24 September 2015

Arsenal owes its very identity to Islam—or Arabic, at least...

As Eid al-Adha comes to a close, Gooners everywhere should pause for a moment to contemplate the connection that the club has to the occasion. At first glance, it might be easy, even comforting, to dismiss or deride any such connection. What, after all, does a football club from London have to do with a Muslim holiday? As one with an eye to history, I can't resist Arsenal's connection to Islam vis-à-vis Arabic is undeniable, and it's on the occasion of Eid al-Adha that I'd like to explore that connection.

Firstly, let's make sure we understand what we're talking about when we discuss Eid al-Adha. For those who believe that Islam differs fundamentally from Christianity or Judaism, please know that it commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac to God. It's an Old Testament story that should be familiar to Christians and Jews alike. Change "Abraham" to "Ibrahim" and "Isaac" to "Ishaq" or "Ishmael", and we should soon realize that we're talking about the same, essential story.

Just what am I going on about? Arsenal is a football club, not a holy-texts book club. It may interest you to know that the name Arsenal derives from Arabic and didn't make its appearance in English until some point in the 1500s. That word that so many of us venerate every weekend and on many Wednesdays derives from the word dar as-sina'ah, which translates loosely to "workshop" or to "house of manufacture. The Arabic dar means "house," and sina'ah means "art, craft, or skill," sina'ah deriving from sana'a, "he made." I hope by now that you see where I'm going with this.

That's right. In a league populated by esters, wiches, and tons, we who call ourselves Gooners have found one of the few clubs whose names actually describe its personality. It's not quite onomatopoeia, but there's something in it all the same. Maybe it's an aptronym? After all, what do most of us love about this club? The artistry, the skill, the technique. The idea that there is a deeper philosophy or raison d'être that transcends mere results and rewards, success and silverware. However, for those who believe that the ends justifies the means, that corners exist only to be cut, Arsenal makes no sense.

For those who do believe in something a little bit more profound, Arsenal makes a whole lot of sense. If any of us wanted quick, immediate, and repetitive success, we could easily find another club with far-less history or philosophy and far more filthy lucre behind it. I'm not suggesting that we who are still reading at this point choose to suffer as some kind of masochistic self-flagellation. Instead, I'm choosing this moment to explore the idea that there is more to pledging one's loyalties than expecting successes and rewards. At some point, to paraphrase Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative, we make the right choice regardless of the rewards that follow.

While I'm paraphrasing, I'll leave you with this: do you like Arsenal, or just Arsenal with trophies? Anyone who's in it on the expectation that they'll be receive rewards is missing the point just a little bit...