Sports star faces torrent of criticism for daring to wear popular symbol

By Bob Unruh

(Image by alessandra barbieri from Pixabay)
(Image by alessandra barbieri from Pixabay)

A Brazilian soccer star is facing a torrent of criticism for his choice of necklace to wear as he traveled to deliver his services under a contract with a new football club.

But the episode also has generated significant criticism of the Muslim community for its expressed intolerance of anyone not following its beliefs.

The situation is that soccer star Neymar da Silvas Santos Jr. arrived recently in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after he signed to play for the Al-Hilal Saudi Football Club.

According to a report from the Middle East Media Research Institute, “As he stopped off the plane, Neymar was greeted by club officials amid the presence of a throng of reporters, all capturing the historic moment of this globally renowned player’s arrival.”

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But, the report he was wearing a diamond-studded cross pendant and that “seemingly innocuous accessory stirred a wave of reactions on social media and among Muslim clerics worldwide, who perceived it as a potentially offensive and disrespectful gesture toward the birthplace of Islam.”

Such harsh condemnations are common among strict Islamists against others who don’t share their beliefs, but what developed next was not so common: Criticism of the critics.

“Adnan, another Saudi X user with over 50,000 followers, commented on the ongoing campaign against Neymar’s necklace in an August 22 post: ‘Will Muslims be prohibited from entering Western countries while wearing attire with religious connotations? Do Western countries prohibit the construction of mosques? Or does Islamic law follow the principle of ‘collective obligation,’ where if Saudi Arabia enacts it, the rest are absolved? Or do you believe that our faith is as fragile as yours, and that ‘Neymar’s cross’ affects it? The truth is that you are only expressing your envy and animosity,'” the report said.

MEMRI reported when some critics charged the necklace choice was “an intentional statement,” others, including “prominent figures,” have gone the other way.

“They have accused the critics of attempting to undermine the considerable efforts of the Saudi government in advancing the sports sector in the country and of displaying traits of envy, intolerance, and inconsistency.”

The report continued, “The condemnation of Neymar’s has been met with both mockery and ridicule on social media. Notably, influential figures have stepped forward to dismiss this reaction as stemming from envy, intolerance, and inconsistency.”

It was Yasser Al-Qahtani, retired captain of the Saudi National Team, who wrote, “The remarkable strides and advancements that the Kingdom is making in the realm of sports, which have reverberated worldwide, have prompted certain individuals to embark on a campaign of fishing for controversy and trying to sway public opinion about the Kingdom’s endeavors. They do so by sharing offensive and derogatory tweets, actions that we are acutely aware are not motivated by goodwill, but rather by a desire to foster discord while camouflaging their malicious intentions behind a facade of positivity.”

David Syriac, an X user, said, “They’ve taken everything from the West: health, education, books, libraries, medicines, vaccines, electrical devices, mobiles, the internet, satellites, household furniture, airplanes, even insulin and surgical sutures made from pigs. Yet they are angered by Neymar’s cross.”

And MEMRI noted Egypt-based digital creator David Venasio Owich took to mockery.

“It appears that signing the contract with Saudi’s Al-Hilal involves relinquishing Christianity and the cross, and adopting the Islamic faith, as understood by some of Muhammad’s followers. Religious prejudices are a calamity that has struck certain societies, and they will not liberate themselves from it unless they employ their intellect.”

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