“They ask you [O Prophet] about fighting in the prohibited month. Say, ‘Fighting in that month is a great offence, but to bar others from God’s path, to disbelieve in Him, prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and expel its people, are even greater offences in the sight of God…..”[Qur’an 2:217]
In the early days of Islam, the new Muslims were often subjected to abuse, belittled, ridiculed, physically attacked, tortured and killed by the people of Quraysh. It was for this reason that after 12 years of such persecution in Makkah, they travelled to Madinah where they established a state and with this, the dynamics of their situation changed, and they were now in a position to think about defending themselves.
The above verse relates an certain incident whereby the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) sent an expedition of eight persons to a place called Nakhlah (which lies between Makkah and Ta’if). He directed them to follow the movements of the Quraysh and gather information about their plans, but not to engage in fighting. On their way they came across a trade caravan belonging to the Quraysh and ambushed it which led to the killing of one person and the capturing of others. They did this at a time when the month of Rajab was approaching its end, and Sha’ban was about to begin, which was a month which the Muslims and their detractors both considered to be one of the four sacred months within which it was impermissible to engage in conflict. It was nevertheless doubtful whether the attack was actually carried out in one of the sacred months, or not. However, the Quraysh and their allies made great play of this and used it as a weapon in their propaganda campaign against the Muslims. They sought to mock the Muslims by pointing out the alleged contradiction between the claims of the Muslims to the true religion, morals and ethics on the one hand, and their alleged violating of the sacred month on the other, a rule which all the Arabs upheld. All of this was of course despite the fact that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) made clear to the Muslims he sent on the expedition not to engage anyone.
To the newly formed Muslim community of Madinah, they were subjected to an onslaught of abuse and criticism from all of those around them. Was it a time to apologise? Was it a time to capitulate? Was a time to hide and remain silent?
It was in this moment that Allah revealed the above verse to highlight the double standards and hypocrisy of their detractors. Allah was reminding them all that whilst violating the sacred month was indeed an abominable act, the persecution, torturing, killing, ostracising that the Muslims faced at the hands of their detractors for more than 12 years, and the fact that they were not permitted to pray at the Sacred Sanctuary in Makkah, the spreading of corruption and mischief making, were far more severe and that their detractors therefore had no right to shine the spotlight at the Muslim community for the wrong a few had had committed in this instance.
The above example is very much like what we have been seeing with the World Cup in Qatar, who have been criticised for the treatment and deaths of migrant workers (which for the avoidance of any doubt, is wrong and must be addressed), and for Islam’s beliefs and practices concerning permitted lifestyle choices. Much like the detractors at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), these criticisms are coming from countries whose legacies and violations of human rights leave much to be desired. Many of these contradictions and hypocrisies are being called out by non-Muslims themselves such as the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino who said that the Europeans had no moral authority to judge others in view of its actions over the past 3000 years, that many of these countries had no issues trading with Qatar when it came to making money, and that he considers many of the headlines as being racist.
Others such as Piers Morgan (surprisingly) have stated that the criticisms appear to be nothing more than virtue signalling and that no country is completely clean if we are going down the route as to who is suitable to hold the world cup. Mr Morgan also pointed out that homosexuality was illegal in the UK when England hosted and won the World Cup in 1966. Others such as John Barnes has stated that it is hypocritical for English critics to find fault with Qatar, pointing to the treatment of Black communities in Britain.
It should not be forgotten that Qatar is the first ever Muslim country to host the World Cup and these criticisms have been taking place in Islamophobia month.
We welcome the sudden awakening of consciousness from various football associations, teams and players, however, it is clear that this awakening is on their terms only, as we have witnessed that the conscience remains lifeless for other matters, for example, where was the support for Moeen Ali when he was banned for wearing a wrist band in support of Palestine? Where was the support for Mesut Ozil when he sought to raise awareness about the plight of the Uyghurs at the hand of China? Where was the support when in June 2014, four children aged 10-11 were killed on a beach in Gaza by the Israelis whilst they were playing football? Where are the outcries from the media and pundits alike about England fans turning up to the Middle East in Crusader outfits? In all such instances, we were met with the oft-repeated mantra from these very same people and organisations, that we must keep politics out of football.
The double standards are therefore clear to see. Double standards are something which is despised by Allah as it is made clear when He says:
“… Why do you say what you do not do? How despicable is it in the sight of Allah that you say that what you do not do?”[Qur’an 61: 2-3]
Whilst there are many causes and issues around the world which demonstrate the double standards at play, perhaps one which is more apparent than most in view with the frequency with which violations occur, is the issue of the Palestinians. Much like how the verse talks about the severity of persecution, and being prevented from entering the sacred mosque, today we see this with the Palestinians and them not being able to properly worship at another sacred house, Masjid Al-Aqsa. And it is here where we draw matters to a close – what has been most heartening to see is the tremendous support for Palestine at the World Cup not just from supporters from the Muslim world, but also from countries such as Brazil and Japan.
As for the supporters from the Muslim world, what is telling is that whilst their governments may be seeking normalisation with Israel without any due regard for the rights of Palestinians, the people of those countries will not, and have not abandoned the Palestinian cause and the flag continues to fly high in Doha.