Nathan Ellington is a footballer who converted to Islam in 2005 and in his debut Footballers' Football Column he explains the challenges he has had to overcome in the game.
As a Muslim football player I encountered some problems in the past. I had one agent of mine being in the presence of a manager and when my name was brought up he'd be talking negatively about me because I'm a Muslim. I hadn't even changed that much at the time. He felt the need to say something about me. I wasn't even fasting or praying at that point.
A friend of mine called me saying players have been talking about me saying I'm praying in the corner somewhere and joking about it. It was supposed to be banter, I think. This gets around. I started getting a bad name just because I'm Muslim.
Then there was the time a manager dropped me because I was fasting. I'd started Ramadan, the month each year where Muslims around the world don't eat or drink in the hours from dawn 'til sunset, and halfway through the manager didn't realise I was doing it until someone on the training ground mentioned it.
The manager then told me he was dropping me from contention. I thought it was a joke. Then we had a more serious conversation and he said it was playing on his mind that I wasn't eating or drinking. I said I was playing before without him noticing.
People need to realise you can pray five times a day and it's not a problem, it shouldn't matter to anybody else. I reverted to Islam a little while before I married my wife in 2005. It took about two years before I started praying. It wasn't straight away.
I fasted maybe for a couple of days at the beginning then more and more. At the beginning I didn't think I had to do everything. I looked at Islam in a relaxed fashion, the same way as I did Christianity. I'd been brought up as a Christian and just felt as long as you believe and you're a good person you'll be OK.
Then as I learned more and more about Islam, I realised that everything is recorded and you will be judged according to God's rules and not what I pick and choose. I built it up gradually. I didn't change completely straight away, it would have been too overwhelming to do that. It became a learning and implementing experience.
The more you learn the more you understand. You slowly change according to your knowledge. You improve yourself when you're ready. Everybody is on their own journey and they go at a pace that they feel comfortable with.
When I learned more, I began to pray more, I became excited and wanted to share my experiences with everyone. I found that a challenge because not many people are interested in religion, even more so within football culture. I found there was a time when to speak and when not to. Other people have to ask you about it.
There's no point you instigating it. In the early stages I was listening, watching and reading and really wanted to tell the world.
Part of your job as a Muslim is to make others aware of the religion. It's not just something for me, it was something for everybody. But when it came to relaying things it was difficult to remember everything. That was another challenge.
Now I get a lot of people asking me about it. When I'm not around, people want to know what I'm doing. That was a transitional part for me. If people want to understand what I'm doing I'm happy to tell them.
It was a challenge at the beginning to get used to the way of life of praying on a regular basis. I was worried about how I was seen around the clubs and with the managers.
They would say I'm too interested in religion. It's silly. On the bus I might be reading the Koran or trying to learn Arabic. Others would be betting or playing cards. That was seen as normal but mine was seen as if I wasn't interested in football anymore. Generally gambling is seen as bad in society but here it was seen as better than what I was doing. I got seen as someone not interested in football anymore. It's very frustrating.
The Association of Muslim Footballers is a support network for all players. We consult with the PFA and assist with the players. We're somewhere to find out more information and help with issues they have.
Whether it's good or bad, people can speak to us, we can explain what's going on. It might be the case that a player needs something at a club, but he might feel more comfortable speaking to us then we can speak to the PFA and help them.
A player might be coming over from a different country and feel isolated. Their family might find it difficult. The culture is very different here. They can't go to nightclubs and do things like that. They need to find like-minded people and feel at home. If that's covered and they're happy, it helps.
At Christmas, clubs might have a party or go to a certain place. Muslims can't go to these places, if there is alcohol there for example. If the club understands they won't insist they come or fine them if they don't, or they might change the venue or what they do.
The player won't worry they're going to be fined for not going. That kind of thing makes the workplace better and more cohesive, mixing all religions and cultures.
In the future clubs might work with us. They could come to us wanting advice. It might be research for a player in another country they might think what will he need and they can put that to him when they offer him a contract. They might find the nearest mosque for him or cater for any needs he has.
A lot of players, managers and coaches don't know what practicing Muslim football players have to do. If they do, it makes it easier to get more success from players and teams. The more awareness the better.
What do you think about this?
Leave your comment