The anti-Muslim angle given to the recently brewed Wasim Jaffer controversy has not gone down well with many. While many former cricketers including Anil Kumble and Irfan Pathan have come out in support of former India batsman, some are left to wonder, where did religion come in sport?
Former Indian cricketer Mohammad Kaif wrote in his column for the Indian Express: “It must have been very difficult for Jaffer to have to come out and explain his intentions. It tells a lot about the times we live in — where social media trolls do their worst to divide our country.”
He went on to say: “I have played for teams in UP, different zones across the country, India, clubs and counties in England, and never have I been made conscious of my faith. I have worried about lack of runs, motivated my team-mates in bad form, wondered about how to win games. Never have I gone to sleep wondering what a team-mate might think of my religion.”
Remembering his childhood days, Kaif wrote that there was no segregation on the basis of religion, despite being brought near a Hindu household.
“I come from Allahabad, my home was very close to a colony of pandits, where I fell in love with this great game. We played together and our lives were held by this common thread of sport. I am not even talking about the Indian team — just a local team in the neighbourhood where kids from all faiths would mingle and play towards a common goal. In hindsight, I feel my character was shaped there. This beautiful game is inclusive, brings together people of different temperaments, castes, economic backgrounds and faiths,” he wrote.
“I remember Sachin Tendulkar’s cricket kit bag and the picture of Sai Baba, whom he revered. By his side, VVS Laxman would have his gods. Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh … everyone to his faith. Sourav Ganguly, our captain, and John Wright, our coach from New Zealand, had taken out the zonal and regional differences. We weren’t playing for our regions, we didn’t see ourselves as UP or Bengal or Punjab or as Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian. We were playing for each other, for the team, for friends, for India.”
Kaif said: “Prayer is purely an individual thing. I don’t remember a formal namaz in my time in the dressing room, but I have read about how Graeme Hick, former England player, cleared his kit to make space for a young Moeen Ali to pray in the Worcestershire dressing room. Personally, for me, my faith is an individual affair. I don’t take it to the dressing rooms but that doesn’t mean it’s a crime if someone does. Each to their own. As long as they are not forcing it on someone else.”
Kaif ended with a message to all the youngsters. “I want to tell young cricketers who are growing up in different parts of the country and dreaming about playing this game: Don’t get mixed up in all this mess. Stay pure, the game will reward you. It’s a beautiful game and for those of us who have been lucky enough to have played it for a living, there can be nothing sadder than to see communalism in it. It’s our responsibility, as adults, to leave our children with an unpolluted environment — in the world around us and in our own hearts. As the slogan of the Indian team I was part of went, it’s ‘Now or Never’.”