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Matthew Hayden and Ramiz Raja promote Islam during World Cup 2023: Why ICC and BCCI must stop cricket from becoming the ground for Islamic conversions

The BCCI and the governing body of cricket, ICC, have remained mute spectators to the rampant abuse of the sport by a bunch of radicalised individuals who have used the immense reach of the game and the recognition it has given to them to propagate their religious beliefs while serving in their official capacity as sportspersons or commentators.

On 3rd October (Tuesday), Australian opener Matthew Hayden and Ramiz Raja exploited the BCCI-backed ICC World Cup 2023 platform to promote Islam while doing commentary in a warm-up game. Hayden and Ramiz Raja deliberately overlooked the unifying potential of sports and abused the platform to propagate their individual religious ideologies and leverage its wider reach.  

While commentating, Hayden emphasised that he greatly admires that the Pakistani Cricket unit is very well focused on Islam and it has made them disciplined. The Australian opener also stressed that it is the Islamic way of life that gives discipline.  

Notably, the incident unfolded on 3rd October when Australia and Pakistan played a warm-up match at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad. While commentating, Ramiz Raja asked Hayden about his experience of working with the Pakistan cricket team.

To which, Hayden preached that the Islamic way of life gives discipline which he greatly admired. He added that Pakistani cricket is also very focused around Islam and it is the core thing of the Pakistani playing side.    

He said, “Well it’s very focused around Islam, which is the central and core thing to this playing unit. And that principle and the way of life leads to great discipline, which I greatly admire. After all, cricket is very much a discipline as well. You have to be committed. You have to be invested, and you have to be consistent.”

Matthew Hayden reveals he was gifted the Quran by Pakistani player Mohammed Rizwan

It is important to note that Matthew Hayden was the coach of the Pakistan cricket team during the T20 World Cup 2021 and T20 World Cup 2022. Back in November 2021, in an interview given to News Corp Australia, Hayden revealed that Pakistani cricketer Muhammad Rizwan gifted him an English version of the Quran. 

He stated that he was curious about Islam, and when Rizwan came to know about his curiosity with respect to Islam, he gifted him an English translation of the Holy Quran. Narrating the incident, he said it was a beautiful moment, one which he will never forget. 

He noted that both of them also discussed Islam and its beliefs at length, and he is reading the Quran a bit daily.

Regarding that episode, Hayden said, “It was Rizzy (Mohammad Rizwan) and I have to say it was a beautiful moment I will never forget. I am curious about Islam even though I am a Christian. One follows Christ and the other Muhammad and in a sense never shall meet but he presented me with an English version of the Quran. We sat on the floor for half an hour and talked through it. I am reading a bit of it each day. Rizzy is one of my favourite individuals, a champion human being.”

However, Mohammad Rizwan’s approach to Matthew Hayden, encouraging him to explore Islam, is just one instance of a broader trend where Islamic cricketers and commentators particularly from Pakistan have repeatedly abused their platform to propagate Islam and proselytisation of non-believers. 

Pakistan players courting non-Muslims on cricket ground to embrace Islam

Earlier, a video of Pakistani cricketer Ahmed Shehzad pestering Sri Lankan cricketing legend Tilakratne Dilshan to convert to Islam went viral on social media. In a 21-second long video, Shehzad was heard saying, “If you are a non-Muslim and you turn Muslim, no matter whatever you do in your life, straight to heaven.” 

In the video, it seems that Dilshan did not pay any heed to the comments of the Pakistani cricketer. However, when the Sri Lankan legend finally responded (which was not captured by the microphone), Ahmed Shehzad warned, “Then be ready for the (Hell) fire.”

Reflecting on the on-field proselytisation by the Pakistani cricketer, the Twitter user wrote, “Pakistan Cricket Team has 11 maulvis (clerics), not 11 cricketers.”

Religious discrimination faced by non-Muslims in Pakistan

Apart from proselytisation, Pakistani cricketers are infamous for discriminating on the basis of the religious beliefs of other cricketers. In December 2019, former pace bowler Shoaib Akhtar exposed Pakistan’s extremism against Hindus. In a chat show, Akhtar revealed how his teammates ill-treated ex-cricketer Danish Prabha Shanker Kaneria for being a Hindu.

Following Akhtar’s revelations, Danish Kaneria admitted that whatever Shoiab Akhtar revealed in the chat show about discrimination against him on the basis of religion was the truth. Kaneria was the second Hindu and seventh non-Muslim overall to represent Pakistan in international cricket.  

Similarly, Mohammad Yousuf, who was a Dalit Christian and known as Yousuf Youhana, changed his religion and name later in his career because of religious discrimination. Former Pakistani diplomat Shaharyar M Khan who also served as the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board between 2003 and 2006 wrote about Yousuf’s controversial apostasy in his book, Cricket Cauldron: The Turbulent Politics of Sport in Pakistan.

According to Khan, Yousuf converted to Islam because his teammates, particularly Inzamam-ul-Haq, pestered him to undergo religious conversion. Secondly, Yousuf believed that after conversion he could become captain of the Pakistani side.

The normalisation of communal bigotry by Pakistanis: Waqar Younis said he was proud to see Rizwan offering namaz in front of Hindus

Furthermore, there are numerous instances that highlight that Pakistani cricketers and commentators have normalised communal bigotry against non-Muslims. 

In October 2021, Pakistani fast bowler Waqar Younis was elated to share that it was very special for him when Mohammad Rizwan recited the Namaz in front of Hindus during the India versus Pakistan match at the T20 World Cup.

Speaking on the talk show, Younis said, “The manner in which Babar and Rizwan batted, sensible yet aggressive, the strike-rotation, the look on their faces, it was amazing. The best thing, what Rizwan did, Mashallah, he offered the Namaz on the ground surrounded by Hindus, that was really something very very special for me.”

Once, Shoaib Akhtar advocated the Islamic supremacist fantasy of ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind’, stating that Islamic forces would capture Kashmir and invade India. 

Akhtar had said, “It is written in our scriptures that Ghazwa e Hind will take place. The river in Attock will be coloured red twice with blood. Forces from Afghanistan will reach till Attock. Then after that forces will rise from Shamal Mashriq, and different contingents will arrive from Uzbekistan etc…this refers to Khorasan, a historical region that extended till Lahore. Later those forces will conquer Kashmir, and then, inshallah, they will march onwards (to the rest of India).” 

Pertinent to note that the Islamist doctrine Shoaib Akhtar endorsed has often been cited by terrorists to justify their attacks in India. The Islamist terror attacks on India take place under the banner of Ghazwa-e-Hind. Radicals in Pakistan are trained and brainwashed with the concept of Ghazwa-e-Hind, to prepare them for suicide missions in India and legitimise their jihad against India. 

Old anti-Hindu, anti-India tweets of Pakistani TV presenter Zainab Abbas, who joined the team of panellists hosting the World Cup 2023, go viral

The list of Pakistani cricketers and commentators spewing venom against non-believers is non-exhaustive but recently it also surfaced online when Pakistani commentator Zainab Abbas embarked on a visit to India to host the World Cup as presenter in India. 

On 2nd October, screenshots of old anti-Hindu, anti-India tweets of Pakistani cricket presenter Zainab Abbas surfaced online. 

In her old tweets, she had written deplorable things mocking India and Hindus telling them to eat meat and using phrases like ‘stinking cow piss’ to describe India. Notably, Pakistan has been notorious for using such slurs to derange Indians as meek Hindus who are afraid of their ‘martial race’.

Why ICC and BCCI must stop cricket from turning into a ground for Islamic conversions

Yet, the BCCI and the apex governing body of cricket, the ICC, have remained mute spectators to the rampant abuse of the sport by a bunch of radicalised individuals who have used the immense reach of the game and the recognition it has given to them to propagate their religious beliefs while serving in their official capacity as sportspersons or commentators. Even worse, those who have displayed communal bigotry against Hindus have been rewarded with lucrative contracts and included in the commentary panel for commentating in the World Cup 2023, as witnessed with the inclusion of Waqar Younis and Zainab Abbas. Not just BCCI and the ICC, the buck also stops with the Indian government to prepare a list of individuals with a history of anti-Hindu bigotry and put them on a visa blacklist so that they don’t slip into India under any context.

A sport bridges differences between people from different religions, groups, nationalities, and walks of life. It is a source of entertainment for millions of fans who forget the daily grind of life and immerse themselves in the game for the adrenaline rush and excitement it generates. When religious dogmas and beliefs get promoted on the plank of a sport, it not only vitiates the game but also undermines the secularism that the game embodies, fuelling divisions and endorsing supremacism. 

Just like India’s founding fathers envisioned separating politics from religion, ICC and BCCI would do well to separate cricket from religion. Otherwise, we might as well see cricket unravelling, just like the implosion of Pakistan, an Islamic country carved out of undivided India on the basis of religion. 

As the World Cup is being hosted in India and BCCI has the requisite leverage power over ICC, the highest decision-making body in cricket, it is for the BCCI to make sure that the World Cup 2023 platform is not abused to propagate religious ideologies or ground for conversion. The bare minimun the BCCI and the ICC can do is terminate the contracts of Matthew Hayden, Ramiz Raja, Waqar Younis, and Zainab Abbas, and send a message to the cricketers and commentators that proselytisation of any faith and anti-Hindu bigotry will not be tolerated.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Paurush Gupta
Paurush Gupta
Proud Bhartiya, Hindu, Karma believer. Accidental Journalist who loves to read and write. Keen observer of National Politics and Geopolitics. Cinephile.

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