Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

The USA has never done well in the World Cup and no one expects them to beat Ghana. The game starts and, miraculously, they score within in the first 21 seconds of the game!

I cannot believe it and set my work aside. I want USA to win.

I watch and worry, getting upset when it looks like the USA has chosen to play a defensive game. Attack! I yell at the screen, “You aren’t going to win like that! If you let the other team keep the ball on your side, eventually they will score!” and other coaching secrets that they (of course) cannot hear.

As the game goes on, Ghana scores and then USA scores again. I’m in shock. I cannot believe that the USA might actually win. And they do. With a final score of 2-1, Twitter explodes in “Welcome to the World Cup America,” and other such snide remarks that remind Americans that they usually lose.

Loyalties in football and other sports reach deeply into our human need for belonging. We crave to feel connected, to root for ‘our people’ and to be part of the winning team.

The Quran tells us that we are called to be ‘the best of people, enjoining what is right and preventing what is wrong’ in no less than ten verses (3:104/ 3:110/ 3:114/ 5:105/ 7:157/ 9:67/ 9:71/ 9:112/ 22:41/ 31:17), our team uniform is the hijab (33:59), and our playing field is wherever we might live (2:30).

Every day we decide whether or not to play a defensive game, or an offensive game. We work hard to keep shayṭān away from our goal, and attempt to play nice so as to avoid the fouls that allow for a free kick. To be successful, we cannot play alone. We must be part of a team. We must work with each other. If one of us carries the ball up the field, we must pass it to someone else to kick it in – ultimately handing over the glory. We must not choose our nafs, and our need for recognition, but rather our team and our need to win.

Our team is Islam and Muslims need to win. We need to identify the problems that hold us back in the game, plan and strategize how to overcome them, and then play long and hard, not giving up until the game is over.

The world needs us.

It needs our message of tawḥīd and excellence of behavior and manners. It needs our generosity and open hearts. It needs our calling for and living all that is right and good and wholesome. It needs our help in pushing back and denying all that is wrong and ugly and sickly.

We need to get our team together. No one expected the USA to win a game at the World Cup, and if the truth be told, no one expects Muslims to become the best examples of humanity. The Prophet ﷺ, however, demonstrated that we can be, and indeed must be, the best of people.

May Allah (swt) guide us to live in the shelter of each other, to cooperate and support one another, to work together for all that is beautiful and kind and against all that is abhorrent and mean. May He bring us together as one team, working together as one force, playing a strong defense against shayṭān, our nafs, diseases of the heart, societal problems, and lack of faith. May He grant us the ability to play a strong offense as well. Fighting for angel magnets, contented souls, social justice and tawḥīd.

One day the Muslim Umma as a whole might ‘get a goal’, and even two. In fact we may stand up as winners in this game of life. And when TAwitter explodes in surprise, we will stand firmly on our prayer carpets in thanks and sheer joy, ready to hand over our ‘Cup’ to our beloved Prophet ﷺ. Allāhu Akbar.

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