CAIRO – Offering a role model to young Muslims, Australia’s Richmond Muslim player Bachar Houli has opened a new academy for young talents who wish to pursue the player’s road to success.
“I’ve got kids from grade 5 up until Year 11 involved and the great thing about it is that the schools are buying in,” Bashar Houli told Herald Sun on Sunday, March 20.
“It’s my heart and soul. I want to see more Muslims playing the game at the highest level. It’s so important, not only in terms of football development, but leadership as well.
“These kids get to 17 or 18, they finish school or they don’t even get to Year 12 and they don’t know what to do. They’ve got nothing to fall back on, so we teach them about leadership, how to deal with certain things.”
Houli and Gold Coast’s Adam Saad are currently the only Muslim players in Australia Football League (AFL).
Both players have set a target of attracting to more Muslim players within the coming decade.
Being the first devout Muslim to play in AFL, Houli also participated in Bachar Houli Cup, a national competition for Islamic schools.
However, he has faced some challenges in his professional life as a Muslim footballer.
Houli, 27, the son of Lebanese parents, had to deal with controversy last year after 3AW broadcaster John Burns was accused of calling him a “Muslim terrorist” at a match.
“It created awareness, it created communication. It got out and people knew it wasn’t right, whether he said it or not,” Houli said.
“I think there’s a minority who still have a lot to learn and have to open their mind.”
Muslim & Player
Houli praised Australian stadiums for accommodating his daily prayer.
“There’s a little room at the MCG. It’s not just for me, it’s for the mascot, too. Well he uses my room actually. It’s all good,” the defender said.
“The club has got two places for me (to pray). The MCG has a place, Etihad has a place. Even travelling interstate … they’ve got that ready for me.
“Prayer is a connection you have with God and it’s something beautiful because it keeps me on track.”
His life offered his academy kids a lesson that you can be a devout Muslim and play AFL.
“When I first got drafted, people questioned me,” he said.
“They said you’re probably not going to be able to hold on to your faith. You’ll live a luxurious life of women, alcohol and fame. But I grew so much from that, and I said no.
“If something doesn’t fit within my religion, I won’t do it. I won’t compromise. It helps me become a better person.”
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.
In post 9/11 Australia, Muslims have been haunted with suspicion and have had their patriotism questioned.