How a Youth Football Tournament Became National Headlines

Category: Americas, Life & Society Views: 3860

When a group of local Muslim youths decided to organize a football tournament over New Year's weekend, they never expected that the tournament would make national headlines and become the latest victim of the Middle East conflict.

The kids' began with the normal enthusiasm in the hopes of setting up a competitive tournament of an American national past-time. Unfortunately, what started out as an innocent way to keep youth off the streets and away from drugs, alcohol, and violence, turned into national news when a reporter 'uncovered' that some of the handful of teams registered for the tournament had team names which included 'Intifada,' 'Mujahideen,' and 'Soldiers of Allah,' along with '4th and Goal', 'Playmakerz', and 'Fantizzle Fizzle'.

Working for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights group, we are not unfamiliar with religious sensitivity issues. Therefore, when we first received news of the issue, we talked to the youths to find out their intentions. Realizing the apprehension that some people have about anything Islamic these days, we knew that the choice of team names would face criticism.

The organizers said that the choice of names was totally innocent and intended only to show macho bravado for a small intra-Muslim tournament whose members all were aware of the accurate definitions of these terms. In linguistic and cultural context, the team names chosen carry Islamic meanings that are positive and mainstream in Muslim circles. More importantly, they do not, in any way, carry any inherent definitions of aggression towards anyone.

For example, 'Intifada' literally means "shaken off" and represents the independence movement of Muslim and Christian Palestinians. The term 'Mujahideen' means "those who strive for the good" and 'Soldiers of Allah' is a well-known phrase in Islamic circles for those who are dedicated servants of God.

While we found out that these kids - mainly young teenagers - are your typical All-American kids who just want to have fun playing football, we advised them to reconsider the names and pick more neutral ones. We are not nave; we are aware that a few of these terms are being tainted by the abominable actions of a few Muslims. And that is the reason we had advised them to change the names. And thankfully, they mostly agreed to do so.

And that should have been the end of the story. The Muslim community heard the concerns of our fellow Americans, saw the point, worked on the issue, and moved on. Sadly, those who saw this whole incident as an opportunity to further their anti-Muslim agenda did not let the issue end.

In an attempt to exploit the situation involving the youths, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the spokesperson for the Simon Wiesenthal Center's "Museum of Tolerance", in his Los Angeles Times and CNN interviews, accused the young organizers of "honoring" those involved in "targeting of innocent women and children." When it comes to Muslims, Simon Wiesenthal Center -- Museum of Tolerance  -- has often fueled hatred against Muslims and Arabs, by making comments which have only served to divide our country along religious lines and reinforce negative stereotypes.

Interestingly enough, the Jewish Defense League (JDL) joined the Museum of Tolerance's condemnation of the youth. The JDL issued an Action Alert calling on people to protest and according to their website, "Tell Arab terrorist sympathizers they don't belong on the grid iron!" This is the same JDL, whose leader Irv Rubin committed suicide while he and his accomplice were behind bars for plotting to blow up a California mosque and a Congressman's office. The Museum and JDL had no shame in fueling hatred against Muslims. Most Muslims and Christians and many Jews understand the 'Intifada' to be defined as the legitimate national struggle under international law, through social and political means, against the Israeli occupation of three million Palestinians. It includes the refusal to cooperate or pay taxes to the occupier; the defiance of Palestinian farmers to abandon their land to settlers and soldiers who confiscate it to build settlements or an apartheid wall; the throwing of stones by little kids at Israeli tanks which turned every Palestinian town and village into Bantustans reminiscent of apartheid South Africa.

It is unfortunate that the JDL and people such as Rabbi Cooper would see this opportunity to score a public relations point for Israel at the expense of youth playing in an innocent football tournament and who are also proud to be Americans and Muslims. With global issues the way that they are today, it is hard enough during these difficult times for many American Muslim youths to be proud of their identity with others defining the "true" definition of Islam. If Rabbi Cooper was truly concerned about teaching tolerance and fostering unity, he should have contacted and advised those kids before publicly blasting them as some sort of monsters. It was actually the youths who initiated the contact with him to assure him of no ill-intent on their part. In this situation, why is it that young children are teaching those older in age how to behave like civilized adults?

While lessons have been learned from both sides on this issue, some questions still remain. Shall Muslims be forced to drop such positive and ancient terms from their vocabularies because of their abuse by the few? What's next? Are we going to make Muslims change their names from Khalid, Omar or even Osama because others with such names have committed atrocities? That would be the moral equivalent of making it illegal to name your child Timothy after the Oklahoma City bombing.

Will America become safer if we track how many touchdowns the "Mujahideen" team makes over the "Fantizzle Fizzle"? Are we also forgetting that during the '80s we were cheering on the Mujahideen or Afghan freedom fighters against the Soviet Union?

We cherish our country's guarantee of freedom of speech to believe in and speak out on issues important to us. At the same time, we, as an American Muslim community, realize that now, more than ever, is the time to engage more of our fellow Americans in dialogue and outreach to correct the misperceptions about Islam and learn about other faiths. We were glad to be informed by the tournament organizers that this is indeed what they intend to do. Their next planned tournament will be called, "An Interfaith Tournament" in which Muslims, Jews, and Christians, as well as other faith groups would be invited to compete and get to know one another. Perhaps this is the silver lining in this whole situation.

Sabiha Khan is Communications Director of CAIR-Southern California.

  Category: Americas, Life & Society
Views: 3860
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Older Comments:
This article is exactly what I believe when I heard this story. It was well written and I hope everyone that is against Muslims especially the jewish that were protesting understand that it is just a game. peace-

For the most part the article is correct, a youth team should be able to name itself whatever it wants as long as it is privately funded. If it does recieve any government subsidation it would have to adhere to a stricter guideline. But it may be being taken a little to close to the vest. In America political correctness is the key, all are victims of it. Professional teams or Universities have to change their names from anything having to do with Native Americans, even if the name protrays Native Americans in a positive light (like Braves, Warriors), and the area has a lot of Native American history because it can be deemed offensive. My ancestry is from Ireland I wonder if I can get Notre Dame's name (Fighting Irish)and mascot changed (there mascot is that of a short bearded leprechan looking Irishman with his fists in the fighting position, sometimes seen holding a beer). As if all people of Irish descent are drunks and fighters. But political correctness usually doesn't matter as long as the butt of the joke is a white person. Personnally I'm not offended by Notre Dame I'm just making a point to how ridiculous political correctness can get in the U.S. as the article also pointed out. But as a whole don't take it too seriously it really is a very small minority in the U.S. that give politically correct whackos any credence.

The rabbi could learn a thing or two from the young people. Maybe if we didn't have some many people like Rabbi Cooper we might achieve peace. Israel oppresses the Palestinians in Palestine is that not enough they are always crying about the suicide bombers well maybe if these people (Palestinians) were treated fairly as humans they wont be doing what they do e.g. stone throwing. Anyone of us forced would do the same thing and anyone that says different is a liar. But likely in America there are laws to protect the public where as in Palestine who's protecting them? Who comes to the aid of a family when they complain that their property was taken away that their schools are demolished who speaks for them. Some those Israel's are something--not to say all of them are bad no there are many good decent Israelis who are totally against this inhuman treatment of the Palestinians. It is shame that this rabbi is using the football tournament to discredit Muslims and Islam.

MISBAH said:
it is a sign of Qayamat which is that the muslim ummah will be at their weakest...and then Allah the Most Merciful shall send His Representative known as Imaam Mahdi. Inshallah. Make dua..

Alhamdulillah, Danya. Insha'Allah I would not be unduly assertive - or presumptuous.

Ahmed from the United Kingdom, is there anything that you might wish to add? Something witty (yet poignant) perhaps?



Salaam Alaikum,

I just wanted to say that everything in the article is very true, BUT, CAIR made a big mistake in advising these kids to change their names. Soldier of Allah, Mujahid, these are terms that could be used to describe the Prophet(saaw) and yet here we are, telling these kids who had the positive and Islamic mindset to name their teams this way to begin with, and they're being told by CAIR to drop the names. For who? A few ignorants, or a few extremist Jews that don't want any mention of these terms and ideas, unless they're being condemed? All of these names mean something very positive. If Americans don't understand what they properly mean, then it's our job to teach them, not hide them due to our being afraid of their ignorance and incorrect views. This is setting a very bad precedent. We must be proud and not hide.

Their excuse of making this such a big issue in the first place, and suppressing our freedom of speech, was that we as Muslims were angered by Bush and his use of words like 'Crusades' in his State of Union Speech. He later withdrew the word.
Thats fine... but how about we look at the context in which these words were used. I mean... a friggin Football league? Come on now! Bush is talking about dropping bombs on Muslims, and used these words... we are talking about dropping footballs, so get over it people!
I think this is ridiculous, just like the 'War on Terror'.
WaSsalaamu Alaiykum.

I wasn't going to make a comment on this one but I just felt compelled.
May Allah be please with any comment made be me.

This article exemplifies how religious tolerance here in the West means a Muslim must bring forth a watered down version of Islam so it can conform more favorable to Christian ideology. This is nothing but hogwash, the ultimate in negative social interaction. It is the same as when "main street America" uses the phrase "clean cut". An African American sporting dreadlocks and a beard could not possible fit into such definition of "clean cut". He then must conform to the prevailing attitudes of those he would like to gain respect from. He must cut his hair, shave his beard, his spouse must not wear a head scarf, he must adopt an English name. Oh Please! This is not Islamic. Comprise and conform have two different meanings.

The paradox with such petty interactions is America being a so-called enlightened society. Why can't she bring herself to live up to her claim? Why is it prior to the PLO bombings in the 1970's most Americans had never heard of Palestine in the context of being a real state. It is safe to say that 99.999% of America could not point to Palestine on a map because they are unaware its Israel.

Muslims should not be forced to change the nature of who they are, the religion Islam or their way of life, simple because the enlighten west don't understand it.

May God Bless America

Why are we giving up our freedom of speech? in this country we(as american) have a right to have any kind of name we want. if we change our name because some people don't like it, it doesn't make any good. infact it would get worth. i think changing those team's name will make muslims easier to attack. we don't have to suspect ourself. if you act like somebody who is hiding something, you are considered as suspect. we should be pround our names and disrigard whatever those people who hate muslim say as long as the names are not target to someone,race,or religion.

Their action show that they don't trust themselves not to talk of trusting others. As for the youths they should not be detered or discouraged from doing what is right. What realy prompted this reaction is because they're afraid that muslim youth are doing something positive in their life and their is harmony in American's Muslim Ummah.

i am sorry to hear that these children are being forced to censorship by the overreactions of a few small minded. don't they have anything more worthwhile them picking on children?

In any search engine, type Soldiers of Christ or Soldiers of Jesus Christ. You will be amazed at how many pages will come up.

The team names should be changed to
. 4-Billion $$$ Soldiers
. Occupiers
. Oppressors
. Bull-Dozers
. Rachel Killers
. Land Grabbers

...just to name a few.....

How about 'Insha-Allah' or 'Ya-Allah' for team names? Such names might perhaps bring to mind a never-ending effort to score points.

Perhaps names like 'Alhamdulillah' or 'Subhanallah' might be good choice for teams hoping to win big (Insha-Allah). Such names might perhaps bring to mind teams celebrating in the end zone (without drawing penalty flags).

I suppose, of course, that 'Assalamu Alaikum' might not be the best choice for a team name. (Assalamu alaikum.)

Innocent sports can be a very good tool for the formation of youth. Tender feelings of those of other faiths or countries of national origan sometimes are bruised unintentionally.

Let us hope that we can all respect each other, as human beings, not just as partisan to partisan.

Part of being human is to be able to have abstract thought, such as religious thoughts. Wouldn't it be a pity if we killed each other before we tried conversion? Or conversation!

Blessings from the almighty God.

Sigh. What lengths some will go to vilify Muslims to the most heinous extent and all from a regime that supposedly propagates freedom and equality--shame that it cannot even be fulfilled at its superficial face value.

The football league should not have been so naive as to label themselves as such, one should now expect these ludicrous accusations against commonplance actions under the pretense of the anti-terrorist movement. Muslims are being forced to walk on egg shells simply because we practice Islam. Pity.

This comment is off-topic, but I'd like to commend the regular posters of comments on these articles, your sensibile views are a joy to read, especially the intelligent assertions of Yahya Bergum and the witty yet poignant remarks of Ahmed from UK :)

I cannot believe America has stoop so low as to begin to accuse children of having to do with terror attacks. A simple american passtime as football, if they cannot understand, they never will.

But why not call the team Saif al Saladin? The real life
Intifada team hasn't scored a single point in forty years.

Excellent article. The Irvine Islamic community is luck to have someone like you, Sabiha!

An article though defensive, clearly and succintly points out that the works of a few should not, in any way, prejudice a civilized nation to be led by a few extremists and oppurtunists.

Good work Mz Khan and well done CAIR.

The museum of tolerance should change its name to "Museum of Selective Tolerance"
May be Rabbi Cooper can use some lessons in tolerance before he spreads hatred against those young Muslim kids.

Ms. Khan. Your questions are meritorious. My country seems to have begun judging her citizens by virtue of their appearance and names. Please accept my apologies on behalf of my family and friends who emphatically disagree with the current regime which hopefully will be changed in next few months :)


How pathetic these zionazi's are. Just because their youth have no athletic ability whatsoever...they go harass Muslim kids.

I'd bet any amount of money that if their team names were "Irgun," "Haghanah" or the "Stern gang," this fiasco would have been swept under the rug.
For those who dont know, the above mentioned groups are murderous jewish terrorists who committed numerous atrocties against the Palestinian people. They are venerated as saints within jewish circles.
That being said, these guys were NOT being very smart when they took those names, in a country where justice and fair play is outlawed, and stupidity and ignorance is the norm. But they should have gone ahead with it instead of giving in to pressure from the usual suspects, zionist bastards.
Its amazing how petty jews have become that they feel threatened by kids playing a football game. One shouldnt expect any less from phony nazi "hunters" like Simon Wiesenthal and his propaganda shop/museum.