I'm sure many Muslims were included in the thousands of Spainiards who crowded Madrid's Plaza de Colon today to celebrate their team winning the World Cup. They would have been part of millions of Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, atheists, and human beings of all stripes and colors who watched the final match together in cafes and sports bars from San Francisco to Kathmandu. And that's the way it should be. There's nothing like a major sports event to bring people together in spite of religious, political, racial, and cultural differences.
So why were two Somali Muslims recently killed and dozens arrested by Hizbul Islam, the Party of Islam, for the crime of watching Kas al-Alim, the World Cup? Ask any Western-educated Muslim, and they will assure you the Hizbul Islam is a small, radical, extreme group that in no way represents the true teachings of the peaceful religion of Islam. The reality is that Hizbul Islam takes the example and sayings of their Prophet Muhammad very seriously, and he is the one who ruled 1400 years ago that watching the World Cup is Haram, prohibited for Muslims.
Those who follow the Arabic media and are interested in such things might have observed over the past few weeks that Shaykhs and scholars throughout the Arab world have been preaching sermons and issuing fatwas condemning the World Cup and forbidding Muslims from watching it. They gave at least nine reasons for their rulings:
1. The Standard Committee on Issuing Fatwas ruled here that watching the World Cup is prohibited for Muslims because prizes are won and gambling takes place. According to an authentic Hadith in the Sunnan Abu Daud collection and noted elsewhere, Abu Huraira relayed that Muhammad said the only types of competition for which Muslims are permitted prizes are archery, and horse and camel racing. The reason, of course, Muslims could compete and win prizes in these areas is because they are included in warfare and Jihad. Al Qaeda recently produced a propaganda film on Jihadist websites that asked the question, "Which of these two goals is the best, scoring a goal in football, or fighting the Infidels in the Jihad of God?" The first scene was of a player scoring a goal in the World Cup, and the second was an IED obliterating an American military vehicle. The film left no doubt which goal its producers deemed most noteworthy.
2. Responding to a question from a TV viewer as to whether it was permissible to watch matches of the World Cup, Shaykh Abu Ishaq al-Huwayni replied it was not. The Prophet of Islam, said the Shaykh, allowed Muslim men only two types of enjoyment. He could enjoy his wives, and his horses. Enjoyment of his wives, of course, meant sex, and enjoyment of his horses was related to going to war and practicing Jihad. Any other form of amusement was Haram. In another authentic Hadith, Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab commanded the Muslims of the Levant to train their sons in archery and horsemanship to prepare them for Jihad.
3. Football players in the World Cup wear shorts that reveal their thighs, and Muslim men are not allowed to wear clothing over the knee. In his Arabic TV show, Shaykh Abdallah Shakir warned Muslim men against bringing immorality into their homes by allowing their women to watch these improperly dressed men on the soccer field. Included in the many authentic Hadiths that do not allow men to show their legs is one from al-Bukhari in which Zurah bin Abdel Rahman relayed that the Prophet passed in front of him and saw his thigh. Muhammad's admonition was, "Shame on you. Do you not know that the thigh is part of your private parts?"
I would imagine that you (and as I) were not concentrating on the thighs of the Spanish and Dutch players battling for the World Cup victory this afternoon. We were concentrating on their teamwork and skill of handling the football. Only the deranged hearts of mentally and morally bankrupt Shaykhs could imagine that Muslim men and women around the world were lusting after the exposed upper legs of the players as they raced up and down the field. As they have veiled their women, the Ulema would cover the arms and legs of the players in the World Cup as well. In another Arabic TV show, Shaykh Nabil al-Awdi argued that it was improper to watch World Cup matches because sometimes the cameras panned the spectators and showed unveiled women. Again, only people such as the Shaykh himself would be fixated on the women watching the match rather than the match itself.
4. Shaykh Yusuf Hamd argued on his TV show that watching the World Cup contradicts the important Islamic principle of Al Wala Wal Bara. "Wala" means establishing allegiance with Muslims, and "Bara" means standing against the Kuffar or non-Muslims. Muslim soccer fans might, God forbid, admire non-Muslim players and this is not allowed in Islam. Even worse, the Muslim might prefer a non-Muslim player over a Muslim player. Muslims are commanded to "love other Muslims in God", and to "hate the Kuffar in God".
5. Shaykh Muhammad bin Salih al-Uthaymeen pronounced during his televised Friday sermon that watching the World Cup was not allowed for Muslims because it meant aggrandizing the Kuffar. No matter how much non-Muslims have advanced, said the Shaykh, they cannot be admired because they are still Infidels. No matter how good the non-Muslim player is, he cannot be praised by a Muslim; this is against Islam. In another impassioned Friday sermon, Shaykh Abu Talhah was in tears when he proclaimed that the worst thing about the World Cup matches was that Muslim youth were admiring unbelieving, immoral, ungodly players (in other words, non-Muslims). Some of them have even cursed the Prophet, bemoaned the Shaykh, reminding his audience that Caliph Umar bin Khattab said that he hated Christians because Christians had cursed the Prophet. How could young Muslims admire Christian or Jewish players who did not follow the Prophet or love his Quran?
6. Shaykh Abu Talhah gave another reason in the same sermon why watching the World Cup was forbidden to Muslims; spectators were trying to be like the West, whereas Muslims are to oppose the West in every way. Soccer was a Western sport, said the Shaykh, and the World Cup was organized by Western countries. How could Muslims possibly participate? The World Cup did not follow the laws of Islam in its rulings, so how could Muslims take part? The Prophet, declared Abu Talhah, announced that he was taking his sword against the Kuffar, and that those who shared their lives in any way were the enemies of Allah. The clear message of the Shaykh was that those who fought non-Muslims were better than those who did not. (One wonders if the Shaykh refuses to drive an automobile, fly in an airplane, use the Internet, or watch TV since to do so would also make him like a Westerner?).
7. Numerous Shaykhs bemoaned the fact that watching World Cup matches was a waste of time that kept Muslims from performing the daily prayers. In a creative way to counter this (and in accordance with an Islamic principle that sometimes Muslims must choose between the lesser of two evils), the Society of the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Evil in Saudi Arabia (the Mutawa) organized vehicles and volunteers to spread carpets in front of cafes and coffee shops at prayer time so that Muslims watching World Cup matches could run out, quickly say their prayers, and return having lost only five minutes of viewing time!
8. The next reason is, as could be expected, the most important of all. Muslims are forbidden from following the World Cup because it is (drumroll please), a Zionist Jewish plot to distract Muslims and lead them astray! Shaykh Yusuf al-Ahmad said during a televised discussion of the World Cup that the Protocols of Zion clearly teach Muslims that Jews are continually devising schemes against them; the World Cup is just another example. Jews were determined to win any competition at any cost, said the Shaykh, and this was what happened in the World Cup.
9. The Shia have another reason to avoid the World Cup. According to Shia tradition, after Sunnis killed Muhammad's grandson Hussein during the Battle of Karbala in 640 AD, they beheaded him and kicked his head around like a football. For this reason some Shia scholars dislike soccer in general and the World Cup in particular.
How would Western Muslim writers such as Reza Aslan (No god but God), Tariq Ramadan (In the Footsteps of the Prophet), Omid Safi (Memories of Muhammad), or Sunbul Ali-Karamali (The Muslim Next Door) respond if you told them that Muhammad would not allow Muslims to watch the World Cup? Let me venture a guess. They would first tell you this was a lie. If you presented the evidence I've given above, they would change their tune to say this is only an extremist one-sided view of Islam; the beauty of Islam is that it allows many viewpoints and differences of opinion.
I think a more realistic understanding is to acknowledge this is one of many examples that Islam, as envisoned and practiced by Muhammad, is incompatible with 21st century Western civilization. If Muslims are willing and able to ignore the commandments and instructions of their Prophet that no longer make sense, more power to them. I just think they would be better off completely leaving him behind.
(The material given above was presented by Rashid on the TV program Daring Question. Arabic-speakers can watch the original program here.