English cricketer Moeen Ali, who will be making his Ashes debut on Wednesday in Cardiff said he is resolved to fast during the match.
Ali, who was born in Birmingham and has a Pakistani heritage, is a left-handed batsman and right-arm off-spin bowler who currently plays for England.
He said that he knows his life choices would appear very odd to others and that people would be asking him why he is fasting on match days.
“I’d never go up to somebody and start preaching,’ he said, ‘but if somebody asks I’m willing to talk about it. Often, after people have seen me praying, they’ll ask and it’s a chance to show how normal prayer time is and why we do it, to teach people about the religion. Not to try to change them, but to explain.”
He further said, ‘I saw the story about the two fans praying at Anfield during a Liverpool game. It caused a big fuss, but it was just five minutes in their life. Once you explain it to people, they are very accommodating. Once your team-mates know, once they understand you and you understand them, everybody gets along.’
Ali is aware that his beard may seem foreign and sometimes even threatening to people in the West but he often resorts to his love for Liverpool to break the ice in the dressing room.
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“I know people aren’t sure about men who look like I do,’ he said. ‘People don’t see the beard as a bit of hair. I’ve been shouted at, called some horrible names, and when I first came to Worcester I noticed people crossing the road to avoid me. So, yes, there are a lot of bad Muslims giving us a bad name, but all I would say is that it isn’t just Muslims who need to change. There are a lot of ignorant people, too.”
He continued, “I hope what people see in me is that I’m a normal guy, and that people who look as I do can do normal things. And people don’t see us as normal at times. We still chuckle as people do, we still drink a cup of tea, but we feel alienated. I hope I can change that, so even if I can make one person think, “You know, Muslims are all right, they’re good people”, then I’ve done a decent job.’
Referring to the Charleston incident where a man opened fire on the congregation of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Ali said, “The media portrayal is very bad sometimes. If there is a shooting and it’s a white guy, he’s mentally ill. If it’s an Asian, he’s a terrorist. The image is frustrating. So, yes, there are Muslims who need to change and behave, but it also feels unfair because the media aren’t always straight about it.’
Speaking about his teenage years, Ali said that he was just a normal teenage boy and he didn’t fast or pray despite being born in a Muslim family. It was through cricket that he started having questions. “I did a lot of travelling from a young age, got to speak to a lot of people. Whenever I travelled, wherever I went I used to look around at the countryside, look up at the sky, and think, “Someone must have created all of this — it couldn’t happen just by chance”.
At the age of 18, Ali recalls that he started looking for answers and that’s when he started reading a lot of books of other religions.
Then one day when he was playing for Warwickshire against West Indies A, he met a man and they began talking. That man had converted to Islam from Christianity and Ali was burning to ask him why he had converted.
Many things came up in their discussion and Ali mentioned that there were certain things about being a Muslim that he didn’t like, such as, arranged marriages. “He told me that those problems were with Pakistani culture, not the Muslim faith — they were different things. I had more questions, and he answered them. Once he started explaining, it all made more sense. There are things we do in our culture that are the opposite of what the religion states.”
It is generally thought that sports and faith cannot go together because sports requires the highest level of commitment whereas religion preaches that winning is not a matter of life and death. Ali, however, said that realizing the comparative insignificance of sports allowed him to become a better cricketer.
‘My upbringing, everything was always about cricket,’ Ali explained. ‘Wake up, cricket. After school, cricket. Before I go to sleep, cricket. I was trying so hard to be the best I could, obsessing about it all the time and putting everything on it. Then, when I took a step back from it, I became a better player.”
He further elaborated, “At first, it almost felt like I had turned my back — but that was when I hit form, became more consistent and got in the England team. I stopped getting too happy when I succeeded and too down when I failed. I achieved a better balance.”
“It took me a bit of time to work out that cricket is just a game somebody has made up. When I die, nobody is going to ask me how many hundreds I got, or how many five-fors. Realising that took the pressure off me completely. If I know I have given everything, then I’m not too fussed about the result.”
Further, Ali said that if he is not playing well and feels bad about it then he would think of the people in other parts of the world who are really struggling and suffering and that puts him on the right path and actually helps his cricket.
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Speaking about his Ashes debut, he said, “The Ashes is such a big thing to everybody else. To me, too, obviously, but I’m trying not to make it so. I’ve got to think of it as just another game of cricket. That’s tough when everybody is talking about it but if I’m going to be successful I can’t get caught up in that. I’ve got to tell myself people make it bigger than it really is. Some people need the pressure to perform better. Stuart Broad has told me the Ashes is different, the media, the scrutiny, the intensity, so obviously I’m prepared for it — but I need to be relaxed.”
Ali also spoke about his fellow players, “Look, Alastair Cook is a really nice guy,’ he says, ‘and, for me, that’s more important than how good a player someone is. I have a lot more respect for good players if they are also good people. When I came to Worcestershire and met Graeme Hick, he was a fantastic player anyway, but his personality made him even better for me.”
Moreover, Ali said, “I pray five times a day. That’s my faith. We pray here at Worcestershire. When we’ve had Pakistani players here, we pray together. I’m not scared of praying anywhere. During England games, I pray too. Yet when I first came to Worcester it was a little difficult, because I was 12th man and I didn’t have a spot in the dressing room. I remember Graeme knew me, and knew this was a problem for me, so he moved his bags so I had room to pray.”
Ali also talked about his abhorrence for swearing, “I hate swearing. I think it’s something you do as a teenager but then you cut it out as you get older. There probably will be a bit against Australia, but I just think you can be aggressive without swearing or getting personal about people.”
Ali’s father Munir Ali, gave up his job as a psychiatric nurse to coach his sons because he was sure that they would one day become professional cricketers.
Recalling his schooldays, Ali said, “I got into the Warwickshire Under 11 team at nine. I was a seam bowler who batted a bit, and had never played with a real ball before. I didn’t have pads so borrowed some from Naqaash Tahir’s brother — and they were probably as big as me. I didn’t have shoes either until my dad borrowed a pair the night before. We always had to grow into our trousers or shirts. They were massive because they had to last a long time. There were three of us from the area in my age group and we wouldn’t have £2 between the two families. It was a struggle to get to matches — but a good struggle. I’ll never forget those days. They keep you grounded.”
Moreover, Ali related that it was his father who instilled the importance of both sports and fasting in him, "One time during Ramadan, dad was taking us training and the imam said we should fast and not play because it was so hot. My dad was like, 'No, you still have to work. You work and fast'. He ended up giving the imam the ruling instead."
Ali is resolved to play the Ashes and fast at the same time and said that he always plays better in the month of Ramazan.
Further speaking about fasting in Ramazan, he said, "It’s amazing what you can do, actually," Ali added. "Before you start you think of it as really hard — but once you start it’s definitely not as hard as it sounds. If you’re not doing much you might feel a bit lethargic, but if I’m at the ground, if I’m playing, then it just isn’t difficult. And it’s brilliant for teaching self-control, having discipline, detoxification of your body, after a couple of days you really feel much better."
This article originally appeared on Mail Onine