Recently I wrote a post on the relationship between watching series and existential crises. Watching series is a phenomenon, it is a social force that could be harnessed for progress or to impede progress; regardless of which direction, it is a social force that must not be ignored. The previous post argued that this social force suppresses a needed existential crises which is one way to achieve consciousness revolution. Thus watching series is a key suppressant of a country’s promising Consciousness Revolution. We also found that it could be used to enrich a revolutionized consciousness.
It was suggested that I make an attempt at peoples occupation with football championship. I thought I should try…
Seeing that watching series is so pervasive, perhaps the only other entertainment phenomenon that can compete with it is watching football (soccer) championship. This may not be the case with regards to hours spent per day, but it is certainly the case when it comes to how deep it penetrates and affects psyche of the audience. Therein lies the first observation about the negative effects of these social forces; Watching series is mostly passive (suppressant) in its effect while watching football is more active in its effect. This statement shall be clarified in what follows.
First let us recall the definition of Existential Crises, but this time a richer definition of Fitrah follows
“Definition: For the sake of this post we shall describe Existential Crises as that moment in a person’s life where they seek answers to the foundations of their existence. This is the moment where people’s response makes them become Born-Again, or “Ustaz”. Managing Existential Crises properly is important because it could lead to fanaticism. From Muslim view of the natural state of man (Fitrah), Existential Crises is bound to happen when the soul yearns to find meaning, which is the souls way of seeking God. However, many other things have been used to quench this yearning.”
Since Muslims believe that God breathed his Spirit into man [Q32:9], man’s quest to find God can be seen as the human soul’s way of reuniting with its source, or returning home. Hence the soul’s yearning may be animated by nostalgia which flows unregistered to our minds because it is buried deep below human consciousness. This mission-driven attribute of the soul can be seen as the Fitrah; the inclination of the soul towards God.
Most monotheistic religions would agree that God cannot be comprehended my the human mind. Different religions have devised ways to comprehend God in bits that human mind can make sense of, usually by a reductionist approach; which is to try understanding aspects/attributes of God. The reductionist approach only approximates God because the sum of the discernible aspects of God is not equal the whole of God (not your conventional arithmetic). The axiom is that God is not separate from His attributes. Some Christian theologians formulated the concept of Trinity. On the other hand, Muslim theologians understand God through God’s divine attributes e.g. The Most Merciful, The Noble, The Sustainer etc. It is my contention that the soul, being bound to humans, also understands God by attributes or representation. That is to say if the soul were a computer, it would have come with a memory containing all/some of God’s attributes, and a program (which is Fitrah) on how to identify those attributes from any object. For instance, Fitrah would be seeking the Most Merciful (or any of the God’s attributes simultaneously), then if it finds an “object” in the world that has that attribute, it tries to identify all the other (or as many) attributes of God. If it succeeds in the comparison, it continues with next attribute until it reaches a point where it says Aha! this Object must be God!
We shall continue with the Muslim understanding of God. For every attribute identified, Fitrah becomes fulfilled and the soul feels that much closer to God; its source. At this point, it should be noted that among the known attributes of God (many are not known), only a few have been argued to be uniquely God’s. One such is The Most Merciful (Ar-Rahmaan), whereas another attribute like The Dispenser of Mercy (Ar-Raheem) may be attributed to other than God; it is difficult to show this in English since I chose to use the superlative “Most” but the point is one is unique to God.
Another thing to note is that Fitrah is susceptible to fault, or put another way, open to corruption; just like computer programs can be corrupted by virus. This is no news to those familiar with sciences of psychology, which is similar to a biological system that becomes faulty: e.g. a person’s immune system start attacking the body instead of protecting it; or when absorbed nutrients are fed to cancer cells which grow to harm the individual. Nonetheless, once upon a time, a baby’s biological systems were pristine even if a “disabled” baby. Then overtime, physical intake (of substances) or physical interactions with the physical body lead to biological systems becoming faulty. The human psychological system may become faulty from experiences a person is exposed to. Nature, Nurture eh? A person’s soul is tied to their psychological state, and thus to their Fitrah.
I am aware that up until this point, its been talk about theology, biology, and psychology, nothing on football yet. There are two reasons: the first is that football championship as an entertainment phenomenon is that complex under the hood; the second reason is I don’t watch football even when I used to play it so I wouldn’t have much to say. However I am surrounded by people who are fixated on football championships.
Before getting into football, I beg your pardon for another brief detour; it is about transcendence. What is transcendence? We come across transcendence commonly through the virtue of selflessness; or perhaps we know what it is not, through selfishness. If I got a naira for every time a Nigerian uses the compound word “selfish interest” to describe the state of the country, I would be a billionaire! Selflessness is the opposite of selfishness. If you have ever had the chance to be genuinely selfless (e.g. help someone without expecting a thank you), there is a heartwarming feeling that accompanies the act. That is a taste of transcendence! The person has gone beyond themselves through an act. To explore transcendence more deeply, one needs to refer to the mystics of many religions. My favorite are Islam’s Sufis.
For the sake of this post: Sufis are Muslims mystics that take this quest of Fitrah (for the soul to meet its Source, God) as the ultimate goal of life. Therefore they have devised systems of training in which the Fitrah’s goal is sought in all of one’s actions and interactions. The feeling of transcendence is one way Sufis measure if they are making progress; longer duration in the state of transcendence is a good sign. There are two ways (for the sake of this post) to reach transcendence: through private meditation/action; and through communal interactions. Unfortunately stereotype of Sufis seem to focus on the former; we shall focus on the latter. The neglect of communal interactions is in spite of the fact that the middle-ages has been filled with Sufi brotherhoods that span many countries offering communal services like hostel for travelers, while some where secret societies. Community life offers many opportunities to improve transcendence not only in inter-personal interactions but also in the idea of having a common cause that unites all, which is a selfless endeavour. This common cause is bigger than the sum of the causes of individuals that make the community; it is that feeling of brotherhood and fraternity based on spiritual links not blood ties. Blood may be thicker that water but it is not as sublime as the spirit.
My theory now all fits together. I wonder if there is any reason to explain further. By way of example, let us take a typical fan of Chelsea FC (It’s popular and easy to spell). But we are not really concerned with the fan, we are more interested in the fan’s Fitrah. The Fitrah, which determines the “actions” of the soul, is busy searching for God using all permutations of God’s attributes on “objects” it encounters. When it encounters ordinary folks like you and I, it dismisses them easily because “ordinary” doesn’t stand out. When it encounters celebrities/superstars who are exceptional, then it finds a “match” (more similarity) for God’s attribute **The Great**. This Fitrah is infected with a “virus”. Alas you see, the media is not the most responsible for our exaggeration/goddifaction of celebrities, its the Fitrah man!
When we have celebrity preference and put them for rivalry, it is Fitrah’s way of trying to be monotheistic by not assigning the same importance to many god-heads. However, Fitrah also sees institutions (like Sufi brotherhoods) as objects to be compared for God’s attributes. So Fitrah of our Chelsea fan compares UEFA Champions League for God’s attribute **The Magnificient**. It would likely find similarities. In addition there is the transcendence feeling that comes with the global brotherhood/fraternity of football; that infectious football fever. Anywhere two football fans meet, football fever affords them a common language to start conversation. In the trinity of Celebrity, Institution, and Fraternity, the Fitrah of the Chelsea fan has found what it believes are aspects of God.
Football Championship phenomenon has constructed its subtle and frail theology where prophets are star players, devils are opposing players, the community/ummah/church is the football team, spiritual reward is transcendence in football fever, and team symbols/logos are the crosses/crescents. Watching Football is church-service/mosque-prayers in this religion. Following the dramas and controversies that abound football players and teams is reminiscent of the scandals of the Greek gods that their worshipers were attentive to. Debates on football look no different from theological debates between opposing sects of a religion; interestingly, football as in religious debates, some “sects” are allies not because they agree but because they have a common opposition. Another worthy point of similarity is people’s use of reason in both Football and Religion; it is used to justify choices rather than for insight and contemplation on choices. The question is who are the priests of this football religion? You guessed right, it is Corporations with one overriding goal which is to make the most profit, with little or no ethical considerations.
On reflection, this Football religion makes me wonder if people’s practice of actual religions (especially the dramas, controversies and inflexible debates) are not simply other ways to arrive at the same goal as the faithful of the Football religion. Any wonder why hooligans and religious fanatics are so similar? Could we ever know the difference between the two? I argue we can! First, religion has an ethical framework which should ideally regulate those noisy controversies and debates. Secondly, religion (Islam) clarifies the hierarchy of beings/objects in existence as the most fundamental article of belief; this hierarchy is encoded in Tawhid (which is the Unity of God and Ontological heirarchy) where God alone is at the apex. It is so important some Muslim theologians even claim that belief in supremacy of God is sufficient for faith. Tawhid is what consciously makes every other god-figure be perceived as nothing other than what they are because the Fitrah would have assigned to God those common God’s-attributes that are mistakenly assigned to god-figures. In other words, Fitrah would have been free from virus. There are other points of difference between Religion and Football, however this is about (the religion of) Football.
With regards to existential crisis, following football championship prevents existential crises by creating the illusion of answers to questions that would be raised during an existential crises.
Can you see how this can explain our celebrity madness/worship (even “religious” celebrities), the concept of patriotism, fanaticism (religious and otherwise)…? If you don’t see the connection, I might have to rewrite the whole of this post using a different model other than of Fitrah.
I understand some extreme groups (e.g. Al Shabaab) have taken it upon themselves to forbid watching of football championships on account that it prevents Muslims from carrying out their obligatory duties like the five daily prayers on time. Well that is quite… umm extreme. This post is not to say that watching football is equivalent to polytheism but it is a godly distraction. It just needs to be put in its place.
As a final note, you might have noticed there was no mention of actually playing football, instead it was the watching/following of football that was focused on. My reason is that I believe the two are quite different, the only thing they have in common is football. Playing football requires dedication whereas watching/following football requires devotion! Like I said, I am not a football person, I’m a basketball person, which I play 2-3 times a week. I learnt that watching/following a sport is not the same as playing that sport because I really like playing basketball but have never been able to watch/follow it (except finals for some reason). Many of my fellow basketballers have judged me almost hypocritical because how could I get all dressed up for basketball and frequent the court (basketball’s mosque) yet I lack devotion to the prophets of basketball. Subahanallah! That is very close to the description of a hypocrite (Munaafiq) in the Qur’an… Am I a Basketball Munaafiq?! LOL