You were born in Oman, moved to Norway for three years and then moved here to England five years ago. Have you experienced any racism in your time in these different countries?
Up to now, I haven’t had any things like that. I moved to Norway and was there for three years – it was a really fantastic experience for me because the people there were lovely and very welcoming to everybody. Especially with football players, perhaps because you spend more time with the fans and become close to them.
I was so happy in Norway and am happy here in England. I have been here for five years now, I feel like I am home. I can do all my religious things, because I am Muslim and I go to the Mosque to pray and everything.
I live in Bolton and it was surprising and exciting to discover that although it is not a big town and you can find maybe 30 Mosques [there are 20]. It is very important for myself and any religious person – like Christians or Muslims or anybody – to feel something like that, it makes you feel confident and relaxed in where you live.
We find that many people hold negative views about your religion. In our workshops in schools, we do a word association activity; when we say ‘Muslim’ many young people respond with ‘Bomber’ or ‘Terrorist’. What are your feelings on these reactions and this stereotype?
I think it is really sad and should not be like that. Maybe these people have heard many times on the news and TV about the things that happen all over the world.
When you can come closer to a religion, these views can change. For example, I have a very good relationship with my next door neighbour. One day he spoke to me to say, “Ali, I want to tell you something. I had heard many things about Muslim people on the TV and in newspapers, so when you came here I was afraid. Since I have met you I have realised that there is something wrong about what we see in the media.”
That is what I meant when I said where I live makes me feel very confident, and I am very happy with what I have heard from the people around me.
In the end we are all the same, so we really must accept others and have respect for every religion. I am Muslim and I have to respect Christians, I have to respect Jews – I have to respect everybody.
Where did you actually live in Norway, and what was the presence of other Muslims and Mosques like compared to Bolton?
I played for Lyn Oslo, so lived in the capital Oslo. There are Mosques in Oslo but it is not like in England, the Muslim community is not that big as Norway is just a small country.
They have a few Mosques there where we would go to meet our friends or brothers and practice our religion.
There is a campaign in Sweden to ban minarets and this effectively means you can’t build a Mosque. What are your views on this?
I don’t think that is right because we are Muslim and there are certain things we need to carry out our prayers and we need a place to do this – we need a Mosque. When people go to other countries, they have a place for them. It is wrong to say we cannot have that, especially when we are doing nothing wrong. I do not think it is right.
In this country there is the English Defence League, whose main message is anti-Muslim – they say the Qur’an is an evil doctrine. Unfortunately they are encouraging a lot of young males to join them. What kind of a message would you have to people who may be listening to them?
I don’t think what they are doing is right. If you read the Qur’an, go inside it and concentrate, you can find your own meaning. Many people who have read the Qur’an change their mind and decide they want to be a Muslim, but some of the people do not. I believe in my religion, and I believe that everything that is written in the Qur’an is right, but some people do not believe that – it is a question of belief.
A current issue in British football is that there are very few Asian players coming through the ranks and one of the things attributed to this is the myth that you can’t be a footballer because you acknowledge Ramadan. You coped ok didn’t you?
Yes, and this view is not correct. In the Premier League now there aren't many Asian people, and just a few Muslims, but I have come here and done my Ramadan, I have done my training, played games and everything. The Gaffer and the coaches understand because this is my religion and I must practice it – they say if you are confident then do it.
I was happy and feeling good when I did my Ramadan, so I was fine to train and play games.