There is much that militant Islamists and jihadists agree on, but when it comes to sports in general and soccer in particular sharp divisions emerge. Men like the late Osama bin Laden, Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah stand on one side of the ideological and theological divide opposite groups like the Taliban, Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, Boko Haram, and the jihadists who took control of northern Mali in 2012. The Islamic State, the jihadist group that controls swaths of Syria and Iraq, belongs ideologically and theologically to the camp that views soccer as an infidel invention designed to distract the faithful from their religious obligations but opportunistically employs football in its sophisticated public relations and public diplomacy endeavour. Bin Laden, Haniyeh and Nasrallah employ soccer as a recruitment and bonding tool based on the belief of Salafi and mainstream Islamic scholars who argue that Prophet Muhammad advocated physical exercise to maintain a healthy body. However, the more militant students of Islam seek to re-write the rules of the game to Islamicise it, if not outright ban the sport. The practicality and usefulness of soccer is evident in the fact that perpetrators of attacks, like those by Hamas on civilian targets in Israel in 2003 and the 2004 Madrid train bombings, bonded by playing soccer together.
About the Author
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg in Germany, and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.
Conflict and Stability / Middle East and North Africa (MENA) / Religion in Contemporary Society / Terrorism Studies / Working Papers
Last updated on 21/05/2015