CAIRO (AP) — At the height of international world cup fervor, an ultra-conservative Egyptian cleric has said that watching soccer matches was unacceptable in Islam because it is a distraction and “destroys nations.”
Yasser Borhami, a founding member of the main Salafi movement in Egypt, the Salafi Call, said spending time watching the games was “a disaster that makes me very irate.”
He said it was a distraction from religious and worldly duties, ultimately leading to “the destruction of nations and peoples.”
His religious opinion, or edict, which was posted on the group’s website in a video Saturday, differed sharply with the conventional wisdom that global sports competitions like the World Cup serve to foster camaraderie and understanding among the nations of the world.
Stopping short of forbidding it entirely, Borhami said that there are conditions that would make it “haram,” or unacceptable in Islam: if it distracts you from your religious duties, reveals body parts that some Muslims believe should be covered, or causes Muslims to love and support unbelievers. And, he said, soccer matches usually meet all of those conditions.
His remarks sparked an outcry, at a time when Egyptians are glued to their televisions into the early morning hours because of the time difference with Brazil.
Asked by a presenter who is an ardent soccer fan on the private Egyptian channel CBC about his edict, Borhami back pedaled, but only slightly. “I just said don’t waste your time.” He said that his words had been taken out of context by those eager to attack him for political reasons.
Borhami, whose group was once a supporter of fellow Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood that rose to power in Egypt after the 2011 uprising, grew critical of it later, accusing it of dominating political power. Borhami and his group later supported the popular protests against the Brotherhood and the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
That support has cost the group much of its support among its base, particularly the younger conservative Islamists. Incidentally, his latest edict is unlikely to win back any youth support in a country where soccer is the favorite national sport.