On 8th July 2017, a tournament which sought to bring children from different communities together took place in North-West London. Organised by Stanmore Jafferys Football Academy (SJFA), the tournament attracted 11 clubs, 58 teams and over 500 players.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” (Quran – 49:13)
As this Quranic verse was read out to all present during the opening ceremony, it was telling that despite all recent events that may have sparked tensions between communities, this was having quite the opposite effect.
Teams from Belmont United, Indian Gymkhana, and the Chalfont FC Academy all sat alongside a Khoja-Muslim community, who themselves came from around the country.
As the tournament got under way, I was fortunate enough to interview many people involved with the event, and gather testimonials from the recipients. The FA’s Equality and Diversity Manager and the Chalfont Director of Football were complimentary about the motive behind the tournament, and execution of the day itself. The former, Kevin Coleman, commented that the FA “can’t be guardians of the game unless we make sure everyone’s involved in the game” before adding “football is the most powerful tool” in “naturally” bringing communities together.
The FA’s Equality and Diversity Manager and the Chalfont Director of Football were complimentary about the motive behind the tournament, and execution of the day itself. The former, Kevin Coleman, commented that the FA “can’t be guardians of the game unless we make sure everyone’s involved in the game”, before adding “football is the most powerful tool” in “naturally” bringing communities together.
With Academy teams like Chalfont being represented, the football was of a high standard across all ages. Shabbar Dhalla of the World Federation (a governing body for Khoja communities worldwide) said:
“As a parent, it was humbling and a proud moment to see the kids having made huge progress in they way they play as individuals and also as a team! I was there last year and this year as well, the improvement has been tremendous and the trajectory has been amazing for the kids!”
For many Muslim parents and children, there has been a reluctance to participate in ‘normal’ Sunday League football. Certainly, when I played at youth level, it was not uncommon to be the only Muslim on the pitch – perhaps to do with the ‘laddish’ culture that often surrounds such teams. This has led to a number of issues, the most important one being community segregation, where there doesn’t need to be.
However, what was perhaps the most important notion here, was that of interfaith comradery.
Ever since the Khoja community arrived from East Africa back a few decades ago, there hasn’t always been the greatest efforts to associate with other communities and faiths. When asked President of the Stanmore Mosque, Mustafa Jaffer, about future plans to do so, he said that Stanmore were taking concrete steps towards future integration and assimilation.
For some, this may not be enough. Though a lot of Muslims and mosques are taking steps towards just this, there’s plenty more to do. It comes as fantastic news that over 150 mosques opened their doors for ‘Visit My Mosque’ – but until the rest of the 1,700 do, the work will not be complete.
As has been said, football, and indeed sport in general, is such a historically unifying factor across communities.
It’s time for mosques around the UK to invest in it.
In saying that, this was not only a momentous day for Stanmore Jafferys Football Academy (SJFA), it was a step forward, and an example of what communities of all faiths need to do going forward. It is only through collaboration that we can end prejudice.
By Kumail Jaffer
For more info on Stanmore Jafferys Football Academy, head here.