In a recent article Peter Oborne praises the England cricketer Moeen Ali for achieving success without ‘compromising his Muslim identity and values’. He implicitly targets two groups for disapproval: observant Muslims with a more liberal interpretation of their religion and those born Muslim who leave their faith.
Moeen Ali does not apologise for his Muslim identity. He prays five times a day. He fasts during Ramadan. He does not drink. And he has the most magnificent beard since the Victorian sporting hero WG Grace more than a hundred years ago.
More important than any of these things, he has repeatedly been outspoken on issues such as Gaza and Palestine, from which most ambitious British Muslims have tended to run a mile.
It’s absolutely fine – it’s positive – that Moeen Ali can combine his faith, and his politics, with being an outstanding cricketer.
But Oborne goes on to suggest that other Muslim cricket players have been at fault for observing their faith in a more low key way. However he doesn’t suggest that Christian cricket players need to discuss or display their religious beliefs:
This composure is not just unusual. It’s unknown. There have been several Muslim cricketers who have played for England before. None of them has done what Ali has.
He then asserts:
Any British Muslim who enters public life is subject to an unwritten law. This law states that if they want to get on then they must suppress their Muslim identity.
His chosen example is Sajid Javid. However there is no evidence to suggest that the fact Javid only identifies with his ‘Muslim heritage’ is the result of pressure from the Conservative Party. And, although Oborne is concerned about Muslims who feel they can’t express their faith, it’s important to remember that Muslims who want to leave the religion behind face problems of their own.
Oborne also blames Sadiq Khan for not speaking up on ‘visceral issues for British Muslims’ when it is up to Khan himself to decide, within the parameters of his role, which issues to prioritise.
The complaints continue. Tariq Ali is also, apparently, the wrong kind of Muslim. Oborne sets particular thresholds which Muslims, and only Muslims, need to meet in order to win his approval.
The same applies to leading writers and poets. Tariq Ali, for example, is a secular figure who focuses on old-fashioned leftist agitation.
Thus Nasser Hussain apparently deserves a sneer for not being conspicuously religious.
And many would not realise that former England cricket captain Nasser Hussain, who praised Moeen after his century at Bristol, is Muslim also.
What gives Peter Oborne the authority to decree that male Muslims need to have beards?
Leaving Islamists to one side, conservative Muslims, liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims should all be able to succeed without reference to their religious identity. It’s positive that Nadiya Hussain was such a popular winner of the Great British Bake Off, but it’s equally positive that Muslim Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed won Masterchef. (Though the fact that she happens not to wear a headscarf didn’t protect her from bigoted abuse).
And finally …
Hat Tip: Fasdunkle