Anyone who follows cricket in Pakistan would remember the disastrous tour of Australia in 2009-2010. Under the captaincy of Mohammed Yousuf, Pakistan lost all three Test matches, all five one-day internationals and the only T20 match of that tour.
Many reasons were cited behind that calamitous tour, including a ball tampering incident involving Shahid Afridi; but one which was not discussed openly and was only whispered for a long time afterward was that batsman Mohammad Yousuf – a former Christian who had converted to Islam in 2005 – was more interested in Tableegh (religious preaching) than in playing cricket.
Later on, a number of tales came up. One of these described Yousuf as having spent the better part of his time running after Australian cricketers to preach to them the virtues of embracing Islam and how it had improved the quality of his life and how it would ensure them a place in heaven.
His efforts obviously did not pay off, for none of the Aussie cricketers converted, as far as we know. But his tableeghi stints did cost Pakistan the series – it was the most shameful showing of Pakistani cricket team in recent times – and his position as the captain of the national team and his career as a cricketer ended soon after. I am not saying that the two were directly related, but Yousuf’s well-built career died after that.
The latest entrant into the preacher zone is Ahmed Shehzad.
During the last one day international on Pakistan’s latest tour of Sri Lanka, Shehzad was recorded on camera telling Tillakaratne Dilshan,
after he scored a 50 and won the match for his team, that “if you are a non-Muslim and you turn Muslim, no matter whatever you do in your life, straight to heaven.”
Apparently Dilshan must have said something along the lines of “Thanks, but no thanks,” to which he later added, “Then be ready for the fire.” Presumably hellfire.
For starters, that was rude, uncalled for and totally inappropriate. It was not like Dilshan and Shehzad were indulging in a heart to heart chat over drinks about existentialist angst and wondering if there is a heaven or hell.
They were walking back to the dressing room after putting in a day in the cricket ground. You cannot just ambush people in the middle of their business and frighten them with eternal hell fires.
Dilshan obviously was more mature and magnanimous. He neither responded to Shehzad after that, nor did he file a formal complaint against the cricketer.
The tragedy of it all is that neither Shehzad, nor his team manager, Moin Khan seem to be showing any remorse. Khan, who has once been arrested for alleged spousal assault and battery, tried to downplay the enormity of this and said that it was just “general banter and nothing more and players do banter with each other from time and time.” Shehzad was no better and believed to have said that it was a personal chat and there was nothing more to it.
However, in a surprising show of responsible behaviour, PCB has set up a three-member committee to probe the incident and had already summoned Shehzad to their headquarters in Lahore.
The incident may not seem that attention worthy, but it was very uncouth and impolite.
Had that conversation, no matter how intrusive and insensitive it was, taken place in private without cameras and Shehzad not wearing Pakistani colors, it would have been a personal matter.
But he chose to do that on the cricket field, in front of cameras rolling while representing Team Pakistan. He should be disciplined for his religious fervour and his desire to be on a ‘mission’ while he is getting paid to do something else – that is, playing cricket to the best of his ability.
I do wonder what Shehzad was thinking, if he was thinking at all, when he approached Dilshan with his message.
Was he planning to secure a sports ministry in a TTP or ISIS-lead government in the future? If that ever comes to fruition, Shehzad must know that they would, in all likelihood, ban sports of all kinds.
Was he trying to secure a corner plot in Jannat by converting a non-Muslim brother and show him the righteous path?
Honestly, after this incident, the only person in need of enlightenment seems to be Shehzad, not Dilshan, who let the matter go quietly and with dignity.
To counter such incidents from happening in future, PCB must prepare a starter kit which has to list acceptable and objectionable conduct and it should detail that randomly telling people that their faith, or lack thereof, will make them burn in hell fires of eternity is never a good opener for polite conversation.
Secondly, they must limit access of influencers like Tariq Jameel and co. who constantly barrage or guilt young cricketers with additional responsibility of tableegh when they cannot even do what they are paid to do with a modicum of responsibility – play cricket.
Thirdly, they must set an example with Ahmed Shehzad and send out a message that preaching should be left to the likes of Tariq Jameel, Saeed Anwar or Aamir Liaquat, cricketers should concentrate on playing well for their country, especially when they are on tours as they are ambassadors of the country and behaviour such as that will not help them in winning people over.
It is about time Muslims in general and cricketers in particular let go of the notion that we, as Muslims, are the chosen one and it is our duty to bring others to the righteous path. Leave it for the professional evangelists and concentrate on doing what we can do well to earn our place in paradise.
First published in Dawn