Similar to any athlete, while the rugby players are mostly known for their performance on the field, their lives off the field have often been the headline makers. Islam has been associated with many athletes over the years, such as Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. In this video, we’ll be going over the stories of four famous rugby players who accepted Islam in recently.
First on the list, we have the Italy-based Australian professional rugby union player Montanna Ioane. Ioane currently plays for the Italy national rugby union team and for Benetton Rugby in the Pro14. Previously, he has represented previously played for Stade Français, Tasman Mako, and Bay of Plenty Steamers.
So, to begin with, the journey of Montanna Ioane towards Islam began in the quarantine as a result of COVID-19 in 2020. At the time, Ioane was at the top of his game in professional rugby but still, he felt like there was something missing. So, he decided to begin a new adventure and that was learning more about Islam. Soon, he found himself completely engrossed in Islamic teachings. He says, “… I became obsessed as it (Islam) was absolutely amazing and I have never felt so happy in my life.”
Ultimately, without wasting any time, Ioane uttered his Shahadah and reverted. Ioane belongs to a catholic family which surprisingly, was really happy for him as he walked into a defining chapter of his life. Ioane also received thousands of messages from his fans, on his social media accounts, welcoming him to Islam.
After his conversion, when asked about how it feels to be a Muslim and a professional rugby player at the same time, he said that he feels extremely powerful during both training and matches: “I’m feeling something that I’ve never felt before.” Furthermore, while he was quite impulsive after having a bad game as a non-Muslim, now that he is a Muslim, he has instead, learned to be grateful for everything he has.
Looking back on his conversion to Islam, he believes that it was one of the best decisions he ever made.
Sonny Bill Williams
Next, we have the former All blacks player , Sonny Bill Williams.
So, Williams first came across Islam when he was living in Australia and playing the National Rugby League for the Bulldogs. He says that people in Australia were really friendly and always invited him to their gatherings and that’s how he came to learn about Islam.
Born and raised as a Christian, Williams always felt a bit uncomfortable about the environment that Christianity endorsed. He says, “I chased girls, drank alcohol, and it only gave me emptiness. My soul was yearning for something… I found Allah, I found Islam.”
At the time of his Shahadah in 2008, Williams had very limited knowledge of Islam. Luckily, he was friends with a local Tunisian Muslim family that helped him see the true beauty of Islam and ultimately made him learn more about the religion. Williams would spend most of his time in their house and found their way of living to be inspiring. He says, “The contentment, the solace, the happiness that they had in that household… was beautiful… so that’s how I really started getting into it (Islam).”
As a New Zealander and a Muslim, the 2019 Christchurch incident left Williams deeply saddened. He released an emotional message paying tribute to the victims. He also visited survivors of the shootings in hospital and attended a prayer meeting near Al Noor Mosque where the attacks took place. He remarked, “I think in today’s society we’ve been taught to be embarrassed of Islam, to be embarrassed because of a few bad apples that are out there.”
Moving on, in March 2021, Williams retired from Rugby and decided to return to his other sporting passion, Boxing. He accredits Islam for the sporting achievement he has bagged over the years and says, “It’s (Islam) allowed me to be vulnerable enough to step into certain situations and environments and lead and thrive and put myself out there.”
Up next, we have fellow All blacks player, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, who plays for the All Blacks as a prop and represents Auckland domestically.
So, Ofa reverted to Islam back in March 2019 after visiting the survivors of the Christchurch incident. He was accompanied by his teammate and best friend, Sonny Bill Williams. As it happened, during this visit, Williams’s mother also reverted.
The confirmation of Ofa’s conversion first came through the social media account of a fellow Muslim convert, John Fontaini. After that, Ofa himself took to his Instagram and Twitter accounts to share his thoughts on how his experience with the survivors had inspired him and prayed for their speedy recovery, “Verily, with every hardship comes ease. Had the most amazing experience visiting the Muslim Brothers in hospital on the weekend. Am inspired and have drawn so much strength from you all. May the Almighty bless you all with quick recovery. Love and Duas,”
lastly, we have the Australian professional rugby league footballer, Blake Ferguson, is the next player on our list. Ferguson plays as a winger for both the Parramatta Eels in the NRL and Australia at the international level.
So, before reverting back in 2013, Ferguson had kind of a bad boy reputation. After Canberra Raiders had dumped him off due to some off-the-field issues, Ferguson’s career had been in limbo. He was facing charges of indecent assault on a woman at a Cronulla nightspot and was also caught speeding and driving while suspended before having his $400,000 NRL contract terminated.
In a quest to find some sort of discipline and purpose in his life, Ferguson uttered his Shahadah at Zetland Mosque in November 2013.
Ferguson’s new religious identity first came to the surface in a photograph in which he could be seen praying beside Australian boxer, boxer Anthony Mundine. Mundine was also known to have helped Sonny Bill Williams reverting five years ago when he was going through a tough phase in his life.
Ferguson had previously tried to give up alcohol – as demanded by Islam – but had failed.
Anyhow, Ferguson decided not to speak up openly about his newly-found religion, and upon asked, he said: “It’s private. I can’t talk about it, I’m sorry.”
However, when Mundine was asked the same question, he said: “He’s thought about it and it’s a commitment he wants to make, but it’s up to Blake to speak about it when he’s ready.” He further explained that Ferguson was trying to change his direction in life and for that, he had left drinking and partying.
Eventually, after taking some time to adjust to his new self, Ferguson decided to speak about his conversion to media. He said that he was trying to make amends for the mistakes he had committed in the past and feels really hopeful about his future.