Saudi Arabia — Saudi imams warn against mixing of sports, politics and protest

Sau­di and ultra-con­ser­v­a­tive imams have warned in sep­a­rate state­ments against the mix­ing of sports and pol­i­tics and protests against auto­crat­ic regimes, which, accord­ing to some, results from of the min­gling of the sex­es in sports.

The warn­ings come against the back­drop of Sau­di efforts to shield the Gulf from the wave of pop­u­lar upris­ings sweep­ing the Mid­dle East and North Africa, renewed focus on the role of mil­i­tant soc­cer fans oppos­ing mil­i­tary rule in Egypt and pres­sure on the king­dom to allow women to com­pete for the first time in an inter­na­tion­al tour­na­ment dur­ing the Lon­don Olympics.

Sau­di Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdu­laz­iz Al-Sheikh quot­ed in the kingdom’s Al Watan news­pa­per warned that the protests that have already top­pled the lead­ers of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen and brought Syr­ia to the brink of civ­il war were sin­ful. “The schism, insta­bil­i­ty, the mal­func­tion­ing of secu­ri­ty and the break­down of uni­ty that Islam­ic coun­tries are fac­ing these days is a result of the sins of the pub­lic and their trans­gres­sions,” Sheikh Abdu­laz­iz said.

Such sins include, accord­ing to Imam Abu Abdel­lah of As-Sun­nah mosque in Kissimee, Flori­da, speak­ing in a video post­ed on the Inter­net, the mix­ing of the sex­es at sports events. “In the past it was only men, now it is almost half half (in sta­di­ums). Allah knows what hap­pens after­wards. Either way it is bad. Either peo­ple go out, they are sens­ing and par­ty­ing and drink­ing and all that, so that’s neg­a­tive. And if they don’t, they go out and they demon­strate and they’re angry and they destroy prop­er­ty and they destroy cars and they destroy people’s busi­ness. Either way its haram (for­bid­den), things have to be done in mod­er­a­tion. These are the things that are asso­ci­at­ed with sports that the believ­ers have to be care­ful with,” Abu Abe­dal­lah said.

“So there is noth­ing wrong with watch­ing and prac­tic­ing your favourite sport as long as you adhere to the norms. When it comes to the way you dress and the way you behave, where you’re going to be, what are you going to be lis­ten­ing to; are you going to be min­gling in crowds you are not sup­posed to be min­gling with? All of those things do mat­ter when you are prac­tic­ing or you are watch­ing your favourite sport,” the imam said.

The cler­ics’ state­ments came as Sau­di Ara­bia pre­pares for a sum­mit of the six-nation Gulf Coop­er­a­tion Coun­cil (GCC) in which it hopes to foist clos­er polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion on its large­ly reluc­tant co-mem­bers Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE. Bahrain, which last year bru­tal­ly squashed with Sau­di assis­tance an upris­ing against its minor­i­ty Sun­ni Muslin rulers, is like­ly to be the only GCC state to ful­ly endorse the notion of a polit­i­cal union.

The state­ments also come as Inter­na­tion­al Olympics Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent Jacques Rogge is under pres­sure to make good on his pledges ear­li­er this year to stand for gen­der equal­i­ty by ban­ning Sau­di Ara­bia from this year’s Lon­don Olympics if it fails to field women ath­letes. A Human Rights Watch report released in Feb­ru­ary, called on Sau­di Ara­bia to pro­tect women’s equal right to sports and urged the IOC to live up to its char­ter, which pro­hibits dis­crim­i­na­tion, or face a ban sim­i­lar to that imposed on Afghanistan in 1999 part­ly for its exclu­sion of female ath­letes.

With Qatar and Brunei expect­ed to have women ath­letes for the first time this year in their del­e­ga­tions, Sau­di Ara­bia would be the only coun­try in the world that still refus­es to allow women to com­pete. The king­dom has recent­ly hint­ed that it would not stand against Sau­di women liv­ing abroad com­pet­ing, but would not field ath­letes from the king­dom itself.

In sep­a­rate state­ments, two Sau­di reli­gious schol­ars admon­ished soc­cer play­ers that bad behav­iour could lead to a ban on pub­lic atten­dance of match­es. It was not imme­di­ate­ly clear what inci­dents of bad behav­iour they were refer­ring to.

Sheikh Abdul­lah bin Suleiman Al Manei, a mem­ber of the Gulf Kingdom’s supreme schol­ars com­mit­tee and an advi­sor to King Abdul­lah warned that “the spread of such (bad) acts on play fields is a clear indi­ca­tor of a decline in moral val­ues and the trans­for­ma­tion of sport from fair com­pe­ti­tion into big­otry. The con­tin­u­a­tion of these bad phe­nom­e­na which pose a threat to the eth­i­cal val­ues of our sons makes the atten­dance of these match­es a hate­ful thing. This means that going to these match­es could become pro­hib­it­ed because what is hap­pen­ing there has a strong neg­a­tive impact on the soci­ety.”

In a state­ment of his own, Sheikh Abdul­lah Al Mut­laq, anoth­er mem­ber of the supreme com­mit­tee, denounced play­ers for alleged­ly fak­ing inci­dents in a bid to get a ref­er­ee to award a penal­ty in their team’s favour. “These are acts of decep­tion, which is hat­ed and for­bid­den in Islam…..the sin becomes worse when the play­er swears by Allah falsely…players should refrain from such wrong acts as they have become a bad exam­ple for the young gen­er­a­tion,” Sheikh Al Mut­laq said with­out ref­er­ence to spe­cif­ic inci­dents.

About The Author:
James M. Dorsey is a senior fel­low at the S. Rajarat­nam School of Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies at Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Uni­ver­si­ty in Sin­ga­pore and the author of the blog, The Tur­bu­lent World of Mid­dle East Soc­cer.