Saeed Anwar: 'It is all from Allah'
By Sameen Khan, Special to Arab News
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
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 *** 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
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
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."