Islam in association football

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Some association football players are Muslims, and their clubs have adapted to their principles.

In July 2013, BBC journalist Rob Cowling remarked that Muslim players were changing the culture of English football.[1] The Islamic observance of Ramadan, affects the ability of players to train and play,[2] while some players have refused to wear football shirts sponsored by gambling and finance companies, as gambling and charging interest are forbidden in Islam.[3]

Some Muslim players have been subjected to racist abuse in the sport, and clubs which sign Muslim players have also been targeted.[4]

Popularity and conflict[edit]

Football was introduced to Iran by British oil workers and promoted under the regime of Reza Shah in the 1920s. Although both playing and watching the game have often been in conflict with religious requirements under the Islamic Republic of Iran, it continues to be popular.[5]

Football in Palestine was introduced during the British mandate period of 1920-1948. In 2011 a women's football team called Girls FC, made-up of both Muslims and Christians, was formed. Despite religious requirements and objections at the women wearing shorts and "playing a man's game", the team proved to be popular.[6]

Football and Ramadan[edit]

In 2010 Iranian player Ali Karimi was sacked by his Tehran-based club Steel Azin for breaking the fast during Ramadan. Karimi was seen drinking water during a training session; he denied any insult and was reinstated by the club after agreeing to pay a $40,000 fine.[7] In 2011 the debilitating effect on the fitness of players was noted in connection with Newcastle United player Demba Ba. Described as "drained and lethargic" due to fasting during Ramadan, he scored three goals in just over thirty minutes in a 3-1 win against Blackburn Rovers in his first match after Ramadan.[8]

Football and Islamic prayer[edit]

Cheikhou Kouyaté makes dua before a game

Observance of their Islamic prayers has brought players into conflict with their managers. Harry Redknapp, when manager of West Ham United, was critical of player Frédéric Kanouté's prayer and fasting requirements.[9] Newcastle United considered the introduction of prayer rooms at both St James' Park and at their training ground. Whilst not designed exclusively for Muslims, the rooms were planned to be used for prayer by Muslim players Demba Ba, Papiss Cissé, Hatem Ben Arfa and Cheik Tioté. The club pointed out that this is in marked contrast to the experiences of their former player and convert to Islam, Didier Domi, who was mocked when discovered doing Islamic prayers in the showers.[10][11] By the 2012-13 season Newcastle's seven Muslim players regularly used a purpose built multi-faith training ground prayer room.[12]

Several players, such as Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé, choose an act of prostration with forehead to the ground as a celebration after scoring a goal.[13] In 2012 football commentator Gary Lineker was forced to apologise after describing one such celebration by player Karim Ait-Fana for French side Montpellier against Schalke in the Champions League as "eating grass".[14] Muslim footballers have also worn T-shirts carrying messages relating to Islam under their football shirts. Queens Park Rangers player Adel Taarabt has worn a shirt carrying the message "I Love Allah" whilst Samir Nasri, in 2012, celebrated a goal for Manchester City against Southampton with a shirt carrying the message "Eid Mubarak".[15][16]

In October 2016, fans attending a World Cup qualifying game between Iran and South Korea at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran were asked to replace usual football chanting with religious chants as the match fell on a day of commemoration for Tasu'a, a Shia Islam holy day.[17]

Islam and football shirts[edit]

Muslim leaders in Malaysia have called for Muslims not to wear football shirts with crosses on the badge, such as FC Barcelona and Brazil, seeing them as prioritising Christianity. They have also warned against Manchester United shirts, which feature a devil.[18]

In 2012 Real Madrid removed a cross from their club crest on promotional material.[19] The change was linked with the building of a $1 billion sports tourist resort in the Islamic United Arab Emirates.[20][21]

Frédéric Kanouté used to modify his Sevilla shirt, to obscure the sponsorship from online casino The club later came to an agreement that the player was not endorsing gambling by wearing it, and would be excused from any promotional material with 888.[22]

In July 2013 Newcastle United player Papiss Cissé refused to play in a shirt sponsored by, a payday loan company, as the charging of interest is not permitted under Islamic law.[23] Soon after, he agreed to wear the shirt.[24]

Islamic dress code and football[edit]

The requirements of Islamic dress code have been contradictory to the kit requirements of FIFA. In 2011 the Iran women's football team was prevented from playing a game in a qualifying round for the 2012 Olympic Games due to their kit which comprised full tracksuits and head coverings concealing their hair. Women in Iran are required to wear the maghnaeh to cover their heads. FIFA ruled that the kit broke one of their rules which states, "Players and officials shall not display political, religious, commercial or personal messages or slogans in any language or form on their playing or team kits." Although the Iranian footballing federation argued that the kit was neither religious nor political, Iran were prevented from playing the game which was awarded, 3-0 to Jordan.[25] By 2012 FIFA had changed their ruling declaring that women were free to wear the hijab at senior competitive level.[26]


There have been numerous cases of anti-Muslim abuse aimed at Muslim footballers. In 2005 Egyptian footballer Mido whilst playing for Tottenham Hostpur was taunted by fans of West Ham United with "Your mum's a terrorist" and as a shoe bomber due to his likeness to Richard Reid.[27] In 2007, Mido, then playing for Middlesbrough was taunted by Newcastle United fans with anti-Muslim abuse.[28]

In October 2013 Muslim supporters of West Ham United were verbally abused whilst conducting Maghrib prayer in the Boleyn Ground during a Premier League game between West Ham and Manchester City.[29] In March 2015, Muslim supporters of Liverpool were criticised and abused on social media after they had used the half-time interval to pray on prayer mats in a stairwell at Anfield during a match between Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers. Their prayers were also defended by other fans.[30]

Israeli club Beitar Jerusalem, who have fringes of support who identify with strong Jewish nationalism, had their offices burned in January 2013 after signing their first Muslim players.[4]

In film[edit]

The 2006 film Offside deals with the subject of football, in this case in Iran, and female spectators. A ban made during the 1979 Iranian Revolution which stopped women from attending games, with Islamic religious leaders stating that women in stadiums was a recipe for disaster as they would see "bare legs" and hear profanities shouted by male fans. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had tried to end the ban before his attempts were vetoed by the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The film tells the stories of girls disguising themselves as males in order to watch a 2006 FIFA World Cup qualification match between Iran and Bahrain at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran. It was banned from screening in Iran.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rob Cowling (5 July 2013). "Premier League: How Muslims are changing English football culture". BBC Sport. Retrieved 10 July 2013. 
  2. ^ Tusdiq Din (23 August 2011). "Fasting and football. How do top-flight Muslims cope?". The Independent. Retrieved 10 July 2013. 
  3. ^ Saj Chowdhury and Ben Smith (12 June 2013). "Newcastle's Papiss Cisse plans club talks over new shirt sponsor". BBC Sport. Retrieved 10 July 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Paul Gittings (8 February 2013). "Israeli football club torched after signing Muslim players". CNN. Retrieved 10 July 2013. 
  5. ^ "Iran in June: A Fever Pitch of Football and Politics". 5 June 2013. Retrieved 15 July 2013. 
  6. ^ "Girls FC". Al Jazeera. 27 June 2012. Retrieved 15 July 2013. 
  7. ^ Adams, Keith (26 August 2010). "Iran footballer returns after Ramadan fasting row". BBC News Middle East. Retrieved 11 July 2013. 
  8. ^ Edwards, Luke (25 September 2011). "Newcastle United's Demba Ba's destroys Blackburn Rovers with a hat-trick". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 July 2013. 
  9. ^ Steve Bacon; Kirk Blows (16 August 2012). There's Only One Stevie Bacon: My Life Watching West Ham Through a Camera Lens. Biteback Publishing. pp. 1894–. ISBN 978-1-84954-459-7. 
  10. ^ Ghozali, Faïza (23 February 2010). "Islam made in France" (in French). Retrieved 2 November 2013. 
  11. ^ Taylor, Louise (5 May 2012). "Alan Pardew keeping the faith in the Newcastle United revolution". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 July 2013. 
  12. ^ Taylor, Louise (17 June 2013). "Joe Kinnear's second coming could cause Newcastle United further regret". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 July 2013. 
  13. ^ Wallace, Sam (20 April 2013). "Demba Ba interview: 'Chelsea is the start of my career'". The Independent. Retrieved 11 July 2013. 
  14. ^ Hall, John (8 October 2012). "Gary Lineker apologises after joking that praying Muslim footballers were 'eating grass'". The Independent. Retrieved 11 July 2013. 
  15. ^ Aleem, Abdul. "The Influence Of Islam On English Football". Islamique Magazine. Retrieved 12 July 2013. 
  16. ^ "Nasri celebrates goal against Southampton with 'Eid Mubarak' T-shirt". ITV. 19 August 2012. Retrieved 12 July 2013. 
  17. ^ "Iran v South Korea: Supporters asked to mourn at World Cup qualifier". 11 October 2016. Retrieved 11 October 2016 – via 
  18. ^ Henderson, Barney (20 July 2010). "Muslims ban Manchester United shirts over red devil image". The Telegraph. Retrieved 11 July 2013. 
  19. ^ Peck, Brooks (30 March 2012). "Real Madrid make small but deliberate change to their crest for UAE resort island partnership". Retrieved 18 October 2013. 
  20. ^ "Real Madrid changing cross logo for Muslim fans, sponsors". Indian Muslim Observer. 13 April 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2013. 
  21. ^ "Real Madrid Reband Logo for Muslim Fans". The Eastern Post. Retrieved 12 July 2013. 
  22. ^ Clissitt, Ben (5 April 2007). "Where did it all go right for Fredi Kanouté?". Retrieved 11 October 2016 – via The Guardian. 
  23. ^ Smith, Ben (17 July 2013). "Papiss Cisse pulls out of Newcastle tour after sponsor row". BBC Sport. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  24. ^ Taylor, Louise (25 July 2013). "Papiss Cissé stands down in Wonga row and agrees to wear branded kit". Retrieved 11 October 2016 – via The Guardian. 
  25. ^ "Iran's women footballers banned from Olympics because of Islamic strip". The Guardian. 6 June 2011. Retrieved 12 July 2013. 
  26. ^ Warshaw, Andrew (5 July 2012). "Joy for FIFA Prince and Muslim women as football hijab ban is lifted". Retrieved 12 July 2013. 
  27. ^ "Mido: I love it here and I want to stay". The Guardian. 26 November 2005. Retrieved 15 July 2013. 
  28. ^ Taylor, Louise (28 August 2007). "FA to investigate anti-Muslim abuse aimed at Mido". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 July 2013. 
  29. ^ "Muslims face racist chants at West Ham". BBC News. 24 October 2013. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  30. ^ "Liverpool FC considers action over Muslim prayer tweet". BBC News. 15 April 2015. Retrieved 16 April 2015. 
  31. ^ "Iran censors hand Offside a red card". Al Jazeera. 23 May 2006. Retrieved 12 July 2013.