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Imran Khan - Grassroots Muslim Footballer

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


"I always thought that people with beards and praying were a bit weird, that they were missing out on something."
So says Imran Khan, goalkeeper for London APSA (Asian People Sports Association), a mostly Muslim football team. "But then I realised I was the one missing out on something. At the time I joined them I was a bit of a jack-the-lad (carefree and irresponsible), out clubbing all the time."
Imran renewed his faith when he became involved in the team after "they made me realise what I had was just shallow. It was there one day and gone the next. What they had was more real, more sincere. It was from the heart."
Imran has played for APSA for four years after meeting up with an old friend, Urfat Hussain. Imran says he became a "committed Muslim" since joining the team because they have an ethos of "teaching the lads in the team the religion. This is what gives the team unity, a strong bond."
London APSA won the coveted UK-Asian Championships back in 2000, making them one of the best Asian football teams in the country. Following this they started their first full season in the Essex Saturday League.
They are on a quest to show that they are more than just a good Asian football team. They want to show that being Muslim does not make any difference when it comes to playing football.
Though it can present different obstacles and their faith means some British amateur football rituals are not an option. It's quite traditional in Britain for players to drink beer in a bar after playing a game. But the APSA player's faith prohibits it.
After a game APSA celebrate at a local kebab house, rather than a local pub. As Imran explains "culturally, as a Muslim team we don't go to pubs, though other Asian teams do."
Then there is the observance of prayer. As Imran points out "we pray five times a day. But it's not a major problem because you can pray anywhere as long as it's not in a toilet or in a graveyard." So when need be, Imran and the team simply pray at the side of the pitch.
And it's important because "it makes us tight, like a football team usually is, but I think because we all pray together it makes us even tighter."
Imran explains further differences, "during Ramadan, for instance, we can't eat or drink anything during daylight hours. The timing of Ramadan can change from year to year so it's a bit easier for the lads during the winter months because daylight hours are shorter. But in the summer it's a real disadvantage because it can really lead to exhaustion through dehydration and lack of food."
"But it's what we believe and it's one of the pillar's of Islam."
"Islam also forbids free-mixing, it's not allowed, socially. So we can't just go and sit down in a bar with a group of girls like other teams might do."
Imran finalises by saying a lot of the boys like to play their football and then go home, "So there's no trouble. Yet at the same time we're not a bunch of boring old gits."



Jon Wilkinson, March 2002

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