England’s Cricket team included the most Muslim players in its history
Categories: Latest News
Wednesday February 19 2020
The world of
sport has long been seen as a forum through which barriers of all kinds –
geographical, political, religious, and historical – can be broken down.
As several studies show, Muslim communities in the UK are overwhelmingly perceived in a negative light. Indeed, over a third of Britons have been reported to believe that Islam is a threat to the “British way of life”, while a poll conducted by the advocacy organisation Hope Not Hate found 35% of British people saw Islam as being incompatible with British values.
The fact that Muslim communities are viewed as a threat makes it imperative that the broadcast industry highlights and celebrates accomplishments capable of undoing this harmful imagery. One such example is the recent inclusion of the largest number of Muslim players in the history of the English national cricket team. The three Muslim players – Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, and Saqib Mahmood – were widely praised as playing a part in the victory against South Africa on Sunday 9 February, with Rashid being named man of the match.
England’s cricket team has stood out as consistently demonstrating the power of sport in normalising the presence of Muslims in British society, and celebrating their accomplishments.
After winning the Cricket World Cup in 2019, captain Eoin Morgan said “Allah was definitely with us” during the post-match conference. Similarly, during the same occasion, and out of respect for the faith of their Muslim teammates, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, the England cricket team directed their champagne celebration away from them while they ran for cover. Making reference to Allah, and showing a team respecting the Muslim beliefs of members of their team sends a message to wider society that Muslims can participate and excel in the activities enjoyed by everyone else, while at the same time giving Muslims much-needed positive representation in the mainstream media.
By promoting positive stories about Muslim communities in the media, attitudes towards Muslims can subsequently be changed for the better. This also has the potential to minimise the risk of them being abused and discriminated against. Indeed, a study by Stanford University showed that Islamophobic hate crime dropped in Merseyside since the signing of Mo Salah, a Muslim, to Liverpool Football Club. The narrative around Salah presents him as an asset to his club and his adopted home, and media coverage of him often includes pictures of him in sajdah (prostration) or making du’aa (supplication), both of which are manifestations of his Islamic faith. Portraying such a celebrated athlete as unapologetically Muslim conveys a powerful image to wider society; namely that Muslims should be celebrated, rather than feared or hated. Ali, Rashid, and Mahmood are all visibly Muslim and regularly speak about their faith, so to have them celebrated and represented in this manner can have a similarly powerful effect on how Muslims are perceived.
Aside from sports, increasing positive media coverage around Muslim communities can have the added effect of encouraging Muslims to identify and feel included within the national narrative. In his speech at Channel 4’s 2017 diversity lecture in the Houses of Parliament, musician and actor Riz Ahmed touched on the need for more BAME representation in broadcasting. He cautioned that the widespread prevalence of Islamophobia in broadcasting can lead to serious consequences for community cohesion, as Muslims may feel disconnected and potentially seek to find acceptance and belonging within fringe narratives and alternative ideologies online.
Media broadcasting has an important role in nurturing a nation’s sense of shared identity, history, and social norms. It is the mirror through which the nation recognises and continually evaluates itself. With the consequent potential for societal cohesive benefit being so tremendous and indelible, it is essential that we construct, develop, and maintain popular images that are inclusive of our highly diverse and multicultural nation. The lack of inclusive images because of a lack of minority representation within broadcasting results in a vision which neglects segments of society and thus alienates and marginalises minority communities. Therefore, in the interests of promoting an inclusive and harmonious society, MEND urges policymakers to support initiatives by the broadcasting industry to promote positive portrayals of Muslims in the media.