Images on Soccer Balls Offend Muslim Sensibilities

Patrick Goodenough, Cybercast News Service (CNS), November 12, 2008

Images from a Saudi flag on a soccer ball are drawing complaints from Muslims in South Africa, host of the 2010 World Cup.

An Islamic clerics’ group in South Africa is protesting the appearance of Koranic text in advertising and promotional merchandise for the soccer World Cup, which the country is hosting in 2010.

At issue are soccer balls featuring images of flags of the world, including those of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq. All three flags include words from the Koran.

The Council of Muslim Theologians, based in Johannesburg, said in a statement that the use of text which Muslims consider sacred “has the potential of offending adherents of the Islamic faith.”

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Although Muslims comprise less than two percent of South Africa’s population, the community is an influential one, with activists frequently protesting against Israeli and American policies.

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The offending balls on that occasion included a Saudi flag, which features a sword and the Arabic script for the “shahada”—the Koranic declaration of faith that states, “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger.” Because of Islamic sensitivities, the Saudi flag is never flown at half-staff.

The Iranian flag features stylized text repeating the phrase Allahu Akbar (Allah is greater); Iraq’s national flag also includes the phrase, in the middle of the central white stripe.

Allah everywhere

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In 2005, Burger King restaurants in Britain withdrew an ice cream product after Muslim customers said a label design—a stylized swirl of soft serve—looked like the Arabic script for “Allah,” when viewed sideways. The Muslim Council of Britain commended the company for “sensitive and prompt action.”

Pamphlets have circulated in Muslim countries alleging that the famous swirly-scripted Coca Cola symbol, if viewed in a mirror, resembles the Arabic words, “No Mohammed, no Mecca.”

In a “myths and rumors” section on its Web site, the Coca Cola Co. dismisses the charge, noting that “the trademark was created in 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia, at a time and place where there was little knowledge of Arabic.”

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Two years earlier, the owner of Walls ice cream, Unilever, was forced to scrap a new logo for use in the Middle East after Muslims in Gulf states said the symbol—a pair of intertwining red and yellow hearts—looked like the word “Allah” in Arabic, when viewed upside down and backwards.

In 1997, Nike pulled more than 38,000 pairs of basketball shoes after the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the logo—the word “air” in flame-like lettering—looked like “Allah” in Arabic, again, when viewed from a certain angle.

Nike also launched a program of “sensitivity training on Islam” and donated a children’s playground to an Islamic center in Falls Church, Va. In return, CAIR pledged to urge Islamic organizations and governments worldwide to cancel any planned boycotts of Nike.

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