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A Cricket Team, representing a country, NOT a Religion.

I’m not a cricket fan, ashamedly or not, except for that Lagaan cricket match that had me eating my nails. I’ve always been happy for people into the game, I’m sure its very exciting and a wonderful, unifying experience to watch a game and win/lose, share the sentiment. India, as is Pakistan, and South Africa, and England, and West Indies and on and on, is a country with fervent cricket fever. Everyone joins in, everyone goes crazy, laughs and cries and gets furious together. I miss that feeling here, and I know my cricket-crazy friends manage to recreate it, which is great. I’m usually too oblivious to follow in, and have to depend on everyone else to keep me updated.

For the Twenty20 international match, though, it was in the air. The radio announced the score this morning, and I couldn’t help wondering who’d win the close race. It was extremely well played, very exciting, and India won by only 5 runs, a really close match. Congratulations to India, the Indian Cricket Team, for their very hard-won and well deserved win. Congratulations to Capt. Dhoni for leading a team well, and to the man of the match, Irfan Pathan. Congratulations to Pakistan for playing so well, till the very end. Both teams deserve a pat on the back.

Friends and family in India (and Pakistan) had been praying for days, extra aartis were held, extra namaz was promised in this month of Ramadan. When the win happened, everyone was ecstatic. The Indian Cricket Team had won, India had won, and Indians across the world were overjoyed. Emails were passed around, phone calls were made, people screamed and hugged and yelled and many cried.

http://cricket.indiatimes.com/India_win_see-saw_battle_in_last_over/twenty20articleshow/2399809.cms

Irfan Pathan, the man of the match, was congratulated and feted. No one, no critic could deny the great job he had done. It was a historic day for India, for Dhoni, for Pathan.

http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/20081/Pathan-leads-India-to-the-promised-land

Messages of congratulations came from everywhere. Shah Rukh Khan descended on the field, he flew in especially for the match, and enveloped the team in hugs. The Chak De spirit was everywhere. The Pakistan cricket team was, ofcourse, disappointed in their loss, especially since it came after such a close match. It is always painful to lose, and when you were so close to winning, its even more difficult. I can understand that. I can understand the immediate anger and frustration and unhappiness, and as the leader of a team, you feel it even more. You feel the need to defend yourself, or apologize, and its difficult. You’re not sure what words to use, how to phrase it, and make it sound right. So I can imagine, in a way, Shoaib Malik’s situation.

What I cannot understand, at all, is why in the world, even with nervousness and pressure, would the Pakistani cricket team and the Muslim world get mixed up in Malik’s comment to Ravi Shastri:

“First of all I want to say something over here. I want to thank you back home Pakistan and where the Muslim lives all over the world.” (Quote)

I’m disturbed by this irresponsible and senseless statement. Pakistan does not represent the Muslim world. The Muslim world cannot be represented by cricket or a cricket team. The cricket team lost: it was a loss for Pakistan, not for Muslims world wide. It was a win for Muslims in India for one thing, Indian Muslims all over, and for all Muslims who were supporting India anywhere in the world. I’m amazed, and deeply disturbed that the captain of the team would make such a statement. It was wrong, and unprofessional. It was also complete nonsense.

There is a Hindu in the Pakistani team. There are two Muslims on the Indian team. The man of the match, Irfan Khan Pathan, was Muslim. Shah Rukh Khan, a Muslim, was there to celebrate in person on the field. Something’s out of line here, isn’t it?

[Mukul Kesavan wrote a great piece on Malik’s statement, expressing his disappointment and shock:

http://blogs.cricinfo.com/meninwhite/archives/2007/09/scenes_from_a_final.php]

Even if these facts did not exist, it would still be an outrage. Many have said that we should just forget what he said, he didn’t mean it that way, his English isn’t very good, the sentiment is always there, etc etc. But I’m just at a loss: why is there a need to bring Islam into cricket? Whatever he wanted to say, why bring in Muslims at all? I’m not completely sure that Malik is innocent. Maybe this is indeed a prevailing idea thats always there that he just spoke outloud (its happened before, with cricketer Imran Khan), but here’s the key: in this age, in this time of stressed, tense relations, when the entire world is stepping on each other toes, you CANNOT, CANNOT, be in a position of fame and celebrity and say something like this outloud. Its wrong, irresponsible, and VERY, VERY DANGEROUS.

http://www.shaarique.com/india-wins-twenty-20-world-cup-in-pictures/

For people who still say we should let it go, take it as a mistake, its all a match, no big deal……I can’t.

Someone I’m close to is Muslim. Living in India. A prominent family in the town. Minutes after the match, there were demonstrations outside the house. “Muslims Murdabad, Pakistan Murdabad.” It was a dangerous, frightening situation. Shops closed down in the neighborhood, anticipating violence. Its happened before, and I’m not blaming Malik entirely. It happens in a country with tensions high between the religions.

But today, there were a lot more demonstrations and a lot more anger all over the country, all over the world. There were a lot of Indian Muslims today whose loyalty was questioned–whose team do they support? Whose side are they on? When a group of people were hugging and cheering, invariably some side suspicious glances fell on the Muslim in the group, after Malik’s statement. Was he/she really happy India won? There were Muslims today who felt accused and wronged in their own country, who had to bear unjustified looks from other ignorant people (there’s no lack of ignorance in this world), who were verbally and physically attacked in many places, who were saddened and shocked to be questioned and treated in this manner, when they simply wanted to do what everyone else was doing: share sweets, sing songs of victory, give prayers and thanks.

Malik had a difficult job today. He played well and admirably. He had an even more difficult and important job as the captain, the representative at a key match: what he said accepting his loss was crucial. He could have said something that could have built relations between the two countries of India and Pakistan. He could have said something about peace and sportsmanship. There are a lot of positive things he could have said. He could also simply have thanked and apologized to the nation of Pakistan. He chose, however, to make an ignorant, inflammatory comment that made no sense, that endangered and angered Muslims. Ignorance breeds ignorance, and no one seemed to have told him to be careful about saying something this ignorant.

To use Mukul Kesavan’s words: “He said something that goes to the heart of cricket’s loyalties, its culture, its plurality of race and faith and language.”

I’ll repeat it. The cricket team of India won. No religion is represented by sport (and hopefully never will). Muslims did not lose a match. Pakistan lost a match. Malik lost the respect of many.

He needs to apologize, immediately, and be taught to hold his position to build bridges, not to create rifts.

Music: Chak De India, from the soundtrack of the 2007 movie Chak De India.

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