Moroccan players have been targeted by Western media for their support of Palestine, as well as for proudly claiming their Muslim faith.
The Royal Moroccan Football Federation has categorically rejected false accusations pinned against one of its international players during his participation in the Qatar World Cup 2022 that have been described as Islamophobic.
Zakaria Aboukhlal faced fresh hostility by a Morocco-based daily that accused him of religious extremism for showcasing his faith while on the pitch in Qatar.
The local media outlet caused havoc after publishing a controversial report titled “Aboukhlal, a ‘Salafi’ infiltrating the National Football team”.
In a response on Sunday, the football federation denied “the accuracy of the information included in the news report,” adding that Aboukhlal’s “behaviour, much like all his teammates, had been exemplary, all towards achieving honorary results.”
In addition to denouncing the report for disparaging the football player and the national team’s reputation, the federation threatened legal action to “protect members of the national football team”.
It said it “refutes all false claims that extends to their behaviour or their personal lives while they are fulfilling their national duties.”
The daily explicitly accused Aboukhalal of reaping the North African team’s popularity during its historic performance at Qatar 2022 to “attract more followers” to adopt “his religious views that were indoctrinated to him by Salafi religious scholars in Europe.”
It also claimed it was an attempt by him to “invite non-Muslims to convert to Islam.”
The article went on to pry on the player’s personal life, citing his religious background and private life practices, pointing towards his memorisation of the Holy Quran. It also showed videos of the player praying at a mosque and reciting the holy scripture.
The use of such elements as an example of extremism proved to be controversial to readers who said such practices are common for Muslims worldwide.
The article went on to brazenly charge the 22-year-old with “pushing” German media to resorting to publishing Islamophobic sentiments about the Atlas Lions, pointing to a segment on a news show that compared the Moroccan national team with the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) after three national team players raised their index fingers.
This is a common gesture for billions of Muslims around the world who praise God by professing the concept of Tawhid, or ‘Oneness’.
However, the German anchor likened the players to ISIS, claiming the gesture caused “irritation”.
The local Moroccan media claimed in the articled published on Friday that Aboukhlal’s behaviour “pushed German media to accuse the entire team of belonging to the terrorist group.”
The report also took aim at the young player for sitting besides a “veiled woman whom only her eyes appeared” during the semi-final match against France, though such a covering is worn by millions of Muslim women around the world.
Mass racism targeting Morocco
Morocco made global headlines at this year’s FIFA World Cup after becoming the first African and Arab nation to reach as far as the semi-finals at the tournament. However, the the Atlas Lions’ historic performance has been dampened by racist and Islamophobic attacks by international media.
A Danish channel came under heavy fire after the host compared Moroccan players and their mothers with monkeys on live television during the tournament.
TV 2 News showed a segment in which the anchor Soren Lippert held up an image of monkeys embracing while talking about Morocco’s national team players hugging their mothers to celebrate their wins.
Just days earlier, another Western outlet published a caricature showing Moroccans in tracksuits on a motorbike ‘stealing’ the World Cup trophy from Gianni Infantino, in what many described as a racist European stereotype of North Africans being ‘thugs’ and ‘criminals’.
The outrageous claims were made just days after Die Tageszeitung also criticised the Moroccans for their support of Palestine, calling the raising of the flag at the World Cup as “orchestrated hostility towards Israel”.