Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar is a powerful time. The Qur’an was revealed during this month. For those who choose and are able to, fasting is a prescribed form of worship and what I consider a spiritually and physically cleansing tool. But the month of Ramadan is also a month in which the first generation of Muslims fought tirelessly. They fought against oppression and injustice. They fought for their rights and religious expression in a time and place, where their existence was doubted and resented. The 17th of Ramadan is the anniversary of the Battle of Badr. We know that the the Battle of Tabuk, Ain Jalut and Hattin were also fought during this month.
Yes, this is a month where we are in a race to beat our nafs, control our desires and aspire to be better Muslims – and more compassionate humans. But it is also a time to ensure that we feed the need to protect ourselves and our spaces.
Yes, this is the justification I use on the pitch when I am playing soccer. I am an aggressive player and I play a forward position, so my job is to attack. If I get caught up against a defender, I am not going to back down.
My usual commentary after missing a shot or offering a pass that is weak or unfinished (there may be profanity involved…) is something I am working on.
I swear sometimes, on the field and off.
But this Ramadan, I have made a very conscious attempt to NOT swear. It’s a small thing, but one that I feel I can stick too. I have even tried not to text or type out swear words. I am trying to behave. But I don’t always resist.
On the pitch, if an opposing player is tight up on me and her elbows are in my rib cage during one of our corner kicks, because I am in the 6-yard box hoping to pounce, then I will push back. I will push hard.
Last week, at one of my matches, there was such a defender. She was firmly pressing against me and showed no signs of relenting – also her job. But she was being extra nasty because the first of two goals my team scored was by me – off an amazingly perfect pass from my teammate, Su. That particular defender had moved away from me, leaving me open for advancement and proper placement for an easy finish. Before I struck it in, I had a nanosecond to make du’a – usually along the lines of “YA RAB. PLEASE DO NOT LET ME MISS THIS SHOT”.
I figured the defender was probably annoyed. I have no confirmation of this other than 35 years of playing experience. But my goal was on her. She had left me unmarked and I finished.
Inevitably, she was going to be physical with me. She was going to send me wordless messages that it was her space and I would not score again. I was going to reciprocate by being a persistent attacker and not give any fu..- er, concerns.
This whole time, the sun was beautifully setting around the pitch. I knew my family was feasting on the samosas and fruit salad I had prepared before leaving for my match.
Fellow Muslims in the community were prostrating in salah and making du’a in this magical moment when the sky is many beautiful shades of hues with streaks of rose and tangerine. I was sweaty on the pitch, leaning into a woman in a messy blond ponytail who clearly disliked me and who had stepped on my feet more than once “by accident”. It is Ramadan so I did not respond as I might have by hacking at her shins purely unintentionally.
I tried to purify my behaviour during the month of forgiveness with repentance and sincere prayer. But I see nothing contradictory in playing hard and not giving her a moment of respite. It was not the time for me to allow her to oppress my movements and my attempt to score. I did not speak to her or utter some of the quiet curses I reserve for moments like these. I stayed quiet. Not engaging or firing off my mouth is my own personal jihad. I was constantly encouraging myself to stick to my game and ignore her feeble attempts to incite me. She was making rude comments to other players about me – without actually speaking to me. I call this vocally subtweeting. She was muttering under her breath.
Close to the middle of the second half, we had conceded two quick goals which brought the score to 3-1, for them. They were getting cocky. And this allowed her to become too confident in her own strategy.
At one point, a teammate crossed the ball to me and I was unable to sprint to it first down the field. She made it there first and I tried to beat her as she shielded the ball. This happened more than once. And each time, our encounters got more and more aggressive. Perhaps if my cardio was stronger I could just have gotten to the ball faster and not had to worry about this. But the reality is that I could not. So, we tussled. Sometimes she won and cleared the ball and sometimes I won and was able to pull it back from her feet. Every single time her pushes got harder.
Sometimes, in other matches, I have friendly chats with the defenders who guard me; we share a laugh or a comment. It’s a great league and most of the players are lovely. Not this one.
At one point I chased her down the pitch and she moved to cut off my angle. I tried to reach the ball through her legs, essentially an illegal tackle. She tripped and fell on her face. They were awarded a free kick. I did not get booked with a yellow card so it wasn’t that grave of an assault. I walked back and gave her the mandatory 10 yards required. I did not apologize. This was part of the play. I thought about offering a short “sorry about that” but she was busy shooting her mouth off about me and I changed my mind. My teammate Margaret scored shortly after that, bringing us to 3-2. I assisted on that goal, more of a deflection off my shin pad. But the defender was not there. Again. I relished this moment because although I am supposed to be kind and generous, I am human. And I wanted to beat her. Specifically her. I don’t think this is contradictory to any of the principles of the blessed month.
Unfortunately we were not able to win this particular battle. The final score was 3-2 for them.
In all of this play, remembrance and gratitude to The Creator of the Worlds, who, has let me play after countless injuries and decades. Allah swt has blessed me with a team I enjoy tremendously in a sport I love. He granted me another small blessing of seeing this bitter defender face plant into the turf.
I know it is Ramadan and I should want good for my neighbours and wider community. But I can’t lie and say that seeing her tumble onto the ground made me feel bad. It did not.
There was something deliciously gratifying about her flying forward over the ball. Allah is most Merciful and I hope He likes how I fight on the pitch. May He forgive me for my wrongdoing and give me continued strength to fight tyrannical and nonsensical defenders. Ameen