This Saturday Morrocco play the biggest game in their history when they face footballing giants Portugal for a place in the semi final of the FIFA World Cup.
Morrocco’s defeat of Spain in Tuesday’s tense penalty shoot out saw them advance into the quarter finals of the tournament for the first time in their history. In fact, no other Arab nation has ever reached this stage in a World Cup tournament. Wild celebrations reverberated across Morocco and across the Muslim world, delighting in the Moroccan victory. Even in the disputed region of the Western Sahara, where pockets of resistance exist to Moroccan rule, television cameras showed thousands gathered to express solidarity with the national team.
Throughout the world celebrations hailing the Moroccan victory were witnessed in many major cities. In London, hundreds of Moroccan and Arab supporters draped in the Moroccan flag took over Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus. Edgware Road, one of the main arteries of the city, was effectively shut off by jubilant fans. This prominent Arab enclave of London with its Arabic shisha cafes and restaurants was buzzing as fans let off colourful flares and partied into the night.
One of the most poignant images to emerge from an otherwise controversial World Cup tournament was the Palestinian flag, raised by the Moroccan players during their various victory celebrations. As the most successful Muslim nation left remaining in the tournament, it has been refreshing to see how the African nation’s success has blossomed into a wider beacon for Muslim unity and shone a light on the plight of the Palestinian people. Indeed, as the tournament progressed, the Moroccan and Palestinian flags can be seen to have become intertwined. In occupied Palestine, the Moroccan victory was celebrated like a home victory by the gallant and resilient population who rarely find occasion to express much happiness. Certainly, much of the Muslim world can be seen to be living vicariously through the Moroccan football team.
The tournament also served to highlight the good conduct of many of the Muslim supporters, players and national teams. Many of the beauties of the Islamic way of life were showcased in Qatar. The prostration of the Moroccan team on the pitch followed by the vocal recitation of the opening chapter of the Quran, Surah Fatiha, was a heartfelt gesture of gratitude to Allah. One of the most touching images of the whole tournament was the sight of Moroccan player Achraf Hakimi rushing to celebrate his goal by embracing his mother in the stands. Hakimi was born in Madrid to Moroccan parents and has spoken of the sacrifices his parents made for him as a child. Hakimi‘s father worked as a street vendor and his mother cleaned houses so he could play football. In 2018 Hakimi highlighted his family’s sacrifices, saying he comes ‘from a modest family that struggled to earn a living. Today I fight for them. They sacrificed themselves for me. They deprived my brothers of many things for me to succeed’.
In stark contrast to many footballing tournaments, this World Cup has been free of violence. This can be attributed to the restrictions on alcohol consumption immediately before and after matches. When the ban on alcohol was announced there were objections by sections of the western media. The ban was implemented following concerns that excessive, public consumption of alcoholic drinks could cause disturbances and disruption for the local population. The wisdom of this decision can be seen during the match between England and Wales. The match between the two British nations was held in a friendly atmosphere at the Ahmed bin Ali stadium in Doha. However, due to the alcohol restrictions, thousands of England and Wales supporters flocked to watch the game in Tenerife where violence and vandalism broke out between both sets of drunk supporters before and after the game. This dichotomy in fan behaviour highlights the sensibility of the alcohol restrictions. The alcohol ban has been hailed as the reason this World Cup has been free of violence. Female fans have benefited greatly from the alcohol restrictions, and many have commented how safe they feel and have been unmolested by rowdy fans. England fan Emma Smith commented on how ‘…because there’s no alcohol involved, it feels really safe’.
One of the more comical aspects of this world cup has been the way in which Israeli sports reporters Raz Shechnik and Oz Mualiem have been shunned by many football fans throughout the tournament. Israel was most likely seeking to capitalise on the recent ‘normalisation’ of diplomatic ties to various Arab governments. The environment of the World Cup provided the Israelis with a means to test if diplomatic and political normalisation would be reflected in popular acceptance. They were certainly in for the rudest of awakenings as countless clips appeared on social media platforms of the Israeli reporters being heckled and jostled whilst broadcasting live. Each broadcast would inevitably be interrupted by fans waving the Palestinian flag and chanting pro-Palestinian slogans at the hapless Israelis. They wrote of how ‘…Wherever we report, we were followed at all times by Palestinians, Iranians, Qataris, Moroccans, Jordanians, Syrians, Egyptians and Lebanese…all giving us looks of hate’. Also, numerous clips surfaced of them attempting to get fan interviews yet being shunned by non-Arab football fans who were sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. This hostile reception eventually forced the pair to masquerade as Ecuadorian journalists for a while, highlighting just how despised the Zionist entity has become throughout the world. The journalists ultimately gave up and returned to Israel, writing in an article of how ‘Despite believing, as open-minded liberals we are, that the conflict with the Arab world is between governments and not the people, Qatar has taught us that hate exists first and foremost in the minds of the man on the street. They would truly like to see us wiped off the face of the earth and any notion of Israel evokes their complete disgust’. Don’t let the Palestinian flag hit you on the way out.
The legitmate disdain towards Israel expressed by many of the Muslim supporters attending the world cup will certainly have been noticed by the Arab nations who have adopted the policy of political normalisation, against the wishes of the vast majority of their populations for whom the Palestinian cause is of paramount importance.
Ultimately, even if Morocco fail to progress further in the World Cup this tournament, it would be wrong to consider this World Cup as anything but a success for the global Muslim community. We have seen how a single sporting event has highlighted the very best that Muslim culture has to offer and served to temporarily united an otherwise divided ummah. The world at large has been able to observe just some of the countless beauties of our faith such as religious observance, unity, respect, tolerance, hospitality, gratitude, discipline and abstinence. Also, the solidarity with the Palestinian people was shown to be central in the hearts of all Muslims, which will be a wakeup call for Muslim leaders seeking to appease the West. No doubt the international support from all quarters of the world will bolster the resilience of the persecuted population of Palestine who have found themselves increasingly isolated due to the impotence of the global Muslim leadership.