Saudi imam defends Friday sermon mentioning football team’s World Cup qualification
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The imam of a mosque in central Saudi Arabia has rejected criticism of his Friday sermon, saying that the qualification of the football national team for the World Cup finals in Russia next year was a blessing from God and deserved such praise.

During his sermon on Friday in Al Qasim, Mohammad Al Harbi highlighted some of the blessings showered on Saudi Arabia and included the long-awaited qualification last week of the Saudi national team, Gulf News reported.

However, some worshippers later objected and insisted that prayers and sermons should be purely of religious nature and should not mention sports or athletic achievements even if they were by the national team.

“To me this is an achievement for Saudi Arabia and we should be thankful to God for the blessing,” Al Harbi said. “My sermon was about God’s blessings and I cited the qualification as one of them. I did not devote the sermon to football or to the national team. However, I mentioned several blessings, such as the tremendous success of the Haj season and I included the football achievement, the imam said, quoted by Saudi news site Ain Al Youm on Sunday.

The imam added that some people obviously chose clip the sermon in order to focus on the football part and ignore everything else he said as he addressed worshippers during the Friday prayers.

“These people want to cause problems within society through non-existent issues and this is highly deplorable. The department of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in Al Qasim has asked me to provide them with a copy of my sermon,” Al Harbi said.

“This is not the first time that I find myself in such a situation. Four years ago, I was called by the department after some people complained about a sermon I gave about the National Day. The department lauded the sermon.”

Saudi Arabia became the first Arab country to qualify for the World Cup finals after it beat  Japan one nil in a thriller in the Red Sea city of Jeddah attended by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

Football is the main sport in the kingdom.

However, social media users were divided over the issue.

Several commented that the imam should not have talked about football in a mosque.

“A mosque is a place of worship that should be respected in every way,” a commenter said. “It is used to worship God and imams should focus on religious matters, not on worldly things such as football. We all love the national team, but a mosque is not the right place to praise the players or to laud their performance.”

However, others said that his sermon proved he was genuinely connected to the events happening within the society.

“The nation was focused on the qualification and people, including senior officials, expressed their interest in the match. The imam reflected the general mood in the society and he deserves to be thanked for avoiding theoretical and abstract talk and citing instead events that were happening around everyone,” Abdullah posted.

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