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Olympics: How athletes help the image of Muslims

By Urmee Khan

September 6 2012





At the risk of coming across all sentimental, the Olympics and Paralympics have made Britons feel fluffy as lint but the biggest winners of the sporting summer are undoubtedly we Muslims.

How we pine for Gaz Choudhry, the Pakistan-born wheelchair basketball player from Ealing, to be the next Mo Farah. Choudhry has played alongside Paralympians such as Ade Adepitan and he won Gold at the 2011 European Championships.

And it’s not just Olympic sports.

Watching the cricket has been painful for England fans but if you happen to be a Muslim, then perhaps inside you felt yourself cheering for Hashim Amla, the bushy-bearded Muslim who has led South Africa’s destruction of England’s claims to be the best team in the world this summer.

In football Liverpool fans were cheered by the news that Turkish footballer Nuri Sahin would be joining them at Anfield on loan from Real Madrid. Sahin was born in Germany but chose instead to play for Turkey.

As for the ladies, we have seen some brilliant Olympic moments. Khadija Mohammed the first female weight lifter from the United Arab Emirates. This plucky 17 year old was the first to wear a hijab at the Olympics as well as an ‘approved’ body covering unitard.

Who could forget the image of Saudi Arabian Sarah Attar competing in the 800m race? What a statement she made running in a headscarf – it was a massive middle finger up to our radicalised chums in the caves.

These Muslims inspire pride and togetherness. Mo Farah, in his gold-medal winning moments, draped himself in the Union flag and basked in the adoration of a modern British audience. At that moment, he could have passed for the most loved Briton ever, let alone the most loved Muslim.

It does reframe the debate. David Cameron spoke about a “40 year old black man that he knows” in the run up to the last election. At this rate, we’ll all know of Muslims who far from stereotyped images of radical religious zealots seem alright to the man on the street.

I know there are some great Muslim role models already out there (no need to write in, I know about the boxing converts). But the new crop of Muslim sports stars are apolitical. They don’t need to prove their faith. It is a part of them but it doesn’t define them.

It strikes a chord for many of today’s Muslims. Being Muslim isn’t a statement, it’s a way of life and there’s no need to go on about it. Hopefully understanding this will now spread through society. It was cheering to see Zayn Malik, from One Direction, tweet an Eid Mubarak message to his followers. It seemed natural, no big statement.

All of them are simply doing their little part in breaking down those boxes about what a Muslim is – just as Demba Ba, Papiss Demba Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa have for Geordies with their performances in the black and white of Newcastle United. It’s simple. We like winners. And Muslim winners at that.

Urmee Khan is a freelance journalist.

Originally published by Liberal Conspiracy

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