Peter Roebuck writes in his column:
Usman Khawaja is set to become the first Muslim to play cricket for his country. Of course it is a great day for the player but it's also a breakthrough for cricket and his country.
Some locals insist that the newcomer's faith is irrelevant and ought not to be mentioned. After 140 years a Muslim plays for Australia and it does not matter? To the contrary it is a cause for celebration, a step towards enlightenment.
Though Roebuck has already dismissed the question, it needs to be asked. Why should the person’s faith matter at all, in a discussion of cricket?
In a Utopian world, it is possible to highlight points of differences between individuals, and celebrate the rich diversity. The Bombay Quandrangular cricket tournament in the 1920s was an inter-racial contest involving Hindus, Muslims, Parsees and Europeans. An Indian Christian could not take part. The Europeans would not admit Indians, and the Hindus, Muslims and Parsees would not admit Christians. Later, a fifth team called the Rest was included, so that the Buddhists, Christians and Jews could play.
The Pentangular was eventually abandoned when there were fears of ‘communal unrest’. The Ranji Trophy took its place and provincial teams replaced teams based on religion.
Unfortunately, faith has the tendency to arouse baser instincts and, in the long run, to do more harm than good. So, even if there are some positives, we will have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Diversity is one thing, divisiveness another. It is bad enough that we have to divide people on the basis of nationality. But, we will have to live with this aspect for purely administrative convenience. The entire world cannot be kept boundaryless and governed from a central place.
So, when we have national teams such as Australia, Pakistan, India competing, the emphasis has to be solely on the person’s nationality. You are permitted to say that Khawaja is of Pak-origin, but his Islamic faith is not relevant and needs no emphasis..