Inzamam-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, has strongly denied accusations that he was putting
players in the team under pressure to pray and that the selection process
was linked to religion in any way as the debate over the role
of Islam in the Pakistan team gathers steam.
Talking to BBC's Urdu Service, Inzamam said, "I have never forced anyone
to offer prayers in the team or to keep a beard. There are only three
players in the team who went to England who have a beard: Shahid Afridi,
Mohammad Yousuf and myself. I've never linked team selection to offering
prayers and reports suggesting otherwise are all wrong."
And in what appears to be a thinly-veiled response to new PCB chairman Dr
Nasim Ashraf's recent comments to a TV channel, where he asked the team to
find "a balance" between Islam and cricket and to avoid overtly public
displays of religiosity, Inzamam said, "All those talking about our
religious activities have never offered prayers and nor do they have any
link to Islam."
Last week Ashraf had told CNBC Pakistan that, "There is no doubt their religious
faith is a motivating factor in the team. It binds them together. But
there should be balance between religion and cricket."
The chairman held a meeting with Inzamam to discuss the issue, in which he
was clearly told, according to Ashraf, "that there should be no pressure
on players who don't pray regularly or any compulsion on them to do it. He
has assured me there is no pressure on anyone to do anything they don't
want to do." A board source asserted the meeting's tone was harsher.
Ashraf's comments also attracted the ire of the MMA (Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal), a political
conglomerate of religious parties who sit in government in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan. In a statement, religious leaders strongly condemned the chairman's remarks as damaging to the cricket team and the country's ideology.
Disquiet has been expressed privately by board officials since the end of
the tour to England over the growing role of religion within the team. One
official said recently, "Inzamam is not leading a team, he is leading a
tableegh (missionaries)." And Cricinfo has learnt from sources
close to the team that during the England tour players were often up
late at night to offer tahajjud (special prayers) and waking up
early in the morning to offer prayers before going back to sleep, thus
possibly hampering preparations for matches.
But of more concern, as evident in the chairman's comments, is that undue
pressure is being put on younger players to offer prayers and adhere
diligently to an Islamic code, failing which their place in the team may
be affected. Though not explicit, players who didn't attend prayers would
be asked later why they didn't, thus leading some to make sure they
Religion within the team has been a talking point since last year and in
particular since the conversion of Mohammad Yousuf to Islam.
It has been widely attributed by many, including coach Bob Woolmer, as bringing a
traditionally fractious team closer together and enhancing performances on
the field, a point borne out by Pakistan's success over the last year.