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August 24, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10768

Brazilian Soccer Star Neymar Widely Condemned By Muslim Clerics, Social Media Users For Arriving In Saudi Arabia Wearing Cross Pendant Necklace

August 24, 2023
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 10768

On August 18, 2023, Brazilian soccer star Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, following the signing of a lucrative two-year contract with Al-Hilal Saudi Football Club. As he stepped off the plane, Neymar was greeted by club officials amid the presence of a throng of reporters, all capturing the historic moment of this globally renowned player's arrival. However, the spotlight unexpectedly shifted from his arrival to the Saudi club to the diamond-studded cross pendant necklace he was wearing. This seemingly innocuous accessory stirred a wave of reactions on social media and among Muslim clerics worldwide, who perceived it as a potentially offensive and disrespectful gesture toward the birthplace of Islam. There was also a significant subtext in the criticism, particularly by Islamists, criticizing not just the Brazilian soccer player but his Saudi sponsors.

Indeed, some critics have gone so far as to interpret Neymar's choice of jewelry as an intentional statement. Conversely, Saudi users, including prominent figures, have chosen to downplay the significance of the soccer star's necklace. They have accused the critics of attempting to undermine the considerable efforts of the Saudi government in advancing the sports sector in the country and of displaying traits of envy, intolerance, and inconsistency. This report focuses on the criticism that Neymar received on Arabic-language social media for wearing a cross necklace. It also highlights the different opinions from users with contrasting views on the issue.

Condemnations Of Neymar's Cross Necklace: 'By Wearing The Cross, This Player Is Provoking All Muslims, And No One Has Done So Before Him'

In his commentary on the incident in an August 21 video,[1] Moroccan Islamist cleric Abdellah Nhari emphasized the sanctity of the "Arabian Peninsula." He recited a hadith that states "two religions do not coexist in the Arabian Peninsula" and a verse from the Quran 9:28 that says: "Truly the Pagans are unclean; so, let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque." In the video titled "Neymar Provokes Muslim Sentiments and Enters the Holy Land with a Cross Pendant," Nhari expanded on his point, asserting that Allah has designated the Arabian Peninsula as the land of Islam and monotheism, and "trying to alter the purpose of that land from the worship of God to a land of entertainment... is a dangerous matter."

Criticizing Neymar for wearing the cross-pendant necklace, he stated: "He could have come like the other players who were presented to the public without bearing, God forbid, the trinity emblem on the land of monotheism. The emblem contradicts the Quran, as Christ was not killed or crucified, but rather God raised him to Himself."

Algerian cleric Moussa Azzouni has also condemned[2] Neymar for wearing the cross in "the land of the two holy Mosques." He regarded Neymar's act as a provocation to Muslims and urged the Algerian people to at least condemn his action in their hearts. In an August 21 video, Azzouni went on to state that Neymar should not be regarded as a role model for Algerian youth, asserting that "the mujahideen and the martyrs are our role models."

Turkey-based YouTuber Samir Al-Ahmad leveled a similar accusation[3] in an August 19 video in which he said that Neymar's action amounts to "a provocation to Islam and a provocation to the most sacred place on the face of the earth." Al-Ahmad remarked, "By wearing the cross, this player is provoking all Muslims, and no one has done so before him, including Cristiano [Ronaldo]."

The London-based writer and translator Muhannad Al-Obaydi argued[4] that Neymar's act was intentional and accused those who disagree with him of being naive. In an August 20 post on platform X, he wrote: "Neymar's action sends a message of provocation to the conservative Islamic community. He is essentially saying, 'My wealth and my ties to power are stronger than your religion, customs, and traditions.'"

Moreover, an Arabic-language account dedicated to the fans of the Spanish soccer team Real Betis on X, with over 86,000  followers, deemed Neymar's arrival with a cross necklace hanging around his neck as "a deliberate historical blunder that will continue to cast a shameful stain on the Saudi regime until the Day of Resurrection."[5]

On Facebook, users have expressed their opposition to Neymar's action, deeming it offensive and disrespectful. For example, Egyptian researcher and writer Dr. Mahmoud Salem Elgendi, who has over 9,700 followers, wrote on August 19: "The West has preached to us about the necessity of respecting the values of the society in which you will live until Neymar came to us, displaying the cross, in a land responsible for the Holy Mosques without any respect for our communities or our country. But the fault is not yours. The fault lies with those who brought you to our land without teaching you to respect the public freedoms of our societies."[6]

Yemeni Facebook user Abu Oudai Al-Hadhrami, who has almost 3,000 followers, described Neymar's arrival while wearing the cross as "catastrophic," given that Saudi Arabia is "considered the birthplace of Islam and prophethood, and the Qibla [the direction toward which a Muslim turns to pray in Islam] of Islam and Muslims."[7] Al-Hadhrami then expressed his belief that Neymar's act was intentional and recalled a past incident when a player's hair was shaved before a game because his haircut was deemed un-Islamic.

Mockery, Ridicule Of Condemnations: "They've Taken Everything From The West: Health, Education, Books, Libraries, Medicines... Yet They Are Angered By Neymar's Cross"

The condemnation of Neymar's has been met with both mockery and ridicule on social media. Notably, influential figures have stepped forward to dismiss this reaction as stemming from envy, intolerance, and inconsistency.

Yasser Al-Qahtani, the retired captain of the Saudi National Team, who addressed the criticisms directed at Neymar in an August 21 post on X to his 6.5 million followers. He stated: "The remarkable strides and advancements that the Kingdom is making in the realm of sports, which have reverberated worldwide, have prompted certain individuals to embark on a campaign of fishing for controversy and trying to sway public opinion about the Kingdom's endeavors. They do so by sharing offensive and derogatory tweets, actions that we are acutely aware are not motivated by goodwill, but rather by a desire to foster discord while camouflaging their malicious intentions behind a facade of positivity."[8]

In another post, he added: "Some of them are oblivious to what our Islamic religion commands, the religion of tolerance and peace from the time of our great Prophet and his noble companions until this day, especially concerning the People of the Covenant. But hatred and envy blind the hearts before the eyes. Your animosity will persist, and we will continue, by the grace of God, with our progress under the inspiring vision of 2030."[9]

In addition to Al-Qahtani, X user David_Syriac, who has over 15,000  followers, ridiculed on August 21 those who expressed outrage over Neymar's necklace: "They've taken everything from the West: health, education, books, libraries, medicines, vaccines, electrical devices, mobiles, the internet, satellites, household furniture, airplanes, even insulin and surgical sutures made from pigs. Yet they are angered by Neymar's cross."[10]

Egypt-based digital creator David Venasio Owich mocked those who criticized Neymar in an August 22 Facebook post: "It appears that signing the contract with Saudi's Al-Hilal involves relinquishing Christianity and the cross, and adopting the Islamic faith, as understood by some of Muhammad's followers. Religious prejudices are a calamity that has struck certain societies, and they will not liberate themselves from it unless they employ their intellect."[11]

Adnan, another Saudi X user with over 50,000  followers, commented on the ongoing campaign against Neymar's necklace in an August 22 post: "Will Muslims be prohibited from entering Western countries while wearing attire with religious connotations? Do Western countries prohibit the construction of mosques? Or does Islamic law follow the principle of 'collective obligation,' where if Saudi Arabia enacts it, the rest are absolved? Or do you believe that our faith is as fragile as yours, and that 'Neymar's cross' affects it? The truth is that you are only expressing your envy and animosity."[12]

 

[1] Youtube.com/watch?v=gNLBZ8YkN8I&t=613s, August 21, 2023.

[2] Youtube.com/watch?v=Cl6efW31wSY, August 21, 2023.

[3] Youtube.com/watch?v=lExrOsoXVDU&t=114s, August 19, 2023.

[4] Twitter.com/bydyalshykh1/status/1693345837223477391, August 20, 2023.

[5] Twitter.com/RealBetis94/status/1692630309551169543, August 18, 2023.

[6] Facebook.com/Dr.MahmoudSalemElgendi/posts/pfbid0hDPXwJqPtgYcXzzN79CYPvckrBm5iSey561BH1oKHYrPrA5YNQbNL1t1FUWwXgw6l, August 19, 2023.

[7] Facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=pfbid0Ev3xJeTBMS47wmGKjHVGRV9LbFRgnF5avqpuo6asgcBsBRwSk1w3aJYbvqtzwK3ql&id=100043504713389, August 20, 2023.

[8] Twitter.com/Y20/status/1693543325188399480, August 21, 2023.

[9] Twitter.com/Y20/status/1693544955145256977, August 21, 2023.

[10] Twitter.com/David_Syriac/status/1693502410491404647, August 21, 2023.

[11] Facebook.com/dbnasyw/posts/pfbid0Gc844eCo2pQ5ZXWB4fR7JKPv6B6s6kgQoCDJpLMdeymhihVHQQ3kFMB4ateB4Dd2l, August 22, 2023.

[12] Twitter.com/bald_adnan/status/1693919192393699752, August 22, 2023.

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