The "beautiful game" wasn't so beautiful at the West Ham stadium last Saturday.
A group of Muslim West Ham supporters were harassed by fellow fans of the football team as they took a moment to observe afternoon prayers in the concourse area of the stadium, ten minutes before halftime. A video shows the disturbing attack, which ironically occurred after West Ham invited local groups to watch the game with discounted tickets through West Ham United Community Sports Trust, which focuses on community outreach.
The video shows a small group of Muslims gathered for prayer in corner under the stands, when their worship sparked the anger of fellow fans.
"Are you f***ing serious?" shouted one man. "What is this? Hey! What is that?" Though some of the worshippers turned their heads to look, they didn't respond to the provocation, and continued praying. In response, the man filming started a chant of "Irons! Irons," the club's nickname, ostensibly to disrupt the prayer.
Aamir (last name not provided) told anti-Muslim hatred hotline Tell Mama that the angry fans got even more aggressive afterwards, shouting, "F***ing p*kis, go home!" and chanting "E..., E..., EDL," which stands for the English Defense League, a far-right group that is notoriously against immigrants and Muslims. He said that the incident got physical, as the abusive fans roughly broke up prayer lines and pushed people into corners.
In the wake of the incident an EDL Facebook post defended the actions of the aggressive fans, declaring, "A football club's religion is football, not Islam."
Security, who had allowed the small group of Muslims to conduct brief prayers there in the first place, had to radio for support as police and additional staff arrived.
As the video was shared online, social media flared up with conspiracy theories, claiming that the reason the prayers took place was because West Ham had offered specially discounted tickets to Muslims at only £5 versus the usual going rate of about £52.
A post on an EDL Facebook page claimed, "They charged their fans over £50+ to attend as always. For the first time however they decided to give 500 tickets to locally based Muslims at £5 a person and sold them via local mosques and Islamic centres without telling West Ham fans. Seems West Ham want to build up a Muslim support before moving to the 60,000 capacity Olympic Stadium up the road in a couple of years time."
In fact, West Ham has a well-established and highly commended foundation, the West Ham United Community Sports Trust, which offers discounted tickets to many groups as part of its 'Football for All" initiative. BBC reports, "Amir was among hundreds of organizations in East London who were offered discounted tickets to the match by West Ham. The club's been working really hard to make the game more inclusive, and to invite the local community to enjoy the games."
In response to the incident, local member of Parliament Jim Fitzpatrick called on Premier League clubs to invest in prayer rooms for fans, to better accommodate religious practices. A longtime fan of West Ham, he said, "“It’s pretty disturbing that people who were observing their religion appear to have been intimidated. It would be great for anybody who wishes to observe their religion to have somewhere to go so they’re not at risk of hugely insensitive behavior or worse.”
Newcastle United announced earlier this year that it was building a prayer room for its Muslim players, and Bayern Munich, reigning Champions League winner, has decided to build a mosque at its headquarters, reports Express.
"I would also love to sit down with those responsible, have a civil chat, and explain that I was there to support West Ham and did not expect any favors because I am Muslim," said Amir. "Dialogue is important. I hope it brings understanding."
Also on HuffPost:
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
“The truth is that killing innocent people is always wrong — and no argument or excuse, no matter how deeply believed, can ever make it right. No religion on earth condones the killing of innocent people, no faith tradition tolerates the random killing of our brothers and sisters on this earth. ... Islamic law is clearly against terrorism, against any kind of deliberate killing of civilians or similar ‘collateral damage.’ ” <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Whats-Right-Islam-Vision-Muslims/dp/0060750626" target="_blank">-What's Right With Islam Is What's Right With America</a>, via <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/nyregion/22imamfacts.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0" target="_blank">The New York Times</a>
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“We will never allow ourselves to be hijacked by this attempt, and we will not allow the perception to be that there is any religion in the world that condones the taking of innocent life,” said <a href="http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-04-19/national/38669385_1_islamic-society-cair-boston-marathon" target="_blank">Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.</a>
Saudi's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh
“Islam does not allow terrorism at any cost. Islam condemns all violence and terrorism plaguing the world today. Muslims should demonstrate a love for peace and unity." -<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/15/hajj-sermon-islam-terrorism_n_4100724.html?utm_hp_ref=religion" target="_blank">Hajj Sermon 2013</a>
Rashid Ghannoushi, leader of Tunisia's Ennahda party, plus other leaders
Mustafa Mashhur, General Guide, Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt; Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Ameer, Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, Pakistan; Muti Rahman Nizami, Ameer, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, Bangladesh; Shaykh Ahmad Yassin, Founder, Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), Palestine; Rashid Ghannoushi, President, Nahda Renaissance Movement, Tunisia; Fazil Nour, President, PAS – Parti Islam SeMalaysia, Malaysia; and 40 other Muslim scholars and politicians: “The undersigned, leaders of Islamic movements, are horrified by the events of Tuesday 11 September 2001 in the United States which resulted in massive killing, destruction and attack on innocent lives. We express our deepest sympathies and sorrow. We condemn, in the strongest terms, the incidents, which are against all human and Islamic norms. This is grounded in the Noble Laws of Islam which forbid all forms of attacks on innocents. God Almighty says in the Holy Qur’an: ‘No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another’ (Surah al-Isra 17:15).” <a href="http://web.archive.org/web/20010920150230/http://msanews.mynet.net/MSANEWS/200109/20010917.15.html" target="_blank">MSANews, September 14, 2001 </a>
Jordan's King Abdullah II
"We condemn the criminal and terrorist act that targeted a church in Baghdad", Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told a news conference Monday. "We condemn all forms of terrorism, particularly targeting civilians. Jordan supports all efforts seeking to enhance Iraq's security," he pointed out. Judeh said King Abdullah II hd expressed his sympathy and heartfelt condolences to the victims of the attack and wished the injured a speedy recovery. <a href="http://www.aina.org/news/20101102214015.htm" target="_blank">-Aina.org</a>
Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi of Qatar
Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi, Qatar; Tariq Bishri, Egypt; Muhammad S. Awwa, Egypt; Fahmi Huwaydi, Egypt; Haytham Khayyat, Syria; Shaykh Taha Jabir al-Alwani, U.S.: “All Muslims ought to be united against all those who terrorize the innocents, and those who permit the killing of non-combatants without a justifiable reason. Islam has declared the spilling of blood and the destruction of property as absolute prohibitions until the Day of Judgment. … [It is] necessary to apprehend the true perpetrators of these crimes, as well as those who aid and abet them through incitement, financing or other support. They must be brought to justice in an impartial court of law and [punished] appropriately. … [It is] a duty of Muslims to participate in this effort with all possible means.” <a href="http://kurzman.unc.edu/islamic-statements-against-terrorism/Qaradawi" target="_blank">Statement of September 27, 2001.</a>
<a href="http://kurzman.unc.edu/islamic-statements-against-terrorism/" target="_blank">See more statements from Muslim leaders from around the world here</a> <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/09/muslims-denounce-nairobi-mall-terrorist-attack-fox-news" target="_blank">And here</a> <a href="http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/muslim_voices_against_extremism_and_terrorism_part_i_fatwas/" target="_blank">Here</a> <a href="http://www.muhajabah.com/otherscondemn.php" target="_blank">Also</a> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/qasim-rashid/do-you-even-hear-muslims-when-we-condemn-violence_b_3125564.html" target="_blank">And here.</a>