The Facts: Article on the website of the Independent about Newcastle United Football Club and the Wonga.com Sponsorship, Wednesday 10 October 2012
This week, I spent a lot of time in the media responding to an Independent article headline: “Newcastle’s Muslim stars told: Don’t play in new “Wonga” tops”. It then went on to say that I, on behalf of the Muslim Council of Britain, had told Newcastle United’s Muslim players not to wear team shirts sponsored by Wonga.com.
Or to be accurate, this is how their article started: “Newcastle’s Muslim stars told: Don’t play in new ‘Wonga’ tops” and begins: “Newcastle United’s £24m shirt sponsorship deal with Wonga was engulfed in fresh controversy last night when the club’s Muslim players were warned that wearing the new shirts would infringe Sharia law.”
Who told them? Not me and not The Muslim Council of Britain. We did not contact the Independent. They contacted the MCB by sending a request through an email from Mr Martin Hardy asking for assistance on the issue of financial loans and interest in Islam. I repeat neither I nor the MCB ever contacted the Independent to raise this issue.
The MCB’s media desk then asked me if I was able to help with this request. I said yes and waited for Mr Hardy to contact me. He interviewed me over the phone and I explained to him the position of Islam in relation to interest and the promotion of things which are harmful. He told me what I was telling him confirmed what he had already learned about Islam and interest before contacting me. . He also wanted to know what the Muslim players at NUFC should do about wearing shirts with wonga.com, their new sponsor’s name. The quotes attributed to me in the article are indeed mine and are all accurate.
My remarks were not a fatwa, instructions, demands or orders to any Newcastle United player, the club or supporters. I was simply stating the teachings of Islam about interest. I was also addressing the moral implications of companies such as Wonga and others sponsoring football clubs. As a Liverpool fan, I too had issues with the Carlsberg sponsorship and therefore never bought and wore the shirt.
These issues require a national debate not just on religious grounds but on moral and ethical grounds. What kind of society do we want to live in and what values do we want to promote? Do the rich and powerful continue to thrive at the expense of poor and desperate people? Do banks continue to operate the way they have and thereby contribute to the growth of loan companies? Does alcohol continue to be so glamorously advertised and made so cheaply available especially to youngsters? Do football clubs continue to pay their players the way they are? The list is long.
When people have shown common concern for the welfare of all of society; companies, industries and sport have taken notice. Things have been changed. Gambling and alcohol advertising is no longer allowed on children’s shirts. Formula 1 no longer advertises cigarettes. This is why I believe people of conscience need to continually raise their concerns.
I say again, neither I nor the MCB have ever been in contact with NUFC’s Muslim players or the club. We do not have any jurisdiction over these players or the club. Muslims answer to God, not to me or the Muslim Council of Britain. We are not in the business of telling people what they should and should not do. They decide and choose for themselves what they want to do. That is precisely what Martin has quoted me as saying. So, why the headline and who told Newcastle’s Muslim stars not play in Wonga shirts? Ask the Independent!