Salafi fatwas against watching World Cup spark uproar in Arab world

Hezbollah watches soccer games free on Israeli TV, avoids Arab pay-per-view channels.

UAE Red Crescent members and Syrian refugees gather round a large screen to watch a World Cup soccer match.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
UAE Red Crescent members and Syrian refugees gather round a large screen to watch a World Cup soccer match.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Algeria, the only Arab team to make it to the World Cup this year, but some Salafi clerics have created controversy by issuing fatwas against watching the matches.
According to a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) published on Wednesday, Salafi clerics in Saudi Arabia and Egypt issued fatwas and statements against viewing the games before they began.
Egyptian clerics from Al-Azhar University, the leading Sunni center of Islamic learning in the world, countered these voices, saying it is permitted to watch the games and that extremists stating otherwise should be ignored.
“One is not forbidden from spending some of his time entertaining his spirit by watching anything that enlivens one, so long as it is not forbidden sights. We cannot easily accept the statement that watching matches causes a love of infidels, since Muslims are not forbidden from respecting non-Muslims so long as [the latter] do not attack them,” said Dr.
Muhammad Rafat Othman, a senior Al-Azhar scholar.
For the most part it seems that most Arabs are ignoring calls not to watch the games and the Arab media are full of reports about them.
Some Arabs from the Hezbollah stronghold in southern Lebanon watch the games for free on Israeli TV so that they do not have to pay for watching games on Arab pay-perview channels, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Nahar reported.
Ali Al-Sharimi, who writes for the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan, said, “I ask: Does Islam forbid entertainment? Why are some clerics’ fatwas limited to combating joy and killing happiness?” “Why do some of these fatwas play such a negative role and make Muslim life hated and full of hardship and suffering?” he added.
According to the MEMRI report, clerics reason that watching the World Cup will cause Muslims to neglect their religious duties and expose themselves to negative influences.
“There is no doubt that football, played according to [the accepted international rules], has caused Muslims to adopt some of the customs of the enemies of Islam, who are [preoccupied with] games and frivolity. [This game] causes many abominable and corrupt acts,” the Saudi cleric Sheikh Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak said in a fatwa published on his website on May 21.
Saudi Sheikh Saleh al-Fawzan opined: “Muslims must set aside games and frivolity and take up God’s work. They must not waste their time following games and frivolity, especially not during the blessed month of Ramadan.
This is true for Muslims in general, and the younger generation in particular... These games have no use, and they are harmful and a waste of time.”
Egyptian Salafi Sheikh Abu Ishaq Al-Heweny based his opinion two years ago on a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, stating that “every game one plays is futile except for archery, training one’s horse, and playing with one’s wife [foreplay and kissing].”