An Egyptian Salafi leader released a “fatwa” (religious edict) declaring that football is a “waste of time,” sparking a debate in the Arab country as Egyptians continue to follow the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Younis Makhyoun, the former party president and chairperson of the Islamist and ultraconservative Al-Nour Party, answered a question from a viewer who asked him whether football is allowed in Islam.
"Watching 22 men running after a…ball is a waste of time. A Muslim should not spend his time over the matters… [that] distract people from worshipping [God]," Makhyoun answered.
"People, who spend hours watching football matches, could use this time to do something righteous and beneficial such as reading parts of the holy Quran… Enemies of Islam used this game to distract people from our fellows in Palestine who are being killed every day," he continued.
"What's the benefit behind watching a match? he rhetorically asked, without ruling out the importance of practicing sports, but only "for the sake of physical strength." Makhyoun also argued.
He also criticized footballers such as Cristiano Ronaldo, a famous football player currently serving as the captain of Portugal’s national football team in the World Cup, saying that football players are not role models.
"This man asked the mother of his children to marry him," Makhyoun said about Ronaldo’s relationship with Argentine-born Spanish model Georgina Rodríguez, as Islam does not permit open relationships.
Egyptian TV presenter Azza Mostafa and Dr. Khaled Omran, secretary general of the Fatwa committee at Dar El-Iftar, criticized Makhyoun’s comments regarding football and footballers during a broadcast on a daily TV show, Salet El-Tahrir, on the Sada El-Balad satellite TV channel. In the show, Mostafa interviewed Omran about Makhyoun’s fatwa.
"Even though Egypt's national team did not qualify to compete in the tournament, the Egyptian people are keen on watching all matches," Mostafa said.
"A child is born, and the first things he knows are his mother and the ball," she added.
Omran also commented that football is "a favorable activity."
"Football is an accredited sport organized by a union… [Competitions] help us get to know about other cultures," Omran said during the interview, also saying that in Islam, "there is nothing wrong about watching or practicing football."
Omran also disputed Makhyoun’s comments regarding football players, arguing that certain "characters such as Mohamed Salah (also known as Mo Salah) are successful role models for young people."
Football is the most popular sport in Egypt for men and women, with hundreds of thousands of football fans watching matches during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The country is also expected to play in the African Cup this year.
The Al-Nour Party is an Islamist party loyal to current Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. Representing Salafism, the party holds seven seats in the country’s House of Representatives.