Eight sports figures among ‘The Muslim 500’

Mesut Ozil

Mesut Ozil

The 2016 edition of “The Muslim 500,” an annual list of the world’s most influential Muslim men and women compiled by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan, includes eight figures from the world of sports — a diverse set that includes an Olympic gold medalist, two FIFA World Cup winners and a three-time world heavyweight boxing champion among its most famous names.

While the sports figures are not ranked, most would agree that the headliner of the group is Muhammad Ali. The retired boxer, who turned 74 years old this month, has been slowed down by Parkinson’s disease for years but is still a powerful voice for peace and goodwill around the globe. In recent months he has been back in the news for speaking up against the anti-Muslim hate speech of United States presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Here are the “Muslim 500” write-ups for Ali and the rest of the sports figures featured on this year’s list:

Muhammad Ali (United States)
Muhammad Ali is a legendary three-time world heavyweight boxing champion who was crowned Sportsman of the Century in 1999 by Sports Illustrated. He was an extremely important figure in the civil rights movement in the United States, using his talent and wit to draw public awareness to the inequality in American society. He has remained a figure of great influence, commentating on injustices where he sees them. As a testament to Muhammad Ali’s humanitarian work, the United Nations named him a messenger of peace. He was awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as Amnesty International’s lifetime achievement award. In 2005, he and his wife Lonnie opened the Muhammad Ali centre in Louisville, Kentucky. In retirement, Ali still travels and lends a hand to causes that are important to him.

Prince Ali ibn Al-Hussein (Jordan)
His Royal Highness Prince Ali, son of late King Hussein and brother of Jordan’s King Abdullah, has been the Vice President of FIFA for Asia since January 2011. He played a major role in lifting FIFA’s ban on the hijab in women’s football. In Jordan he successfully took the youth team to the FIFA World Cup finals in 2007 and also took three Jordanian national teams to the Asian finals in 2010. He is Chairman of the Asian Football Development Project (AFDP). Prince Ali assisted in enhancing the educational and cultural values of sports by spreading football centres across the Kingdom. Prince Ali holds the rank of Brigadier in the Jordanian Armed Forces, where he served as a pathfinder and earned his military freefall parachute wings.

Hashim Amla (South Africa)
Amla is a South African cricketer. In 2004 he became the first South African team player of Indian descent. As a devout Muslim, he has actively campaigned to remove all alcohol-promoting logos from merchandise and playing gear. He was named one of the Wisden cricketers of the year in 2013.

Mohamed Farah (Great Britain)
Mohamed “Mo” Farah has won Olympic, and successive World Championship gold medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres track events, making him one of UK’s most successful athletes ever. Born in Somalia but raised in the UK from the age of seven, Mo has captured the hearts of the British public with his hard work, success, smile, and warm personality. He was awarded a CBE in 2013. His winning celebration is mimicked internationally.

Mesut Ozil (Germany)
One of the German 2014 football World Cup winning team, the Arsenal playmaker is of Turkish descent and was awarded the Bambi award in 2010 for being a prime example of successful integration into German society. He has a massive social media following and recently received plaudits for donating his World Cup winnings to children undergoing surgery in Brazil. The player is a well-recognized Muslim who has stated that he recites the Qur’an before matches,
prays regularly, and fasts.

Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast)
Touré is one of the world’s best footballers and currently plays for Manchester City. He has previously played for elite clubs like Monaco and Barcelona. When awarded the traditional bottle of champagne for a match-winning performance, he gave it away stating that as a Muslim he didn’t drink alcohol. This prompted a review of such awards, and he now receives shields for his awards. In October 2013, Touré joined a campaign against elephant poaching, becoming a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme. Touré was also nominated in the Personality of the Year category at the 2014 MTV Africa Music Award.

Sonny Williams (New Zealand)
Sonny Williams is an international rugby player, and current heavyweight boxing champion of New Zealand. Williams converted to Islam in 2008, and is the first Muslim to play for the legendary All Blacks. In 2013, he was judged the world’s best rugby league player at the annual RLIF Awards.

Zinedine Zidane (France)
Zinedine Zidane is a French footballing legend of Algerian descent. Born in a poor neighbourhood of Marseilles, he went on to become one of the greatest footballers ever, winning all major prizes at personal, club and country level. His modest character has endeared him to the wider public. He remains active in the footballing world and he regularly contributes to charity events.

Naturally, “The Muslim 500” is top-heavy with royalty and political heads of state, as well as Islamic scholars and sheikhs. The top 50 are actually ranked, and sitting at No. 1 is Jordan’s King Abdullah II ibn Al-Hussein, the brother of FIFA’s Prince Ali ibn Al-Hussein.

The remaining 450 are spread among the following groups related to their area of influence: scholarly; political; administration of religious affairs; preachers and spiritual guides; philanthropy, charity and development; social issues; business; science and technology; arts and culture; Quran reciters; media; celebrities and sports; and top extremists.

It should go without saying that the last group is not being honored or celebrated, however their influence in world affairs — negative as it may be — cannot be denied and should not be ignored. However, the “Muslim 500” list is in that sense a reflection of the entire Muslim community: the good far outweighing the bad.

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