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Keeping the faith is no obstacle for Muslim Rangers player Mohsni

HE has been a mainstay in a title-winning Rangers side this year and his late goal against Albion Rovers earlier this month kept his team firmly in the Scottish Cup.

tolerance: Bilel Mohsni says some managers think it is dangerous for players to fast, but that Ally McCoist has been supportive of his beliefs. Picture: Martin Shields
tolerance: Bilel Mohsni says some managers think it is dangerous for players to fast, but that Ally McCoist has been supportive of his beliefs. Picture: Martin Shields

But now French-born central defender Bilel Mohsni has spoken of another side to his game - his faith - in a revealing interview to mark Islam Awareness Week, which kicks off next week.

Keen to alleviate stereotypes about the religion that is such a big part of his life, Mohsni is one of a handful of sports stars taking part in the event to make connections between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Since joining Rangers the 26-year-old has received positive feedback via social media after photographs appeared of him making a Du'a, or prayer, during a match. "A couple of fans posted comments saying that it is good to see a player believe in his faith, so that was nice."

For some Muslim sportsmen, team sponsorship can create a conflict when it at odds with their beliefs. So how does Mohsni approach this, given Rangers are currently sponsored by Blackthorn?

"My intention when I wear the shirt is just to wear the Rangers shirt. I didn't know until they told me that it was a cider. Some players [object], maybe they are right. I don't know if I'm right to wear this shirt or if I'm wrong, but my intention is not to drink; it is not to sell cider. They are the sponsor of the club and that is it. So for me, I'm not going to wear a Blackthorn T-shirt and walk outside the training ground or the football stadium. It is when I am at work."

Having grown up in a community where many were drawn into drugs and gang culture, Mohsni credits his religion and his football for the life he now leads. "This is why I thank God, because he guided me to be Muslim and a footballer. They both helped me to become who I am now."

On playing and training while fasting, he says: "I'm not going to say that it's easy, and more so now because Ramadan falls in July when the days are longest. It is very, very hard. But afterwards, I feel, I believe in God and God helped me. If you have the faith, then afterwards you will be fine."

Mohsni, of Tunisian heritage, grew up in France but only turned professional when he moved to England to play for Southend in 2010.

He felt welcome from the first day at Rangers, thanks in part to Ally McCoist addressing him in French. "The team, the squad they are very lovely, friendly. There are no arrogant players. I love all the staff. Ally McCoist is a legend, Ian Durant and Kenny [McDowall] too."

While football in the west of Scotland is often associated with religious tension, Mohsni has found his new home welcoming and tolerant. Being on trial during Ramadan meant religion was discussed from the beginning.

"I was fasting so I had to tell the staff in case I had a problem. Some managers I played under, they didn't respect it.

They think, scientifically, it is very dangerous for a player, but I have to do it, so I try to explain. Ally McCoist said 'OK, it's fine, just be careful and let me know if you're tired'."

Mohsni believes former Rangers players such as Madjid Bougherra and Hamed Namouchi made it easier for him because staff had experience of the issues for Muslim players. The main day-to-day issue is the need to pray at various times.

To accommodate this, Mohsni has access to a room at Murray Park and one at Ibrox and, for away games, the head of security will help find a room.

He is also permitted to arrive late at Friday training so he can attend the Mosque.

He has previously come up against ignorance about Islam, but doesn't usually engage with it. "I just try to show them a good example. It's very hard because most of them, they think Muslim means terrorist and this is a shame. People, including footballers, can be ignorant."

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

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