Paul Pogba replaces Muhammad Ali on ‘The Muslim 500’

Paul Pogba

The 2017 edition of “The Muslim 500” — an annual list of the world’s most influential Muslim people compiled by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan — includes eight individuals from the sports realm.

Seven of those eight are incumbents from the 2016 list. The new addition is French soccer star Paul Pogba, who plays for Manchester United in England’s Premier League. He fills a spot that was left open by the death of boxing legend Muhammad Ali last year.

There are 13 categories in which individuals on the “Muslim 500” list are placed: 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 Stars and Extremists.

While that last category may raise some eyebrows, be aware that the “Muslim 500” is not praising or glorifying extremists, nor is it promoting or supporting terrorism in the name of religion. The authors of the list define “influence” as, “any person who has the power (be it cultural, ideological, financial, political or otherwise) to make a change that will have a significant impact on the Muslim world. Note that the impact can be either positive or negative, depending on one’s point of view of course.”

The top 50 individuals are ranked, while the remaining 450 are grouped in their specific category in no particular order. For 2017, the No. 1 most influential Muslim is Dr. Sheikh Ahmad Muhammad Al-Tayyeb, who is the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University in Egypt and Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar Mosque. He is referred to as the “highest scholarly authority for the majority of Sunni Muslims.”

He is followed on the list by the king of Jordan and the king of Saudi Arabia.

Receiving an Honorable Mention for the top 50 is track and field star Mo Farah, the 33-year-old who won two gold medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Here are the “Muslim 500” write-ups for the eight sports figures on this year’s list:

Mo Farah (Great Britain)
Winning the gold in the 5000m and 10,000m at the 2012 Olympic games in London and the 2016 games in Rio, Mohamed ‘Mo’ Farah is the only British athlete to have won four Olympic gold medals on the track. Born in Somalia but raised in the UK from the age of 7, Mo has captured the hearts of the British public with his hard work, success, smile and warm personality. He is a popular role model to follow for people from all over the world, especially in the Muslim world. He was awarded a CBE in 2013. His winning celebration, the ‘mobot’ is mimicked internationally.

HRH Prince Ali bin 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.

Yaya Touré (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, Tour joined a campaign against elephant poaching, becoming a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme. Tour was also nominated in the Personality of the Year category at the 2014 MTV Africa Music Award.

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.

Paul Pogba (France)
Commanding a staggering £89 million, Pogba currently holds the title of most expensive footballer in the world. A talented midfielder for Manchester United and France he was also named as Best Young Player at the 2014 World Cup after some impressive performances for the French National Team. Pogba was born to Guinean parents and is one of a growing number of European Muslim football players who rank amongst the best in the world.

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. He has enjoyed a successful start to his managerial career with Real Madrid. His modest character has endeared him to the wider public.

Mesut Ozil (Germany)
One of the German 2014 football World Cup winning team, the Arsenal playmaker is of Turkish descent 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.

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. He memorably gave away his world cup winners’ gold medal to a young supporter just after the 2015 final.

Muhammad Ali

Ali was honored in a section of the publication that features members of the 2016 “Muslim 500” who had passed away:

“Muhammad Ali was 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. Despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he remained a figure of great influence, commentating on injustices where he saw 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. Muhammad Ali passed away on the 3rd of June, 2016 at the age of 74.”

With 2016 being an Olympic year, the “Muslim 500” also included a list of Muslim medal winners from Rio — which, realistically, may include some non-practicing Muslim medalists from Muslim-majority countries, or athletes with Muslim-sounding names whose religion is not public knowledge.

ALGERIA
• Taoufik Makhloufi, Athletics, Silver
• Taoufik Makhloufi, Athletics, Silver

AZERBAIJAN
• Radik Isayev, Taekwondo, Gold
• Rustam Orujov, Judo, Silver
• Elmar Gasimov, Judo, Silver
• Mariya Stadnik, Wrestling, Silver
• Valentin Demyanenko, Canoeing, Silver
• Toghrul Asgarov, Wrestling, Silver
• Lorenzo Sotomayor, Boxing, Silver
• Khetag Gazyumov, Wrestling, Silver
• Sabah Shariati, Wrestling, Bronze
• Inna Osypenko-Radomska, Canoeing, Bronze
• Rasul Chunayev, Wrestling, Bronze
• Patimat Abakarova, Taekwondo, Bronze
• Kamran Shakhsuvarly, Boxing, Bronze
• Nataliya Synyshyn, Wrestling, Bronze
• Haji Aliyev, Wrestling, Bronze
• Jabrayil Hasanov, Wrestling, Bronze
• Milad Beigi, Taekwondo, Bronze
• Sharif Sharifov, Wrestling, Bronze

BAHRAIN
• Ruth Jebet, Athletics, Gold
• Eunice Kirwa, Athletics, Silver

BELARUS
• Javid Hamzatau, Wrestling, Bronze
• Ibrahim Saidau, Wrestling, Bronze

EGYPT
• Mohamed Ihab Mahmoud, Weightlifting, Bronze
• Sara Samir Ahmed, Weightlifting, Bronze
• Hedaya Malak, Taekwondo, Bronze

FRANCE
• Karim Laghouag, Equestrian, Gold
• Mehdy Metella, Swimming, Silver
• Sarah Ourahmoune, Boxing, Silver

GREAT BRITAIN / UNITED KINGDOM
• Mohamed Sbihi, Rowing, Gold
• Mohamed Muktar Jama “Mo” Farah, Athletics, Gold
• Mohamed Muktar Jama “Mo” Farah, Athletics, Gold
• Lutalo Muhammad, Taekwondo, Silver

INDEPENDENT OLYMPIC ATHLETES
• Fehaid Al-Deehani, Shooting, Gold
• Abdullah Al-Rashidi, Shooting, Bronze

INDONESIA
• Tontowi Ahmad, Lilyana Natsir, Badminton, Gold
• Sri Wahyuni Agustiani, Weightlifting, Silver
• Eko Yuli Irawan, Weightlifting, Silver

IRAN
• Kianoush Rostami, Weightlifting, Gold
• Sohrab Moradi, Weightlifting, Gold
• Hassan Yazdani, Wrestling, Gold
• Komeil Ghasemi, Wrestling, Silver
• Saeid Abdevali, Wrestling, Bronze
• Ghasem Rezaei, Wrestling, Bronze
• Kimia Alizadeh, Taekwondo, Bronze
• Hassan Rahimi, Wrestling, Bronze

JORDAN
• Ahmad Abu-Ghaush, Taekwondo, Gold

KAZAKHSTAN
• Nijat Rahimov, Weightlifting, Gold
• Dmitriy Balandin, Swimming, Gold
• Daniyar Yeleussinov, Boxing, Gold
• Yeldos Smetov, Judo, Silver
• Zhazira Zhapparkul, Weightlifting, Silver
• Vasiliy Levit, Boxing, Silver
• Adilbek Niyazymbetov, Boxing, Silver
• Guzel Manyurova, Wrestling, Silver
• Galbadrakhyn Otgontsetseg, Judo, Bronze
• Farkhad Kharki, Weightlifting, Bronze
• Karina Goricheva, Weightlifting, Bronze
• Olga Rypakova, Athletics, Bronze
• Alexandr Zaichikov, Weightlifting, Bronze
• Elmira Syzdykova, Wrestling, Bronze
• Yekaterina Larionova, Wrestling, Bronze
• Ivan Dychko, Boxing, Bronze
• Dariga Shakimova, Boxing, Bronze

KOSOVO
• Majlinda Kelmendi, Judo, Gold

MALAYSIA
• Cheong Jun Hoong, Pandelela Rinong, Diving, Silver
• Chan Peng Soon, Goh Liu Ying, Badminton, Silver
• Goh V Shem, Tan Wee Kiong, Badminton, Silver
• Lee Chong Wei, Badminton, Silver
• Azizulhasni Awang, Cycling, Bronze

MOROCCO
• Mohammed Rabii, Boxing, Bronze

NIGER
• Abdoul Razak Issoufou, Taekwondo, Silver

NIGERIA
• Nigerian Olympic football team, Football, Bronze

QATAR
• Mutaz Essa Barshim, Athletics, Silver

RUSSIA
• Khasan Khalmurzaev, Judo, Gold
• Timur Safin, Fencing, Gold
• Timur Safin, Fencing, Bronze
• Aliya Mustafina, Gymnastics, Gold
• Aliya Mustafina, Gymnastics, Silver
• Aliya Mustafina, Gymnastics, Bronze
• Abdulrashid Sadulaev, Wrestling, Gold

TAJIKISTAN
• Dilshod Nazarov, Athletics, Gold

TUNISIA
• Inès Boubakri, Fencing, Bronze
• Marwa Amri, Wrestling, Bronze
• Oussama Oueslati, Taekwondo, Bronze

TURKEY
• Taha Akgül, Wrestling, Gold
• Daniyar Ismayilov, Weightlifting, Silver
• Rıza Kayaalp, Wrestling, Silver
• Selim Yaşar, Wrestling, Silver
• Cenk İldem, Wrestling, Bronze
• Yasmani Copello, Athletics, Bronze
• Soner Demirtaş, Wrestling, Bronze
• Nur Tatar, Taekwondo, Bronze

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
• Sergiu Toma, Judo, Bronze

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
• Dalilah Muhammad, Athletics, Gold
• Nia Ali, Athletics, Silver
• Ibtihaj Muhammad, Fencing, Bronze

UZBEKISTAN
• Hasanboy Dusmatov, Boxing, Gold
• Ruslan Nurudinov, Weightlifting, Gold
• Shakhobidin Zoirov, Boxing, Gold
• Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, Boxing, Gold
• Shakhram Giyasov, Boxing, Silver
• Bektemir Melikuziev, Boxing, Silver
• Diyorbek Urozboev, Judo, Bronze
• Rishod Sobirov, Judo, Bronze
• Rustam Tulaganov, Boxing, Bronze
• Elmurat Tasmuradov, Wrestling, Bronze
• Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Boxing, Bronze
• Ikhtiyor Navruzov, Wrestling, Bronze
• Magomed Ibragimov, Wrestling, Bronze

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