KARACHI: While Islamophobia is increasing in the world, six Christian members of visiting Central African Republic boxing team decided to convert to Islam after being highly-impressed by the Pakistani, Muslim culture and local hospitality on last Monday.
The Central African Republic team coach, Mohamed Kalambaye said the six boxers had decided to convert to Islam after being impressed by the spirit of Islamic culture and friendly attitude of the locals.
‘All the six boxers are Christians and they had no intention of converting to Islam at all before coming to Pakistan. It is basically the unity and brotherhood in Islam which impressed them. But the most important thing is that there is no discrimination in Islam. Once you say Assalam u Alaikum, then you are accepted as a brother no matter what is the colour of your skin, or what is your cast or creed. And that’s what which impressed them a lot,’ said Kalambaye in an exclusive interview with Dawn.com on Monday.
Among the group of six who have chosen to convert to Islam are, Gbodo Ygor, Selebangue Bienvenu, Vomitiande Huges, Grassa Thibault, Niambongui Davy and Ngocko Martial. They will covert to Islam at a ceremony to be held on Tuesday at local hotel at 2.00pm. The boxers are in the city to participate in ongoing Benazir Bhutto international tournament.
Kalambaye, who is a Muslim, said the six pugilists did not decide to covert to Islam owing to any pressure or because of his instigation. Instead they have chosen to covert to the religion of peace on their own will.
‘There is no pressure on them at all. They know what they are doing. When we reached here, they saw how I was received and welcomed wherever I went and whoever I met by the local Muslims. Nobody cared about my black skin. I was greeted with warm hearts by the organisers or anybody who met me because of my faith.
‘They (the boxers) saw that even being Christians they were received with same respect. They were garlanded when they reached the Karachi airport. That’s why they want to join that religion which teaches such affection for human kind,’ said Kalambaye while speaking on behalf of the boxers who speak only their native language.
The coach said the apprehensions and negative images in the minds of the boxers about Pakistan and its society vanished when they reached and saw the hospitality and felt the warmth.
‘I think the West and its media should stop portraying all the Muslims in a negative manner. I agree if some people who called themselves Muslims are killing innocent people in the name of Islam, then it is certainly wrong. Word Islam actually means ‘peace’ and that is exactly what our religion teaches us.
‘I am a Muslim and have read the holy Quran. I know that these boys have made the right decision and it proves that Islam is a religion of peace. In fact every religion teaches peace. I don’t think these boxers will regret conversion to Islam although all the Muslims are being blamed for the terrorism and all these senseless killings,’ said the humble and soft-spoken coach.
The coach said in fact only Bienvenu had conversion in his mind since his visit to Lebanon in October 2009, adding that conversion to Islam by Central African boxers was not the first incident. The Central African boxers, he said, had converted to Islam while visiting Algeria and other Muslim countries in the past.
Kalambaye believed that although there might not be a negative reaction in the country on the boxers’ conversion, they might be rejected by their families.
‘In Central Africa everybody is free to choose his or her religion, but I fear that the boxers might be rejected by their own families. One of these boxers is a student, and another one has a small shop, while four of them have no jobs. I don’t know how they will survive if they are rejected by their families. But they are not small children, I guess they will manage somehow,’ he felt.
Kalambaye said conversion to Islam in Central Africa was not a new phenomenon and there were no less than 20 mosques in the capital city of Bangui.
‘And they are not small mosques. These are the mosques where one can offer Friday prayers also. Islam was not spreading in Central Africa in the past. But things are different now. Many people are converting to Islam.’
The coach had in fact told that six of his boxers wanted to convert to Islam first to head constable Mohammad Iqbal from Special Branch of police who has been deputed for the security of the foreign teams.
‘In fact he (Kalambaye) used to offer prayers along with us (police personnel) at the venue. Then recently he told me that six of his boxers wanted to convert to Islam. I then told this to the organisers,’ said the policeman.
Younus Pathan, who was deputed to receive the Central Africans at the airport, said the visitors were garlanded after he asked some of the pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia to provide their garlands to welcome the guests.
‘As we were short of some garlands, I asked some of the pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia to give their garlands so that we can welcome the guests. Maybe it was the blessings of those garlands of pilgrims, who were my relatives returning from holy places, after which the boxers chose to convert to Islam.’