Saeed Anwar: ‘It is all from Allah’

By Sameen Khan, Special to Arab News
Publication Date: 
Thu, 2003-01-16 03:00

He shocked the cricket world in 2001 when he turned up with a long, thick beard in a sport dominated by men who are clean-shaven. Security guards in Sharjah stopped him as they failed to recognize the famous cricketer from Pakistan. Saeed Anwar, the prolific run-getter who still holds One-Day International’s world record for the highest individual score (194 runs against India), is in the news more for non-cricketing activities. He delivers a sermon in a mosque in Karachi advising the young to turn to religion and not waste their time as he did in watching Indian movies. “I read more about Don Bradman than about the life of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.”

His critics have written him off, saying Saeed Anwar’s heart is not in cricket. He spends more time preaching than playing. Anwar has been named a member of Pakistan’s World Cup team. Will his selection be a liability? Or does he have one last hurrah remaining in him?

In this interview, conducted in Karachi recently, Saeed Anwar discussed his new lifestyle and cricket, quoting wherever he could from the Holy Qur’an and Hadith. What kind of person was Saeed Anwar before and what brought about the big change in his lifestyle?

“I knew what gunah-e-kabeera (great sins) were and I avoided them. I listened to music, surfed the Internet, saw a movie. I was not an outgoing person. I did not pray regularly. If I scored a couple of ducks, I would start praying. The minute I hit a century or two, I stopped. I thanked God for He had given me everything through cricket. I never thought of this world as a temporary place. I earned a lot of money. I was famous. I was playing well. I was on top of the world.”

Saeed Anwar’s ideas began to change when he analyzed life. “I felt money was the root of all evil. It divided families. People who were not rich often felt unnecessarily inferior and developed a complex. I felt a great thrill in spending money. But that thrill wouldn’t last. If I bought a car, I’d be happy but then somebody else’s car looked better. I bought a big screen television and made a home theater; soon I was looking for something else. I felt no peace within me.”

By this time some Tableeghi Jamaat people were coming to his house regularly. “I would avoid them pretending to be away from home. They always came back. Perhaps they thought I was more ‘shareef’ than other cricketers or because Allah wanted me to have guidance. I was scared at first because I thought they would tell me not to do this and to give up that.” Ultimately Saeed Anwar listened to some of their lectures. “They spoke of how this earth is a temporary abode. They talked about life after death. That got me thinking. I said to myself, if they are wrong, I’ll be fine. But what if they are right? Then I’m dead! The Qur’an says that nobody gets a second chance after death. I realized that life is the color of the glasses you put on. I never even thought of death. Sometimes on a flight if it was turbulent for a second, I thought ‘What if the plane crashes and we die?’”

He was listening to regular Islamic lectures and then Saeed Anwar went to Makkah for Umrah. There he asked Allah to make him say his prayers regularly. “Once I became strict about praying, it became easier to follow Islam. Though I still struggle for the kind of concentration that is desirable.”

Saeed Anwar has always maintained that he is not a fanatic but just a normal Muslim, striving to become better — just what every Muslim should do. “In Pakistan unfortunately only 5 percent of people pray congregational prayers in a mosque. You will be surprised to learn that 65 percent of people recite the Kalima — the proclamation that Allah is one and that Prophet Muhammad is His messenger — incorrectly.”

Where does Anwar get his statistics from?

“I’ve myself heard people reciting the Kalima incorrectly. The Tableeghi Jamaat collects all kinds of statistics throughout Pakistan. Prayers are so important. Follow any school of thought but please pray!”

What was the initial reaction of cricket players when Saeed Anwar went on the cricket ground with a beard?

“People were very surprised to see me. But I was numb with pain because only recently, I had lost my daughter Bisma. I did not like anything. I felt very empty but I was surprised by people’s reaction. They came up to me and started asking me about the beard, about who I was. Also, I was respected more than ever before. Australian cricketers are famous for their rudeness and bad language. On a tour last June, the fast bowler Glenn McGrath collided with me. Normally he would hurl some abuse at me but instead he put his arms around my shoulders, and said, ‘It’s my fault, I’m sorry.’ The beard has had a strange spiritual effect on me which I cannot describe. When you wear a sweater it gives you warmth inside. Also, my beard has affected the people around me. They never utter a filthy word in my presence. So my five senses are protected from exposure to bad things.”

How has religion affected his game? His critics accuse him of practicing too much Islam and not enough cricket.

“That is not true. My non-performance has been due to fitness problems. In 1999 I suffered a knee injury. But I continued playing for a whole year as Pakistan does not have too many alternate players as the Aussies and English do. It got so bad that I had knee surgery in 2000. I was out for a whole year. I came back, scored 60 runs in Sharjah and my wrist was fractured. Then in September 2001, Bisma died. For a father, a daughter is very special. Mine was so extraordinary. I was barely conscious for eight or nine months. When I finally returned to active cricket, I was totally out of practice. My muscles were weak and my reflexes were slow. But praise God, now I am practicing. Inshallah, I hope to be in good shape for the World Cup.”

Anwar said that sometime he had second thoughts about cricket. “Like a person who has bought a new car and is eager to show it off, I was very keen to preach what I had learned about Islam. The atmosphere in the propagation circle is so different from that in the cricket world. Sometimes I felt that by playing, I was doing something wrong. With time and knowledge I realized that Allah has made both worlds and both coexist. We have to create a balance. Then I was motivated to play.”

Commenting on the sorry state of Pakistan’s cricket team Anwar said that a sound opening pair was needed. All great sides such as Australia depend on their openers to give them a solid start. “You could have the best middle order batsmen in the world, but they cannot play the new ball like an opener can. When Aamir Sohail and I opened for Pakistan, we won many matches. I feel Saleem Elahi is a good player. When Pakistan’s opening problem is settled, talented players such as Inzamam, Younus and Yousuf will make great contributions.”

Anwar said he planned to retire after the World Cup. He wanted to become a television commentator before but now he wants to be “totally away from cricket. I’d like to go out like Imran Khan.” A computer engineer by profession, Anwar wants to work propagating Islam.

On the subject of cricket, I asked him how he felt getting out on 194. Though his record is intact a double century in ODI would mean a lot. “I was sorry in the past. Now I am not. It is all from Allah. I remember when I hit 194, I thought, ‘Oh six more runs’ and I was out. Perhaps because I relied on myself and not Allah.”

So Saeed Anwar has come a long way. The quiet cricketer now speaks eloquently from the heart. Perhaps that is why he has an effect. His wife Lubna, a doctor now wears the niqab. His father has joined him in his efforts to propagate Islam. Even his sister-in-law, born and bred in England now wears a hijab in UK, after being in Saeed Anwar’s household for only a few weeks. But he takes no credit. “It is all from Allah.”

Arab News Features 16 January 2003

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