in which they are put to use; a dense web of doctrine, initially impenetrable to outsiders but which believers are always all-too-happy to explain to potential converts; and a proud sense of its own history and great events that often focuses on the most evenly-matched sides. It’s not afraid to ask the big questions, often retrosopectively. “How was that onnnne?” Not just this, but it also boasts a plethora of god-like figures who regularly turn out to be reassuringly flawed. This provides great grounding to believers.

    One thing you do occasionally hear is that Matt Hayden is a “devout christian”, but then he also swears at kids. The only time he mentioned God during the Ashes to my knowledge was as the “only man” who has any control over the weather (after taking the light in the 5th Test). That’s more than enough religion for one series.

  2. “Reverted” to Islam? Oh I know, its the every-child-is-born-a-Muslim-his-parents-make-him-Hindu/Jewish/atheistic/wahabi thing at play…

  3. The tablighi Jamaat main head quarters are in Nizamuddin,Delhi India
    The Tablighi Jamaat is apolitical but yes some of it’s members may be politically active.
    The tablighi jamaat is NOT full of hate and is not Wahabbi.In fact even the tablighis are called “deviants” and Bidatis by hardline Wahhabis…

    It’s focus is prepare the individual for Akhirah
    Yes it opposes some practices related to Dargahs etc… but is not full of hate.Have you even read the traditional Tablighi literature ? Nowhere does it preach hatred .As fellow muslims we should be happy that Yusuf Youhana has gained Hidayat and has reverted to Islam.Good for him …

  4. Is it just me or people actually is it nobody elses business what Youhana does with his personal life? Personally I always liked him as a player – he could become a spokesperson for lactose intolerant Ethiopian lesbians for all I care. Jeez the tablighi jamaat sucks big time but so do whinos that are going to be personally dissappointed by someone’s else’s personal religious beliefs. Maybe we should ban conversions like the folks across the border seem to want from time to time…

  5. Lahori: Actually it’s bad form to compare people to Nazis in any debate. But that’s another matter. And sure it’s bad form from me to intentionally invoke Godwin’s Law. I put my hand up to that.

    sepoy: Fine, you have an insiders knowledge I do not posses and so I submit to your better judgement on that matter. Let me correct/clarify myself then: in *my experiences* — of having been taught Islamic practices by members of the Tablighi Jamat (not all who were Pakistani, mind) — “politics” has been largely eschewed and shunned. In fact mentioning the word would have you chastised for “being too concerned with worldly affairs” and not too concerned with “purifying” oneself of “bad traits” like “forgetting God”. Are they political because all people operate in a political world? Yes, of course. Are they a political party with ostensible political goals, like say Hizb al-Tahrir? No, or it is hard to make such a case. Are they coercive like any true believers, religious or secular? Yes, no doubt. That’s a believers “job”, I suppose. Coercion doesn’t need violence.

    As for decency, being liberal etc. again I have not said they are — or even aren’t — “decent” or “liberal” or whatever, nor that these are not worthy criticisms. I was pointing to something else altogether.

  6. Thabet, thanks for a response filled with self-serving, pseudo-intellectual remarks.

    As for your reference to Godwin’s Law, and your assertion that I’ve lost the argument by comparing the Tablighi’s Wahabbist philosophy to that of the Nazis, i’d like to point your attention to “Quirk’s Exception” to Godwin’s Law, which states that an “intentional invocation of this so-called ‘Nazi Clause’ is ineffectual.”

    Furthermore, “my dear chap”, it appears you have misunderstood the very essence of Godwin’s Law, so I refer you to the following Godwin’s Law FAQ:

    http://www.killfile.org/~tskirvin/faqs/godwin.html

    The FAQ’s introduction states, “One of the most famous pieces of Usenet trivia out there is ‘if you mention Hitler or Nazis in a post, you’ve automatically ended whatever discussion you were taking part in’. Known as Godwin’s Law, this rule of Usenet has a long and sordid history on the network – and is absolutely wrong.”

  7. thabet: my response was conflicted for exactly the reason you stated. His conversion is a private matter and I am all for people finding their gods. Something I left out of the post was that I do have a personal history with Saeed Anwar, Youhana and others in the cricket team. I do have some insight and my own understanding of the religious turn. Be that as it may, my despair was with his subsequent statement and what I do believe will be massive amounts of political hay. It is not his faith that was my concern, it is the politics of faith in cricket [his or anyone else’s]. Maybe I should have made that more explicit in my post.

    As for Tablighi-Jamaa’t…a lot of people I know are in it, associated with it. Are they decent people? yes. Are they political? yes. Are they coercive? yes.

  8. Sorry old chap, Lahore Zindabad/TKoT, I really have no idea what, in the name of anything Good left on this earth, you’re talking about. I never said anything about the Tablighis views on women/US/foreign affairs/Depeche Mode/David Beckham’s hair cut. I never even mentioned anything about the “egalatarian (sic) principles”. I was actually pointing out the problem with peolpe like you who merely wish to shut the views of others you may not like.

    Oh, and you’ve already failed Godwin’s Law and so appear to have lost the argument anyway. Be a good boy and run along to Google and find out why.

  9. Tablighis convert people to their nazi way of thinking under the pretext of “no political affiliation”, and then once the beard grows and the hate is fully ingrained, the right-wing extremist political conversion is already a given.

  10. Thabet, your post reflects your unfortunate ignorance. The fundamentalist Tablighis, who adopt a fanatic view of Islam (pretty much hating everything else), are only “apolitical” for 1) purposes of not being subjugated by the government, 2) to infiltrate Lahore and Karachi and convert common people into Maulvis.

    To say they are “apolitical” is simply not true. They too, like the Christian conservatives in the US, are extremely ‘right’ leaning. Every large organization in Pakistan (whether they claim to be apolitical or not) has an influence over how its members vote. This is the way it works bro.

    Secondly, in order to support my claim of Tablighi’s right wing bias, will you ever see people like Saeed Anwar campaigning for women’s rights in Pakistan? LOL. Will you ever see their members talking about peace with India? Will you ever see the Tablighi praise Musharaff’s government or the US?

    Further, it IS DOCUMENTED that Tablighi members have links to Jamaat E Islami, and Sipah E Sabah, two notorious religious right wing outfits in Pakistan. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the opposition, and a member of Jamaat E Islami, is also known to attend Tablighi meetings.

    Thabet, it doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in egalatarian principles. It’s ok if acceptance of others is not in your nature. It’s ok if you think everyone else’s religious views are wrong except yours – but please don’t try to imply that Tablighi has no political agenda, or doesn’t support the fanatic conservative platform. Wake up!!!

  11. I wonder if it is at all possible for a Pakistani Christian to convert to Islam without some part of him doing so in order to fit in… The country was created, after all, for the Muslims of the Subcontinent, implying that our non-Muslim compatriots weren’t really full-fledged compatriots, just “protected” minorities… Theoretically guaranteed full freedom of religion, but never quite full Pakistanis, referred to as Chooras behind their backs…

    Wouldn’t this situation be even worse for someone who spends most of the year touring with a team full of devout Muslims?

    http://content-pak.cricinfo.com/pakistan/content/story/219991.html

  12. I have heard a lot of people dismayed over this conversion, and I must say, it upsets me. Religion is supposed to be about finding what one believes to be the truth; some people I have heard have said that one who is a Pakistani Christian should remain a Pakistani Christian. Why? Why should religion be as fixed as ethnicity? Granted, I too, like Thabet, am no evangelical, nor am I exactly a fan of the Tablighi Jama’at (but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m opposed to them.) If a man makes an honest, searching decision regarding God, I must applaud that.

  13. Works both ways though doesn’t it? Who are you, or Jiye, or myself to comment on — and frankly belittle — his conversion if it is a “private” matter? The liberal reponse to someone talking about religion publically seems a little hypocritical to me as it appears only a liberal may discuss religion openly.

    I have to admit that even as a “religious” person I am not particularly “evangelical” (it’s simply not in my nature). People who try and shove their religiosity down my throat are met with a sharp rebuff, though I wouldn’t deride someone for trying to “convert” me to their point of view. So what if Youhana found the arguments of Anwar (or whoever) persuasive (no matter how much one may scoff at the actual argument)? Afterall, isn’t it a liberal idea to use persuasion through argumentation rather than violence? Was Youhana threatened with violence unless he converted? I don’t know as I am not in Pakistan right now, so maybe someone could clear that up for me. In fact, people ought to be happy that these “fundies” actually spoke to Youhana in the first place, rather than dismiss him as a disbeliever already ‘destined for hell’.

    And I don’t think the Tablighis are much like the American Christian Right today as they’re too apolitical for that. The mullahs will make political hay out of this just as much as secularists or liberals make hay out of other events which favour their viewpoint (I’m not favouring one over the other, merely questioning this “auto-liberal” response).

  14. Reports suggest that the Tablighees are regular visitors to the National Cricket Academy… brace yourselves for a team full of young maulvis… next thing we know is that they’ll declare matches against non-Muslim countries (the entire cricketing world besides BD) jihads… wait, didn’t Imran Khan say that in the late 80’s?

  15. I don’t know if Younis Khan replaced Youhana as vice-captain because Youhana was a Christian at the time or not. I do think it should be noted that Youhana, while captaining, looked lost in Australia. Younis, however, was a revelation when Inzamam was off the field in India. Younis used aggressive, creative field placings and he forced breakthroughs.
    Imran Khan knows his cricket and he was right to argue that Younis should be VC over Youhana. I’m not convinced that religion was the main issue for that change. Could it be possible that the PCB actually just made a good selection decision for once?

  16. raven: ’tis this stupid MT install. I hates it. I have no time to fix it. The comment gets posted even if you get the error message. Maybe sunday…. in the meantime, if anyone has a problem commenting, feel free to drop a note.

  17. Excellent commentary, Sepoy, on the Youhana issue. I am shocked by this news, it comes as a blow – an obvious win for bigoted, narrow-minded fundamentalist interests in a land where Sufis sang Kaafian of Divine Love, Guru Nanak was born, and Waris Shah wrote his epic ‚Äö√Ñ√≤Heer‚Äö√Ñ√¥. The Sufis and Sikh gurus stressed love for all humanity, the One-ness of God, and the importance of remembering the Creator. It’s unfortunate that Wahabbi elements will always infiltrate sections of Muslim society – and deviate from the true teachings of Islam. Islam is about love, humanity and peace – not hate, bigotry and intolerance (as certain “Muslims” like to propogate).
    It’s the in-human philosophy of hate and conversion by so called “champions of Islam” like Tabligh-i-Jamaat, that Islam is so misconstrued in the West.
    The sad thing is that this form of extremism and hate exists in the States too. They’re the right wing Christian conservatives who say, “You’ll burn in hell if you don’t accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.”
    Extremism and religious intolerance exists in all societies, and should be eradicated and frowned upon by all humans.

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