Qatar extended an invitation to controversial Islamic preacher Dr Zakir Naik to deliver lectures on Islam in the backdrop of the ongoing FIFA World Cup. Naik, who faces charges of money laundering and hate speech in India, is a runway fugitive living in exile in Malaysia since 2017.
Controversies of FIFA 2022 World Cup
Much has been said about the abysmal working conditions of migrant labourers, who toiled hard as per the Kafala system to prepare the country for the event. However, authorities have not taken any steps to address these concerns. Instead, the death of many migrant workers has been brushed under the carpet. Human rights are also alien to the Arab nation, which is notorious for its harsh adjudication and strict interpretation of Islamic laws. The country also has absolutely no tolerance for members of the LGBTQ community, and even before the beginning of the tournament, there were ample reports of people from this community being harassed.
World Cup or a religious battleground?
Furthermore, incidents of rainbow flags and badges being denied as legitimate paraphernalia were reported. Perhaps, FIFA buckled down under pressure when it dissuaded certain football teams from sporting the ‘One Love’ armband that promotes rights for the LGBTQ community. Israeli football fans were warned by their Government to avoid an overt expression of their identity in order to prevent any threat. Qatar has no diplomatic relations with Israel, which explains why organising the World Cup in Qatar was never a good idea.
Over 500 football fans have converted to Islam
On November 22, a good samaritan of BBC and Guardian, Majid Freeman claimed in a tweet that over 500 people (tourists visiting Qatar to watch FIFA World Cup 2022) have converted to Islam. In the tweet, he wrote, “Allahu Akbar! We’ve heard from local daees in Qatar that 500+ people have embraced Islam recently.” Furthermore, he shared a video claiming that a Mexican fan embraced Islam. He added, “Thousands of fans from around the world are there. May they get an opportunity to see the beauty of Islam, and may Allah guide them.”
Majid Freeman is not the only one claiming such conversions amid FIFA World Cup 2022. A Twitter user Abu Siddiq claimed in a tweet that 558 people have converted to Islam so far on the sidelines of the world cup in Qatar. He wrote, “With the way things are going, and with the grand entrance of Shaykh Dr Zakir Naik and his team into Qatar, thousands of Europeans will see the light and accept Islam.”
Dilly Hussain, the Deputy editor of 5PillarsUK, whose Twitter handle was withheld in India for spreading fake news, made similar claims. He wrote, “At least 558 people have accepted Islam in one week in Qatar. Alhamdulillah.”
Previous editions of the famed tournament have taken place in various countries, including the Korean Republic and Japan, Brazil, the USA, and other European nations. However, no country has used the occasion to further religious interests at the cost of the game. Qatar stands out as an exception as it aggressively promotes Islamic culture. If printing and distributing pamphlets regarding the religion was not enough, it also set out a list of activities which are prohibited, such as drinking, dressing too conspicuously for an Islamic country and prohibiting any display of affection. It has issued specific directions for women to dress appropriately and has imposed a complete ban on alcohol after previously agreeing to it.
However, nothing can be more controversial than to invite Dr Naik to proselytise those in attendance. Faisal Alhajri, who was at Alkass, a state-owned sports news channel, tweeted that Dr Naik will offer Islamic lectures during the duration of the tournament. The Islamic preacher is wanted in India and is accused of money laundering, hate-mongering, and forcible conversions and is also known to be an inspiration to many Islamic fundamentalists. Some of his statements justify terrorism, while others claimed that beating wives were in tandem with the Shariat as long as it was done gently. He also propagated that members of the LGBTQ should receive death penalty and rationalised that no Islamic country should allow any other religion to flourish. He is cited as an inspiration for terrorists who were involved in the Dhaka Café bombing of 2016. His name also turned up during an investigation of the Eastern Bombings in Sri Lanka and in questioning two youths from Kerala who had joined ISIS.
It is also surprising that Qatar made a huge row with New Delhi regarding a religious issue affecting diplomatic relations but did not hesitate to invite a preacher who is known to be an anti-Hindu Islamic leader. After India lodged protests against Dr Naik’s presence, Qatari diplomatic sources clarified that no official invitation has yet been extended to the Islamic preacher. Also, it is important to note that Qatar expressed support for the Muslim Brotherhood, much to the chagrin of its neighbouring countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt. Hence, it should not be surprising to see the Qatari state turning the world cup into an Islamic fanfare.
Despite Qatar’s clarifications, it cannot be denied that the world cup, for the first time, has turned out to be an open display of the Islamic faith, much to the agony and confusion of fans who have gathered from all over the world.
Sporting authorities of reputation, such as FIFA, should be careful when deciding events such as the world cup. It should never be allowed to turn into a tool in the hands of fundamentalists.