Qatar 2022: A Muslim’s Analysis of the Qur’an ‘recitation’ at the World Cup opening ceremony
Ifeoluwa Siddiq Oyelami
On November 20, 2022, a monumental day occurred in world sports history. It is the first time the FIFA World Cup has ever been held in the Middle East and the first time it has ever been held in any Muslim country. Qatar’s political and cultural climate was tense throughout the years leading up to the tournament, which is widely regarded as a watershed moment for the country’s ambitions to influence popular culture. Qatar was the subject of intense debate, especially on the opening night. Though most were fake, some Islam-related images, videos and news about the opening elicited various reactions. Some individuals, especially liberal Muslims, were quick to say, “don’t introduce religion to sports,” while others aired, “Mashallah Qatar organised an Islamic world cup”- whatever that means. Meanwhile, there were still people who, rightly or wrongly, criticised Qatar, accusing it of “making fun of the deen.” Our goal here is not to discuss these groups or their opinions. Instead, we’d like to engage in a contextual and textual assessment of the ‘Quran recitation,’ which appears to be the event’s only ‘Islamic’ element.
‘Quran recitation’ at World Cup opening ceremony
You may have seen that widely shared short video. There was a scene like this at the ceremony. On stage was the famous US actor Morgan Freeman asking a Qatari disabled Youtuber named Ghanim Al Muftah: “How can so many countries, languages and cultures come together if only one path is accepted?”.In response, Ghanim Al Muftah first quoted in Arabic the 13th verse of Surat al-Hujurat, “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allâh is that (believer) who has At-Taqwâ. Verily, Allâh is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” Afterward, he commented in English: “We were raised to believe that we are scattered across this world as nations so that we can learn from each other and find beauty in our differences.” Morgan Freeman said, “I can see it. What unites us here right now is much greater than what separates us.” The dialogue continued to reinforce these words.
First and foremost, as we have seen, no recitation perse at that occasion, contrary to widespread assumption. On the other hand, they just recited a verse in a prepared dialogue. Although this is the first time it has occurred in the World Cup, it is not the first time it has happened in secular programmes, even in the most secular western countries. Furthermore, contrary to what some media have suggested, Ghanim Al-Muftah did not translate this verse; he simply remarked on it, and to say the least, his statement narrowed the interpretation of the verse, implying that political correctness was taken into account. As a result, he practically threw some important messages in the verse.
It is said in the verse that Allah created humanity as various tribes, from a male and a female. However, our esteemed brother, who cited the verse, neither touched on ‘creation’ nor the ‘male and female ancestries’ emphases in his English explanation. We can assume that it is just a citation and he does not really need to emphasise these; however, he left out, “Verily, the most honourable of you with Allâh is that (believer) who has At-Taqwâ.” which is at the heart of the verse expressing the theological message of the verse. Hence, our brother’s comment was more of trying to make the verse say what we wanted it to. But then, there is no point dwelling on this or blaming the organisers. Instead, in the following lines, we would like to analyse this verse and perhaps convey the message that Qatar might want to pass to our readers.
The choice of verse and context of dialogue
While watching the dialogue between Morgan and Al-Ghanim, anyone who pays attention to details may ask the following questions: Why is Hujurat: 13 among 6236 verses all carrying important messages? Why Ghanim, a physically challenged? Why Morgan, a famous black man from the racist USA? Of course, the organisers might not have taken these subtleties into account, but the script seemed so apt for the verse or let’s say, the verse is a brilliant selection for the scene, especially as it is in front of people from various nations. However, as brilliant and great as the whole thing is as an art, the information given does not reflect the full meaning of the verse. Or more precisely, the dialogue does not quite match the message given by the verse. The verse informs us about the Islamic understanding of justice and equity, based on servitude privileges. It says that we are the same in matters that are not under your control, such as race, language, colour, but complementing this, it emphasised that there may be an issue of superiority between us, in the sight of our creator, which is our devotion to faith, sincerity, and worship.
The topic of the verse
This verse in question appears in Surat al-Hujurat, which is best considered as a recipe for things that cause divisions in our society. The verse demonstrates that the lineage and nationality through which supremacy is designed in human civilisations are unimportant. According to the message of the verse, all humans were created from a man and a woman; therefore, no one should be proud of their ancestry, nation or race and should not be judged by these. After all, no one has the right to choose their own parents, nation, or race. Therefore, the value of a person in the sight of Allah depends on his taqwa, which one can choose whether to attain or not. Based on this, it should be noted that it is a extreme interpretation to infer from the verse slogans like “what unites us is much greater than what separates us”. Yes, our ancestry and our homeland may not be important, but there is one more thing that separates us, and that is servitude and piety.
Historical and its textual background of the verse
On the day of conquest of Makkah, Bilal ibn Rabbah, the Prophet’s muadhin of Abyssinian origin, climb up to the Kaaba to call the adhan. A person who saw this said, “Is this black slave calling the prayer on the Kaaba?” said. Jibril, informed the Prophet of this and thus the verse was revealed. The Messenger of Allah summoned the discussers and pointed out that Islam has abolished the practise of elevation or diminishing of people’s worth in terms of lineage and possessions. Some other events reported in corpus of tafsir have been connected with the verse. Moreover, in his sermons on the conquest, the Prophet recounted the verse. He even touched upon the subject in his farewell sermon:
“O people, your Lord is one and your father Adam is one. And Adam is from earth. There is no favor of an Arab over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin, nor black skin over white skin, except by righteousness.”
Meanwhile, when we examine the textual context of the verse in question, we will understand its message better. In surat al-Hujurat, Allah, the Exalted, condemned the delegation of Banu Tamim, who shouted, “O Muhammad, those whom I praise are saints, and those whom I blame are disgraced,” thereby warning everyone who puts himself in the place of Allah, who considers himself superior, and who is smug because of his ancestry, or demonstrate any form of egoistic tendency. Again, in the Surah, He condemned and forbade some things that caused enmity among Muslims and humanity in general, such as ridiculing nicknames, suspicions, and endless quarrels. Moreover, just stating that taqwa is the most important value, Allah stated that a person cannot say that he has attained true faith just because he is a Muslim.
Analysis of the meaning of the verse
The verse began with the address "یَـٰۤأَیُّهَا ٱلنّاسُ”(O People). This shows us that the message in it concerns all humanity. Allah is summoning all people, from the Arabs to the Japanese, the Brits to the Malays, the Mongols to the Amazonian tribes, to the message that is about to be passed.
إِنْا خَلَقۡنَـٰكُم مِّن ذَكَرࣲ وَأُنثَىٰ(We created you from a male and a female)
Here, Allah tells us that He created us by Himself, and this implies that He only best our differences and our superiority. Additionally, Allah says that our origin is one, that in fact, we are all members of the Humanity family. There is an emphasis on a male and a female ancestry here, which may also remind us of our true nature of heterosexualism. For, human originated from two sexes and has become a great family of multiple tribes and nations based on following this nature.
وَجَعَلۡنَـٰكُمۡ شُعُوبࣰا وَقَبَاۤىِٕلَ لِتَعَارَفُوۤا (and we made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another)
In this clause, Allah has not only said that we are different as nations, but He also acknowledged that this is within his own will and doing. In His majesty, he goes on to tell us the wisdom behind this. In another verse, he says, “the differences in our languages and colours are His signs” (Rum 30:22/loosely translated). Here, he states that he made us into various nations and communities in a way that we can meet and know each other. In the light of this, the division of people into different nations and tribes is for mutual identification and cooperation and not for dispersal and endless conflict. It is understood, therefore, that our nationality and ancestry affiliations is a form of identity that does not makes anyone superior to another. Instead, it is an identity type that will help us get to know our different tribes as the Adamite family and enable us to fuse in a healthy way.
إِنَّ أَكۡرَمَكُمۡ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتۡقَىٰكُمۡ(Verily, the most honourable of you with Allâh is that (believer) who has At-Taqwâ)
This statement is the focal point of the verse. Here, Allah is pointing us to a subtlety. It is as if He is saying to us: “O People! I created all of you, I made you different, your differences are not important to me, they should not matter to you beyond their basic purpose, what matters to me is that you have taqwa, and it is based on this that you are ranked in my sight.”
So, if taqwa is this significant, what is taqwa and who has taqwa?
Taqwa, in its lexical meaning, means that one’s own soul avoids the things that it fears. Technically, taqwa means to keep oneself away from sins and to abandon the things that are frowned at. Taqwa is used in the Qur’an in five contexts: fear of Allah, worship, avoidance of sin, tawhid and sincerity. If we take these holistically, we can say a person who has taqwa is someone who believes in tawhid, fears Allah and performs her worship sincerely. On the other hand, some have also considered taqwa as meaning ‘a sense of responsibility’. In this case, a person who has taqwa is the one who knows his responsibility towards both Allah and the creatures. Considering all these, the terms that define such a person in Islamic literature are Mumin and Muhsin. Therefore, it is safe to say that the most valuable and honourable among people are the Muhsins.
إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِیمٌ خَبِیرࣱ(Verily, Allâh is All-Knowing, All-Aware)
In the end, the verse comes to this conclusion. Allah, who created us, asserts that he is aware of our openness and privacy, and he is aware of everything we do. Moreover, those who truly possess taqwa are well known to him, as do those who think of themselves as superior towards others, and act thus.
As we have stated above, this verse is suitable for the context it was used in terms of meaning. However, when they cited it, it appears the rip it off the messages of tawhid and morality it contained, and instead, interpreted it with a humanist approach. Of course, it is true that the verse gives us a universal message. It reminds us that humans are a single family, but it does not in any way put the black sheep and the pride of the family in the same rank. The verse reminds us of our duty to humanity. This duty begins with observing all the qualities that make up human nature and continues with loving people for the sake of Allah. Otherwise, this verse does not say love the people and forget about moral and spiritual differences. It says, “The most valuable of you in the sight of Allah is the one who has the most taqwa.” Thus, as Muslims, when we explain Islam, it is best that we describe it just the way it is.
Conclusively, in this verse, Allah reminds humanity of their moral responsibilities to both their Creator and other creatures. He presents the concept of taqwa, which is the prominent concept in the verse, as a virtuous value. So, to speak, He recommends everyone to uphold taqwa. Thus, we say, “O People! Don’t be carried away by your races, nations, and affiliations! Return to the Allah who created you; its only by doing this that you will find real value!”
November 26, 2022 Sat 14:56
Beautiful approach and objective reasoning. The Tafsir is also educating.. May be you should write an article on the Dawa in the midst of westerners (the approaches used and so)
November 26, 2022 Sat 13:57