Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Was a Fatwa Issued on Bob Woolmer?

Update May 1; Pakistan's cricket coach Bob Woolmer may have been murdered after angering radical Muslims, according to a BBC investigation. The Panorama TV show comes as preliminary toxicology tests confirm Woolmer was rendered helpless with a powerful poison before being strangled.

According to the team's former media manager, PJ Mir, Woolmer shared his view that members of the squad were more interested in praying than playing. After the team was knocked out, comments from PJ Mir, Pakistan's media manager, led to a fatwa being issued against him forcing him to flee Pakistan. He believes Woolmer may have faced the same fate.

"If Bob had said what I'd had said, I think there would have been a fatwa on him as well,"

Update April 10; PJ Mir, has blamed the influence of religion in the dressing room for Pakistan's disastrous performance in the Caribbean.

"Most of the members had no focus on cricket. Their fixation was on preaching, affecting the team's preparations."

Question; What connects Inzamamul-Haq, Pakistan's cricket captain, Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber, and Mohammed Siddique Khan, one of the 7/7 bombers?

Answer; Tableeghi Jamaat - a proselytising sect of radical Islam.

A fascinating article in this weekend's Australian highlighting the increasing radicalisation of the Pakistani cricket team as the major reason for the team's recent decline.

Led by the heavily bearded Inzamam-ul-Haq, the players have been spending far too much time being devout Muslims and too little on their cricket skills. There was a time not so long ago when Pakistan's cricketers, in the words of journalist Amir Mir, "played flamboyantly, partied hard and didn't flaunt their religion publicly". The Pakistanis were "the playboys of their times: suave, educated and dashing; they had their one-night stands, clubbed and tippled; as great exponents of reverse swing as they were ardent admirers of fine legs".

But those days of cricketing insouciance are just a memory. The atmosphere surrounding Pakistani cricket has changed radically. The glamorous, swashbuckling, good-time boys who held followers of the game spellbound with their sheer brilliance have mostly moved on.
Lately, the Pakistanis have shown much less pizzazz and much more piety. Faith and Muslim observance have become dressing-room preoccupations.

Whenever, in recent times, there has been an event at which Inzamam has been required to speak, he has prefaced his remarks with the Islamic invocation "Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim" ("In the name of Allah, the most gracious and the most compassionate").
Players, as Amir Mir reports in Outlook magazine, have huddled to pray on the ground during pre-match preparations, and unruly, unkempt beards have sprouted on the faces of several team members, including Inzamam.

According to Amir Mir, responsibility for this "fervent religiosity" lies with several players - Inzamam, Mushtaq Ahmed, Mohammed Yousuf, Saqlain Mushtaq, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik and Yasser Hamid - who have become members of a powerful, proselytising Islamic group known as the Tableeghi Jamaat.

"TJ has invaded the dressing room: they can be seen praying with players and reciting the Koran for the team's success," Amir Mir has written.

And the result? In a nutshell, too much time spent on religion, to the point that President Pervez Musharraf is reported to have told his appointee as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Nasreem Ashraf (he resigned after this week's debacle), to get the players to go easy on "religiosity" and strike a balance between it and the game.

Not that TJ is a particularly radical organisation; indeed, the contrary seems to be true, for Tableeghis are known to be quiet pacifists. With their origins in the united India of the 1920s, they now have a huge following in 150 countries across the world, the main responsibility of male members being to leave their homes from time to time to go on proselytising missions and teach fellow Muslims correct religious practices.

But therein, it seems, lies the rub as far as Inzamam and the ill-fated cricket team is concerned. Because the TJ group within the team, surrounding Inzamam, apparently gained special favours, stuck together, discussed religion and prayed together in a room that was always set aside in the team hotel. And in each country they visited they made contact with local Tableeghis, spending time with them rather than with other team members.

And while the non-Tableeghis such as Younis Khan and the fast-living Shoaib Akhtar have, it seems, had little time for religiosity, those who have embraced the organisation have done so with fervour. Mohammed Yousuf, who converted from Christianity, told Outlook that he credited his improved fortunes to "benediction from above".

In an editorial on the crisis in cricket, one of Pakistan's leading newspapers, The News, bluntly told readers that "one major factor that will have to come under scrutiny is the atmosphere in the dressing room. To be more precise, whether the overt and not-so-overt display of religiosity has been a distraction of sorts and taken away from the real job: that of playing cricket and focusing on the game".

Musharraf has apparently agreed with this point of view and asked Ashraf to intervene. Before quitting he told the Tableeghis to "stop exhibiting their religious beliefs in public".

So how did the late coach Bob Woolmer, given his closeness to Inzamam, feel about it? Did he side with the Tableeghis or the non-Tableeghis? According to Amir Mir, Woolmer's view was that the religiosity helped foster unity among the players.

More on Tablighi here. It is the Tablighi movement that is behind the attempt to build the largest mosque in Europe at the London Olympics site.

Peaceful apolitical movement or a jihadi Trojan horse?

At least two of the suicide bombers responsible for the attacks in London last year - Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer - had worshipped at a Tablighi-run mosque in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. Richard Reid, the failed British shoe- bomber, is known to have Tablighi associations, while the path to violent radicalism of John Walker Lindh, the "American Taleban" now serving 20 years for treason, appears to have begun with his contact with Tablighi missionaries.