Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Religious leaders to ponder "the beautiful game"

Militants acting in the name of religion may be at the heart of tensions around the world but in Berlin, at least, clergy of Islam, Christianity and Judaism hope to find common ground on the football field. With just over a month to go before the FIFA World Cup, a team of Muslim Imams is preparing to play a team of Christian Vicars. "It's been difficult to find a Rabbi who will referee on the Sabbath," the Reverend Christopher Jage-Bowler told Roger Boyes of The Times (UK), "but we are trusting in God."

The Muslim side will not play on Friday and the Christians have a problem with Sunday. But the 44-year-old vicar, planner of the seven-a-side match, is confident that the problems will be resolved before kick-off. The aim is to link the game with a British government-sponsored workshop on racism in football.

Jage-Bowler was struck by how few points of spontaneous contact there were between the Muslim and Christian communities in Berlin. Since the World Cup is being marketed in Germany as a cultural melting pot, the vicar thought a football game would break down barriers. This inspired him to contact Imam Harun Bulat, of the Sehitlik Mosque, which has a large Turkish congregation. "I'm hoping it will become a regular event," the vicar said. "It is, after all, a beautiful game."

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