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Guest Impressions

Islam and Sport

Islam and Sport

Harms of Modern Sport

1. Crowd Behaviour and Hooliganism

A feature which characterizes most modern sporting events is the contribution of the crowd or audience. The crowd due to its close physical contacts and large numbers, provides an ideal setting for the spontaneous accumulation of excitement. Each individual in the crowd may be overcome by a sense of euphoria due to crowd emotion.

The crowd momentarily sanctions the performance of acts which are normally forbidden in everyday life. Individuals in the crowd instantaneously become members of a group in which normal standards of conduct are redefined or overthrown. In simple words, members of a crowd act as one man, but the crowd acts as no one man would act in his normal senses. For example, the average person does not ordinarily destroy property or interfere with moving traffic, but in a victory celebration he does.

Crowd behaviour is characterized by a number of distinctive features. Firstly, a crowd is anonymous and erases feelings of self-consciousness. A typical modern sporting audience involves thousands of people, some male, some female, some drunk, some semi-naked, some singing, some screaming, and some simply watching the action. This multi-faceted setting may also destroy any sense of individual responsibility. The individual, while part of the crowd, indulges in behaviour which he would normally control, because moral responsibility has been shifted from himself to the crowd as a whole.(1) There is a decrease in the level of personal accountability because the individual's responses are covered up by the responses of the many others around him.

Secondly, there is a removal of inhibitions. This is why crowd violence at sporting functions may not only cause fatalities, but also damage to property and general uncivilised behaviour. For example, on 5th May 1990, during a soccer match in Bournemourth, Leeds fans ran amok. Over 100 arrests were made not only for assault but looting and rioting as well.

Thirdly, the crowd is typified by a sense of increased suggestibility. This can be defined as a tendency to respond to stimulus in an uncritical fashion and without rational control over the nature of the response. In simple words, in a crowd, one does things without conscious reflection and thought regarding the effects of such behaviour.

Experts believe that intoxicants (eg. drugs and alcohol) and rhythmical sounds like the beating of drums can put a crowd into a state of increased suggestibility. The analysis of a sporting audience shows that alcohol, drugs and some form of rhythm are combined in variable proportions. Rhythm is generated by synchronized clapping, dancing, waving of scarves, flags, music and songs.

An important implication of crowd behaviour is the emotional interaction. The individual's responses are affected by the responses of those around him.(2) His actions and emotions become reinforced as he observes the actions and emotions of others. This means that the individual may approve and even engage in acts such as violence, vulgar language, dancing, etc. This kind of behaviour should never be tolerated from society, least of all from a Muslim.

Members of a crowd stimulate and respond to one another. This increases their emotional intensity and responsiveness. This process is increased by "rhythm" and "milling". The crowd may suddenly start rhythmic clapping and shouting which may take members to higher levels of excitement.(3) These features are all too common in sporting audiences. Is this not the explanation for the frequent occurrence of the 'Mexican wave'?

A common stance taken by many Muslims is that they simply attend sporting events to watch and that they are not affected by the crowd in any way. This claim can easily be disputed. If you find yourself moving to the rhythm of the 'Mexican Wave' or being attracted to the stadium for a sporting event in order to enjoy the 'wonderful atmosphere', you have been affected by crowd psychology to some extent.

Let us examine each element of crowd behaviour from an Islamic point of view. Firstly, a Muslim individual must maintain a sense of responsibility at all times. Each and every Muslim is accountable for his or her own actions. Hence, how can a Muslim allow this responsibility and accountability, which Islam has put on him, to be transferred to a larger group who lack all sense of morality?

Secondly, a Muslim should at all times conduct himself in a critical and thoughtful manner. He should always be rational in his actions. Hence, how can a Muslim consciously enter into a situation which threatens this rationality of thought and deed which Allâh (Azza wa jall) has blessed him with?

Thirdly, a person in a crowd is affected by those around him. Here we see the beauty of Islam, in that we as Muslims are encouraged to be in the company of the pious and virtuous. Can a Muslim, in the name of sport, ever justify being in the company of those who are drunk, semi-naked and those who lack all sense of dignity, morality and decency? Never!


2. Hero Worship

Celebrities or 'sporting - heroes' are created by means of media glamour and prestige. Unfortunately, the supporting of teams and sporting personalities have the greatest impact on our children. It is interesting to note the extent to which today's youngsters (as well as adults) imitate their sporting heroes. From wearing the Manchester United top to applying Allan Donald's "war paint" to copying the bowling technique of Waqar Yunus.

This "worshipping" of sports stars is a matter of serious concern. Muslims will prefer to dress in the colours of their favourite soccer team, rather than dressing in Islamic attire. Muslim children and even adults are familiar with the names, statistics and histories of numerous sports performers. They are always prepared to defend their heroes if even a word is said against them. One wonders if these very people will defend Islam with the same enthusiasm as they defend their sporting heroes.

Elite competition often produces athletes who value success more than the concept of being righteous or competing fairly. High - profile athletes are accepted as winners and ideal role models, despite the fact that these athletes very often defy the rules of fair play to increase their chances of winning. What impression is given to youngsters who idolize a sportsman who uses drugs illegally? 'That cheating in life is O.K, if you want success?'

Sporting heroes who may range from atheists to homosexuals become our role models. On the field, many sports stars are often seen using vulgar language or being rude and arrogant. Off the field, their personal lives may be harbouring in sin. Unless we guide our innocent children, they may well end up believing that these un-Islamic principles are meant to be followed.

Nabi (Sallallâhu alaihi wasallam) has said: "One will be with whom one loves." In other words, on the Day of Qiyamat, things of a like nature will be together. Hence, this Hadith serves as a warning to those who wish to follow, imitate and be-have like the non-Muslims.

It is indeed unfortunate to note that Muslim parents have allowed their children to idolize sporting heroes while totally ignoring the contributions made by the great leaders, saints, martyrs and scholars of Islam. The Holy Prophet (Sallallâhu alaihi wasallam) should be our perfect guide and example. Leaders like the four Caliphs (Radiallâhu anhum), the Sahaba (Radiallâhu anhum) and our pious predecessors showed far superior qualities than any of our current socalled "heroes". These great Islamic personalities had characters which were moulded from piety, honesty, righteousness, sacrifice, etc. These are our guides and teachers, not cheap sporting "heroes" who roam in the darkness of sin and who fall prey to lowly desires of lust, fame and pride.


3. "Desensitization" of Islamic Principles

The viewer or spectator while watching television is constantly bombarded with images of semi - naked women, of alcohol consumption in victory celebrations, of vulgar language, of violence and aggression and other activities which are completely prohibited by Islam. The continued exposure to these kind of images may reduce the individual's emotional sensitivity to them.

To illustrate, consider a person who has never been exposed to such Harâm things before and who subsequently experiences them. His initial response would be one of shock and disgust. By constantly being exposed to these activities, this may weaken his inhibitions. A mild effect will be that he would consider them as being normal or simply acceptable behaviour. More seriously, he could feel less restrained about performing such actions himself.

A factor which adds to this desensitization, is the fact that people watching sport for pleasure are generally in a relaxed state of mind. A state in which one is 'off guard', where one's inhibitions are lowered and when one is least suspecting. In other words, these images gain access to our inner being at a time when we least expect them to.

If the desensitization of Islamic values is occurring amongst adults, what effect is it having upon our Muslim children? It is the responsibility of parents to see that the home is a place where Islamic principles are taught and where un-Islamic norms are discouraged.


4. Conditioning

The conditioning of the mind through sport is a channel used to control the way people think and behave. If you consider this form of hypnosis through sport to be far-fetched, think of the occasions on which people have been gripped by the hysteria of a major sporting event (eg. Soccer World Cup 1998). Consider the number of Muslims who prefer to watch cricket or soccer during Salâh times. Consider those who dream about sports while performing Salâh. However much we try to deny it, we have allowed sports to control and manipulate our behaviour.

Muslims should not allow sport to exert any form of control over our lives. The only sort of conditioning that we should permit is one which encourages the Islamic code of life. In other words, our lives should be controlled and directed according to Islamic values and ideals. We should be cautious about being influenced by any ideologies which aim to indoctrinate us with principles which threaten our Islamic belief system.


5. Fanaticism

A fanatic can be defined as a person who rejects facts, who strives to impose his beliefs upon others and who considers all other beliefs to be corrupt. He considers opposition as hateful and his enthusiasm may easily translate into violence.

Unfortunately, media publicity, broadcasting and a host of other factors have been largely responsible for transforming audiences into "sport - thirsty" fanatics. Sporting fanaticism has succeeded in breeding groups of people who "eat, drink and sleep" sport.

The intense competition and partisanship which is generated may often lead to spectator aggression. This has often given rise to physical violence which has occurred as a direct result of radical sports fanaticism. History shows many examples of tragedies in which people have been killed due to irrational fanatic behaviour. For example, the murder of Andres Escobar, a Colombian soccer player, after he scored an own goal during the 1994 World Cup finals.(5)

Islam can never condone fanaticism as defined above. We as Muslims should respect the rights of all people. We should never attempt to force or impose our views upon others. Hence, sports fanaticism which encourages radicalism and lack of reason is not sanctioned in Islam.


6. Intermingling of Sexes

Physical intermingling and free mixing of men and women occurs almost without any remorse or guilt at most sporting functions. The following Hadith prohibits such behaviour:

"It is better for one of you to be pricked in the head with an iron pick than to touch a woman whom it is unlawful to touch."


7. Singing, Dancing, Music, etc.

The light-hearted atmosphere at sporting events is augmented with rhythmic singing, clapping, dancing or similar gestures. Islam does not permit any such activities especially if these have indecent, obscene and shameless undertones.

The opening ceremonies of all major sporting events are primarily based on music and dancing. For example, the opening ceremony of the 1988 Seoul Olympics featured thousands of dancers and gymnasts and the Barcelona Games in 1992 featured world famous opera singers. Scantily dressed females are used as mascots, allowing billions of people around the world to commit Zina of the eyes.

Sporting functions also seem to attract the shameless elements of society, in the form of streakers. These are people who prefer to dash around naked in public, exposing shameful parts of the body. This animal-like instinct is not only disgusting but an insult to human dignity. What is more shocking is that intelligent, educated adults find this amusing and a pleasure to watch. This is a symptom of a morally bankrupt society. May Allâh (Azza wa jall) save us and our children from being exposed to such filth.


8. Wastage of Money

Enormous sums of money are wasted by sports organisations, clubs, provinces and even countries in an attempt to entertain the public through the medium of sport. Governments of the world spend millions in sports development and promotion. It is also interesting to note that the 1984 Olympics were the first in which a profit was made. The 1976 Montreal Olympics had a $1 billion debt(6) after spending $1.4 billion to stage the Games.(7)

On an individual level, people spend hundreds and even thousands in attending sporting functions, purchasing tickets and joining fan clubs. For example, the price of a good ticket for the Opening Ceremony of the Atlanta Olympics was about $600.

Allâh (Azza wa jall) says in the Holy Qurân: "O children of Adam, wear your beautiful apparel at every place of worship, and eat and drink but do not be wasteful; indeed, He does not like the wasteful.(40)

Are we not being wasteful, while millions of people on the face of the Earth have no food to eat and no place to sleep? Should we not be using our resources to build hospitals and houses, rather than stadiums? The construction of the 85 000 seater Atlanta Centennial Olympic Stadium, for instance, amounted to $168 million. Can't we channel the billions that are directed towards sports in the world today, towards eradicating the social harms of our society, like drugs and crime?


9. Division

Sport, due to its competitive nature, divides people into groups. The love for opposing teams or sports stars is so intense that it divides nations, provinces, communities and even families. This division due to sport has frequently led to disputes, quarrels and even violence amongst supporters. The favouring of one team or star over another can often be traced to early childhood. This makes the idea of supporting a team or personality all the more absurd. This division creates unnecessary hatred, jealousy and malice which would otherwise never have been present.

Sport has always been an area where people have been discriminated against. Differences based on race, nationality, religion and class have on many occasions been intensified and magnified by sport.

Unfortunately, we as Muslims have foolishly allowed the folly of sport to divide and cause rifts between us as well. It is not uncommon for groups of Muslims to harbour hatred and jealousy for others on the grounds of sporting differences.


10. Smoking in Children

The effects of watching sport on television are more devastating and far-reaching than people generally imagine. For example, a survey was carried out in England to investigate whether watching cigarette-sponsored motor racing had any effect on children's smoking habits. The study found that of those boys who were not regular smokers but who watched motor racing as a favourite television sport, 12.8% became regular smokers. Of those who did not like motor racing only 7% became regular smokers.(41) In other words, by watching motor racing, the probability of becoming a regular smoker is almost doubled.


1. Horton, P.B., Hunt, C.L., Sociology (3rd Edition)

McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, (1972), p.385.

2. Roucek, J.S., Warren, R.L., Sociology - An Introduction

Littlefield, Adams and Co., 1972, pp.50-51.

3. Horton, P.B., Hunt, C.L., Sociology (3rd Edition)

McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, (1972), p.386.

4. Nawrat, C., Hutchings, S., The Sunday Times Illustrated History of Football, Hamlyn, London, (1994), p.338.

5. Simson, V., Jennings A., The Lords of the Rings

Simon and Schuster Ltd, London, (1992), p.63.

6. Liebenberg, H., The Olympic Games, HAUM-Dân Retief Publishers (Pty) Ltd, Pretoria, (1992), p.32.

  1. IATH Bulletin, no 73, December 1997, p.6.

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