The Beautiful Game of Life
Issue 69 June 2010
Sport! I was hopeless at it. Netball and hockey were something to be dreaded. I was always the penultimate child to be picked - there was one girl who was actually worse than me. I was too self-conscious that I’d let the team down, so the only sport I enjoyed was running.
Now, watching sports – that was a different matter entirely. Watching Wimbledon with my grandmother was an annual treat. I can still remember her opening the front door, aghast with the words “McEnroe is out!” It was 1985, and Boris Becker eventually won the Championship, much to mine, and her delight. The Football World Cup is another sporting festival to be enjoyed. Mind you, given that I’m an England supporter, “enjoyed” is probably the wrong word. I’ve watched rather too many penalty shoot-outs where England has come off the losers.
Still, there is always hope. So I will again be tuning in to a fair amount of football for the 19th World Cup this year in South Africa. Thirty two nations will play 64 games to determine which is the best team in the world.
It is said that sport is a unifying force, with football particularly able to bring a whole nation together in support of its team. I like the feeling of England flags flying when there’s a big tournament, and love ad hoc conversations on trains and in shops with complete strangers about how the team is performing. At the last European Cup I remember a conversation with a priest on a train. Eventually the whole carriage joined in. And no one cared I was a woman with a scarf on my head.
Yet when you think about it, sport can be a force of disunity too. Getting behind your team is one thing, but then other supporters are getting behind their team – and so we stand pitted against one another. One Scottish member of the emel team supports ABE: Anyone But England. Needless to say, his interjections are not much appreciated by me, and I can remember one year getting really annoyed with a group of Scottish guys at an Islamic conference when they were vocally supporting Ecuador simply because Ecuador were playing England!
But if we all played for the same team, there would be no match. There would be no exhilaration at your team winning. There would be no joy at the beauty of the sporting skill and achievement. There would be no different ways of playing the same game.
So, if we need different teams, different sides, what is the problem? The problem is how we approach those differences.
We can be united in our common love for the sport – with all the related highs and lows. Or we can attack one another, as has happened often enough. And so it is with much of life.
Human beings are different. The Qur’an reminds us that we have a common origin, “O Mankind! Be conscious of your Sustainer, who has created you out of one living entity, and out of it created its mate, and out of the two spread abroad a multitude of men and women...” (4:1) But the Qur’an also reminds us we are different, “And had thy Sustainer so willed, He could surely have made all mankind one single community: but He willed it otherwise, and so they continue to hold divergent views.” (11:118)
So our differences are a part of God’s plan. The Qur’an tells us of humanity’s common origin, our common ties of kinship, yet it reminds us how we are different. Although God could have made us all the same – He chose not to.
Racism, ethnic superiority, and indeed the tribalism of the way we present religion, is not part of the way to love God. To love God we must recognise and love our family of humanity, and not to love despite our differences, but to actually love our differences for they are Divine manifestations of His will. They are Divine manifestations of the Creator’s capacity to create.
Loving our fellow humanity is to love the creation of the Most High. There will be times when we may not like all the differences. There will be times when we are on different teams, but being able to still maintain dignity and good conduct in those times is the minimum we must do. Ultimately we must do more: for to love God is to love His creation. To draw closer to God is to draw closer to His creation.