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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Of all the people to pick on for her agenda, I can’t believe she has chosen my son: Moeen Ali’s father

After author Taslima Nasreen tweeted that Moeen Ali would have joined the Islamic State had he not pursued cricket, the cricket world reacted with outrage. Moeen’s father Munir Ali speaks about the hurt it has caused and how his son has broken stereotypes while following his heart and faith.

Written by Munir Ali |
Updated: April 7, 2021 3:40:26 pm
Moeen’s father Munir Ali speaks about the hurt Taslima Nasreen's tweet has caused.

I am hurt and shocked to read Taslima Nasreen’s vile remark against my son Moeen. In her “clarifying” tweet, where she described her original remark as sarcasm, she also says she stands against fundamentalism. If she looks into a mirror, she will know what she tweeted is what is fundamentalist – a vicious stereotype against a Muslim person, a clearly Islamophobic statement. Someone who doesn’t have self-respect and respect for others can only stoop to this level.

Truth be told, I am really angry, but I know I would be playing into the hands of people like her if I let my rage get out of control. If I get to meet her someday, I will tell what I really think of her on her face. For now, I would ask her to pick a dictionary and see the meaning of sarcasm. It’s not what she thinks it is. It’s not spewing vile poisonous stuff against someone you don’t even know and then retracting it by saying it was sarcasm. Of all the people to pick on for her agenda, I can’t believe she has chosen my son. Everyone in the cricketing world knows the person he is. Let me reiterate for those who don’t.

Tough initiation

My father came to the UK from Mirpur in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and my mother is English. I loved the game of cricket but couldn’t pursue my dream but did all I could to help my sons become professional players. Over the years, I have come across people like Nasreen who have railed against Moeen; the only difference is they were from England.

I remember sitting at the ground at Worcester years ago when Moeen walked out to bat. A loud voice shouted, “shave off the beard!”. I had already been hearing some murmurs in the cricketing world about Moeen’s faith. “Even some coaches. They would gently tell you, “look, this is England, think about that beard”. I was worried and went to Moeen, who told me in a clear voice that this was him. That he wasn’t going to bother about the criticism. That’s his strong character.

It wasn’t easy, of course. Once on a developmental tour to India, a coach, who will go unnamed, told him to trim the beard. Moeen told him, “I will leave cricket today but will not leave my belief, and this is my belief. If I play, I will play with what I am. He didn’t play a single match there, I think, and when they asked him at the end of the tour about his learnings, he said, “nothing, just net practice, I could have done it in England.” Everyone else played but he wasn’t played, and he knew it was because of beard. I was worried about his immediate future, but he piled on the performances in county cricket and progressed. That’s the kind of strong character he is. He will shrug this off as well but that doesn’t mean anyone can take a pop at him like this. England cricket has changed for good over the years and everyone loves and respects Moeen.

Faith heals

I am not religious in the conventional sense of the word and I still remember when Moeen embraced Islam. He was 19 when a West Indian supporter Wally, who used to follow his game, taught Moeen about Islam. I saw that it helped calm down his body, and the deeper he got into religion, the calmer he got. It had a really beneficial effect on his cricket and life. I had nothing to worry about.

In 2014, in a Test against India, Moeen wore wristbands that read “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine” while batting. He did what he believed in but once he was told that it wasn’t allowed, he didn’t do it. He lets people be. Religion doesn’t come in the way of his friendships. ‘Each to their own’ as he would say. I feel really bad even to say all this as if it needed to be said. As if his character needs validation now. I am saying it because the world at large should know what kind of man Moeen is.

His journey to the top hasn’t been easy. My journey in sustaining my sons’ love for the game hasn’t been easy. There have been days when I had just 10 pounds in my pocket and had to spend 9 of it on petrol so that I can take my sons around for games. With the remaining one pound, I would buy bread for the family. My brother also threw everything into the dream. It needs sacrifices from the family to prop up dreams for the little ones.

I clearly remember the day he made his debut for England. Four wickets fell when my daughter said, ‘Dad, Moeen is coming out. I couldn’t watch. I didn’t even see the start. I was so nervous that my hands and legs were shaking. And I accidentally bumped my foot against a lady next to me. She said, “Are you nervous, Mr Ali? I too was”. I look up at her and she says, “I am Gary Ballance’s mom.” Those are the memories I want to retain; not the venom from Nasreen.

(As told to Sriram Veera)

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