It’s the 1st of April 2013, and Chelsea are facing off against Manchester United in a battle of the big guns. The reward for the winners is an FA Cup semi final at Wembley, so it’s a tense, tight affair. Then, Chelsea’s Juan Mata plays a long ball over the top to striker Demba Ba – the Senegalese international instinctively sticks out a boot and guides the ball into the net. The fans go wild celebrating what will turn out to be the winning goal, while Ba sees his teammates heading over to congratulate him. But his instinct, before taking the plaudits, is to kneel on the grass and prostrate.
Ba isn’t the only Muslim sportsman to perform sajdah after a success; Mo Farah has often followed a title-winning race by falling to the track and prostrating in whichever direction he was running. But why do some Muslim athletes choose to do this? Much of it is probably instinct, as in moments of sheer elation we do what comes naturally to us. Rather than using this moment as a time to pray, Ba and others are essentially toasting their success by being thankful for the opportunity – humbling themselves to the ground and connecting to God when the material moment has overwhelmed them.
There is therefore an argument that the action in that moment in front of thousands (or millions) of people turns an act of worship into a cultural statement. This generation of fans will hang on their superstars’ every move; Ba’s celebration has become so synonymous with him that he even prostrates after scoring on FIFA. So many of us have pretended to be a football icon in the playground, and celebrated with Shearer’s raised arm, Crouch’s robot or Keane’s forward roll. If fans of Ba’s clubs question his post-goal actions, are they going to start to copy their hero and open an Islamic can of worms?
It would seem that for the most part, there isn’t an issue. Fans are happy to see Ba celebrate by reaffirming his faith, however he does it – and this is the real point, that as a role model to not just football fans, but young Muslims too, he needs to create a positive impression. Alongside the likes of Farah, Amir Khan and Moeen Ali, it looks like he’s doing just that.
On this week’s Ummahsonic podcast, we’ll be looking at a wide range of issues, which tie in Islam and football together. Head back here at 6pm on Wednesday, and if you enjoy it, then celebrate – however you like! And you can listen to our most recent podcast, on Islamic New Year, here.