Anelka speaks on his conversion to Islam


Nicolas Anelka‘s career has covered enough peaks and valleys across the international soccer landscape to warrant at least a couple of ESPN 30 for 30 documentary pitches.

The 36-year-old striker has played for top-level teams in France, England, Spain, Turkey, China, Italy and, most recently, India. He was once a star on the French national team, helping them win a European Championship in 2000.

Anelka has also played on championship teams in the world’s most famous professional leagues — including two English Premier League titles and one Italian Serie A title — and has one UEFA Champions League title to his credit. He has commanded more than $160 million in transfer fees, and has scored 161 of his 208 career goals in the Premier League.

He has also been kicked off his national team for cursing out a coach, and he was nearly blackballed from the sport entirely for making an anti-Semitic gesture on the field to celebrate a goal.

Anelka’s career has been both controversial and commendable. The stuff of legend, and still somewhat of a letdown.

While he’s earned a bad-boy reputation in the sport, he has also been described as an incredibly generous citizen and loyal teammate. As one story goes, Anelka, who converted to Islam in 2004 and sometimes goes by the name Abdul-Salam Bilal, covered all expenses for the staff and grounds crew of his Bolton Wanderers (England) team to attend his wedding in Morocco in 2007.

In a recent interview with Nabila Ramdani of Al Arabiya News in Algeria — where Anelka is acting as a consultant to the NA Hussein Dey soccer club in Algiers — Anelka talked about a wide range of topics, including his religion.

“I was sixteen when I converted to Islam,” Anelka said. “Beyond the fraternal aspect, my conversion did not change my life. I was already living by the same principles — being righteous, having values … I used to fast during Ramadan because I admired the people fasting around me. What made me convert was that I had that certainty that Islam was for me.

I felt this relationship with God, and that enlightened my life. I had that conviction in my heart that that was my religion.”

Anelka added that while French people with North African background attempt to assimilate, the system discriminates heavily.

“French people of North African background try to make things work for them, but French society keeps them in check. There are a lot of obstacles in the way,” he said.

“For example if you send a CV with the ‘wrong postcode’ and a Muslim sounding name then you won’t be considered for a job.

It is only in France that you need to hide your name and picture in the hope of getting work. That level of discrimination is unacceptable.”

Anelka is not the first Muslim convert I’ve spoken to who has said part of the appeal of Islam was that it didn’t differ much at all from the values they already held and the lifestyle they were already living. Not everyone who finds religion does so at a rock-bottom stage or has to make an overwhelming lifestyle change. Conversion, or reversion, is not always a complete transformation.

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