By Shazad Ali
Monday, 04 Jan, 2010
Central African Republic boxing coach Mohamed Kalambaye (second from
left) along with his boxers, Gbodo Ygor, Selebangue Bienvenu,
Vomitiande Huges, Grassa Thibault, Niambongui Davy and Ngocko
Martial.–Photo by White Star
Myths and miracles
Myths and miracles
KARACHI: While Islamophobia is increasing in the West, six Christian
members of visiting Central African Republic boxing team decided to
convert to Islam after being highly-impressed by the Pakistani, Muslim
culture and local hospitality on Monday.
The Central African Republic team coach, Mohamed Kalambaye said the
six boxers had decided to convert to Islam after being impressed by
the spirit of Islamic culture and friendly attitude of the locals.
'All the six boxers are Christians and they had no intention of
converting to Islam at all before coming to Pakistan. It is basically
the unity and brotherhood in Islam which impressed them. But the most
important thing is that there is no discrimination in Islam. Once you
say Assalamo Alaykum, then you are accepted as a brother no matter
what is the colour of your skin, or what is your cast or creed. And
that's what which impressed them a lot,' said Kalambaye in an
exclusive interview with Dawn.com on Monday.
Among the group of six who have chosen to convert to Islam are, Gbodo
Ygor, Selebangue Bienvenu, Vomitiande Huges, Grassa Thibault,
Niambongui Davy and Ngocko Martial. They will covert to Islam at a
ceremony to be held on Tuesday at local hotel at 2.00pm. The boxers
are in the city to participate in ongoing Benazir Bhutto international
Kalambaye, who is a Muslim, said the six pugilists did not decide to
covert to Islam owing to any pressure or because of his instigation.
Instead they have chosen to covert to the religion of peace on their
'There is no pressure on them at all. They know what they are doing.
When we reached here, they saw how I was received and welcomed
wherever I went and whoever I met by the local Muslims. Nobody cared
about my black skin. I was greeted with warm hearts by the organisers
or anybody who met me because of my faith.
'They (the boxers) saw that even being Christians they were received
with same respect. They were garlanded when they reached the Karachi
airport. That's why they want to join that religion which teaches such
affection for human kind,' said Kalambaye while speaking on behalf of
the boxers who speak only their native language.
The coach said the apprehensions and negative images in the minds of
the boxers about Pakistan and its society vanished when they reached
and saw the hospitality and felt the warmth.
'I think the West and its media should stop portraying all the Muslims
in a negative manner. I agree if some people who called themselves
Muslims are killing innocent people in the name of Islam, then it is
certainly wrong. Word Islam actually means 'peace' and that is exactly
what our religion teaches us.
'I am a Muslim and have read the holy Quran. I know that these boys
have made the right decision and it proves that Islam is a religion of
peace. In fact every religion teaches peace. I don't think these
boxers will regret conversion to Islam although all the Muslims are
being blamed for the terrorism and all these senseless killings,' said
the humble and soft-spoken coach.
The coach said in fact only Bienvenu had conversion in his mind since
his visit to Lebanon in October 2009, adding that conversion to Islam
by Central African boxers was not the first incident. The Central
African boxers, he said, had converted to Islam while visiting Algeria
and other Muslim countries in the past.
Kalambaye believed that although there might not be a negative
reaction in the country on the boxers' conversion, they might be
rejected by their families.
'In Central Africa everybody is free to choose his or her religion,
but I fear that the boxers might be rejected by their own families.
One of these boxers is a student, and another one has a small shop,
while four of them have no jobs. I don't know how they will survive if
they are rejected by their families. But they are not small children,
I guess they will manage somehow,' he felt.
Kalambaye said conversion to Islam in Central Africa was not a new
phenomenon and there were no less than 20 mosques in the capital city
'And they are not small mosques. These are the mosques where one can
offer Friday prayers also. Islam was not spreading in Central Africa
in the past. But things are different now. Many people are converting
The coach had in fact told that six of his boxers wanted to convert to
Islam first to head constable Mohammad Iqbal from Special Branch of
police who has been deputed for the security of the foreign teams.
'In fact he (Kalambaye) used to offer prayers along with us (police
personnel) at the venue. Then recently he told me that six of his
boxers wanted to convert to Islam. I then told this to the
organisers,' said the policeman.
Younus Pathan, who was deputed to receive the Central Africans at the
airport, said the visitors were garlanded after he asked some of the
pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia to provide their garlands to
welcome the guests.
'As we were short of some garlands, I asked some of the pilgrims
returning from Saudi Arabia to give their garlands so that we can
welcome the guests. Maybe it was the blessings of those garlands of
pilgrims, who were my relatives returning from holy places, after
which the boxers chose to convert to Islam.'
Tags: shazad ali,dawn,pakistan,muslims,culture,central african