As the greatest sporting event of the modern world is underway, Muslims
should be considering the Islamic standpoint on this event. Let us start
with the background to the Olympic Games.
The Ancient Olympics
The Olympic Games, which began more than 2700 years ago, was stooped in
idolatry and paganism. It was first held in Olympia, Greece, which was a
sanctuary where thousands of statues, temples, tombs and altars of the
Greek gods were kept. The greatest shrine of them all was an ivory and
gold statue of Zeus. The ancient Olympic Games were part of a religious
festival to worship Zeus and other Greek gods. People believed that such
competitions pleased the spirits of the dead.
Of the five day event, the first day of the Games was devoted to
sacrifices to the pagan gods. On the fourth day, 100 oxen were
sacrificed as an offering to Zeus. On the final day prizes were awarded
and thanksgiving sacrifices offered to the gods. Athletes taking part in
all the competitions had to be completely naked. In 393 C.E. Emperor
Theodosius I, a Christian, banned the games as he regarded them as pagan
The Modern Olympics
The Olympic Games were revived in the late 18th century, and retained a
number of characteristics of the ancient Games. The Olympic Flame
symbolises the sacred flame burned at the altar of Zeus. Greece, as the
country of origin of the Games, is honoured in both the opening and
Some of the terminologies of the ancient games have been retained. The
word 'athlete' originates from 'Aethlius', who, according to Greek
mythology, was the son of Zeus. The words 'gymnasium' and 'gymnastics'
both come from the root word gymnos (meaning naked). A gymnasium in
ancient Greece meant a place where the young men exercised naked.
The Magnitude of the Games could be gauged from the following facts. The
opening Ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics had an audience of 3.5
billion people. In that year, 10 500 athletes from 197 countries took
part. The 85 000-seater Atlanta Centennial Olympic Stadium was worth
$168 million. The Atlanta Centennial Olympic Park was worth $50 million.
$47 million was spent on housing in the Olympic Village which could
accommodate 15 000 Olympic participants. It is said the cost of a ticket
for the Opening Ceremony for a good seat was $636. Over 11 million
tickets were on sale.
Specific Harms in Modern Times
The Olympic Games have often been used as a means of broadcasting
political views and to exert political pressure through boycotts. It has
also become the height of commercialism, with some $600 million being
spent bytelevision companies and another $300 million by multinationals
just to secure broadcasting and advertising rights. It is the epitome of
extravagance and wastage. By way of example, at the Opening Ceremony of
the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a crowd of 83 000 watched almost 5 hours of
frivolous dancing, singing and parading which included a cast of 5500,
300 members of a marching band, 500 cheerleaders, over 300 dancers,
riverboats and 30 pickup trucks. Due to the symbolic continuity between
the ancient and modern Games, we can reason that today's Olympic Games
are by nature and origin also immoral and irreligious.
Muslims should pause to reflect on offering support to these games, even
in a tacit manner. Every moment spent in front of the screens, or
eagerly awaiting news over the radio or in the papers is indirect
support and approval of this colossal show of wanton indulgence. Will we
allow these diversions to lull us into a state of indifference to the
realities of life? Have we so quickly forgotten the plight of the
downtrodden and oppressed brothers and sisters, persecuted by the people
who are behind some of these fantasies?
While the original Zeus may not be with us, nevertheless the idols have
reappeared in a new guise. If when the Azaan is called, Muslims are too
busy with the Games to respond on time, then is a sense, they have made
the Games an idol. Idols in a Muslim home? Allah forbid! May Allah
Ta’ala save us from all forms of Shirk, even in a subtle or indirect
If the time and resources squandered on this display of arrogance and
extravagance were spent on the needy of the world, major crises could be
solved overnight. The Darfur crisis could be dealt with within days, and
the flood victims of South Asia would have shelter and food for many
weeks. Yet sadly, these Games have become a kind of opium of the masses,
making people mindless and uncaring.
Even if we are weak in offering much by way of Nafl (optional) ibadat,
let us not be party to evil and vice. The challenge of this day and age
is abstention from sin. This is the advice of all the pious
personalities. If we do not wish to apply Itr (perfume), let us at least
not smear ourselves with filth. These are trying times for the Ummah.
Who does not know this? Let us focus on the important issues that face
us and our progenies.
The Hadith mentions: " A person will be (resurrected) with those whom he
loves." (Bukhari and Muslim). Would we like to be raised among the
worshippers of Zeus on the Day of Qiyamah?
Article taken (with Thanks) from Jami'yatul Ulama Canada
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