As Muslims, we should support Khabib Nurmagomedov

Khabib Nurmagomedov prostrating after a UFC victory.

Blogger Hasnet Lais explains why Muslims should be supporting UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov in tonight’s much anticipated championship fight against MMA superstar Conor McGregor.  

Ahead of tonight’s eagerly anticipated grudge match between undefeated UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor, a conflict with an equally fiery passion has been raging on the Muslim blogosphere. On the one hand, you have those claiming that combat sports is haram, thus making both Khabib and his followers sinful. On the other, you have those who support Khabib due to his humble personality and often due to a feeling of solidarity aroused by faith.

From the outset, I want to declare that prize-fighting is not permissible in Islam. Unlike some diehard Muslim followers of combat sports, I will not be arguing against a clear injunction prohibiting a Muslim from striking the face of another under most conceivable circumstances besides self-defence. While there is nothing wrong per se about mixed martial arts for training purposes and health and fitness, there is no dispute amongst the scholars in regards to inflicting physical injury on someone’s face. Therefore, I will not be wading into the jurisprudential arguments for and against this topic as this is a discussion which has already been exhausted. With that being said, I think many of those who are quick to condemn Khabib’s Muslim fanbase for ignoring the Islamic ruling on striking the face have failed to appreciate the underlying reasons behind the Dagestani fighter’s popularity.

Press conference 

For me, the particulars of this bout warrant an exception. Not an exception to the prohibition but an exception in so far as lending support to Khabib has become a moral imperative from a faith based perspective, especially when reflecting on his devotion to the Islamic creed compared to the sacrilegious persona of his counterpart. As gifted an athlete Conor McGregor may be, under no circumstance can a Muslim root for him tomorrow night, in light of his religion-baiting antics on social media and his tasteless, intemperate demeanour throughout the press conferences and interviews building up to the fight.

After offering Khabib his very own brand of whiskey and calling him a backwards c**t for refusing his request, McGregor spared nothing in his attempt to faze the Russian, continuing his Islamophobic tirade by mocking the Islamic salutation of As-salāmu ʿalaykum and making contemptuous statements in reference to the martyrs of Dagestan. Any doubts about Conor’s anti-Muslim sentiment were put to rest a week later when he posted a Twitter picture of him drinking a bottle of water during a training session with the message: chilling in jahanam. Whether this was an orchestrated ploy to make this box office bout even greater billing is beside the point. Being the provocation artist that he is, McGregor’s pre-fight bluster-be it in jest or otherwise-was undeniably a swipe at what Khabib and his camp hold dearest to their hearts-Islam.

Like the millions of Muslim fight fans around the world, I’m drawn to brother Khabib for his sheer humility born of faith. Reading the message boards and comments on social media reveals just how endearing he has become, capturing the hearts and minds of those instantly warmed by the affectionate charm and stoic resolve which typifies much of the warrior-clans nurtured along the mountainous regions of the Caucasus.

In an industry replete with vices whose current face is a fighter drowning in the hubris of his success and fortune (and presumably his blended Irish whiskey), Khabib has refused to capitulate to these hedonistic norms and is very conscious of the pitfalls of fame and the accolades which come with it which have seen celebrities go far down the plug hole, plunging their lives into high profile meltdown. Spurning the life of a party animal and spending much of his time embracing native villagers and children back home, his handling of stardom with grace and humility is truly admirable. This simplicity and self-discipline is also reflected in his entourage and explains the magnetism behind ‘The Eagle’, unlike the swaggering vanity of his adversary who seems to be off his rocker even when he’s sober, splurging the greenbacks for everyone to ogle.

The fact that he happens to wear his religion on his sleeve and use almost every public appearance to invoke Allah and praise The Almighty as the source and inspiration for his victories makes him that much more special and some would argue, a rarity worth celebrating, despite the objections we may have with his line of work.

In fact, would it be a stretch to suggest that supporting Khabib, an openly practising Muslim against a disbeliever who brazenly pokes fun at Islamic tenets is part of our Wala wal Bara (love and hate for Allah’s sake)? Even if McGregor is simply reading from a script as part of his coveted status as the UFC’s cash cow, taking the side of a Muslim, even if he is sinful-unless in a clear case of injustice and oppression-certainly has a precedent in the Islamic tradition. In the very least, there’s an argument to be had here.

This does not imply that a victory for Khabib amounts to a victory for Islam so please refrain from drawing such an inference. Unless there is a serious deficiency in one’s eman, sports and entertainment should never be put on such a pedestal and consume one’s heart to the point where fandom becomes a religious calling. But as I’ve explained, the religious undertone in this particular instance is undeniable.

Contrary to what many of Khabib’s religious detractors claim, supporting him tomorrow night is not akin to promoting the UFC brand as a permissible form of sport and entertainment. Muslims who argue that by rooting for Khabib, we become willing accomplices in the fight game’s endorsement of alcohol, gambling and nudity have drawn a red herring which not only obfuscates my point about supporting Khabib out of religious affinity, but also brings into question the entire sports spectrum if the same logic were applied. Where were the naysayers when the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr and Usain Bolt signed gambling advertisement deals with pokerstars? Or when the Indian Premier League (IPL) emerged as a blue-chip investment opportunity for Bollywood’s gliterrati? Or when your football club signs a multi-million pound tie up to advertise cider brands on players’ shirts?

The double standard is even more glaring when reflecting on arguably the most volatile on field sporting rivalry where diehard Muslim cricket fans have no qualms with sporting their country colours every time Pakistan, India or Bangladesh lock horns, in a fit of flag-waving jingoism and nationalistic fervour, which often spills over into crowd violence. As for when Pakistan square up against England, you can guess who most Pakistani Muslims are rooting for. Here’s a clue. Not the non-Muslims.

Granted that none of these sports involve injuring someone in the face, virtually every mainstream sport at some corporate level is a comfortable bedfellow of casinos, online bookmakers or something categorically haram judging by purely Islamic standards. We’re very selective with our outrage and criticising Khabib is not only disproportionate but clearly wrong when reflecting on our own moral inconsistencies.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, I, like millions of Muslims around the world will be supporting Khabib purely out of our love for a brother in Islam and nothing beyond. I deem this a matter of religious conscience and loyalty obligated by faith. As my Muslim brother, I pray that Allah grants him strength to overcome his competitor and ease in difficulty, ameen.

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