CAIRO - Serving as Australian Football League multicultural ambassador, Richmond Muslim player Bachar Houli has welcomed a recent decision by the league to introduce multi-faith prayer rooms at playgrounds as respecting Australia's cultural diversity.
At the end of the day, people want to go and enjoy the footy as well as continue with their beliefs, Houli told The Australian on Friday, April 20.
If it means they have to pray once a day at the footy, we're not asking for much.
Praying before and after games, Houli has been pressing for prayer rooms to be introduced at grounds in his capacity as the league's multicultural ambassador.
Muslims pray five times a day, with each prayer made of a series of postures and movements, each set of which is called a rakah.
The five prayer times are divided all through the day which starts with fajr prayer at dawn.
Then prayer times are divided from the time the sun declines, which is mid-day, until the darkening of the night, includes Zuhr (noon prayer), `Asr (evening prayer), Maghrib (sunset prayer) and `Ishaa' (night prayer).
Following the AFL's decision, multi-faith prayer rooms were introduced at the MCG and Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, and Sydney's ANZ Stadium.
As a devout Muslim, Houli say he was forced with other Muslim players to pray in carparks or stairwells during games.
He added that more Muslims would come to the football if they had a place to pray.
"The main thing is we've got what we want, and you can't change that, Houti said.
Houli's comments followed criticism from former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, who called the idea "stupid" and "political correctness gone mad".
"To put prayer rooms into sporting venues is not part of the Australian lexicon, it's not the way in which we've behaved," he said.
"I think it's an overreaction, I think it's political correctness, I think it's absolute rubbish. It's not practical, it's stupid, it's political correctness gone mad."
The league's decision won applaud from the Australian Muslim community as respecting others' religious obligations.
"What is the harm?" Ikebal Patel, the president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, asked The Australian.
"What's the problem in someone enjoying a game of footy and at the same time being mindful of their religious obligations, whatever they may be.
Patel added that the AFL deserved full marks over his decision.
"Full marks to the AFL for being inclusive when we have people from different backgrounds and faiths. It's not only Muslims who might like to pray, he said.
It is engaging with God, and they might even be praying for Hawthorn to win."
Not only Muslims.
The league's decision was welcomed by the AFL's newest club, Greater Western Sydney.
"Western Sydney is a culturally diverse region and the Giants welcome all people regardless of their background, the club said yesterday.
We are proud of the contribution clubs like Muslim AFL team the Auburn Tigers have made to growing the game in Western Sydney, and the Giants would be happy to support any initiative which makes the game more accessible for all people."
AFL chief Andrew Demetriou said the league had an obligation to make venues welcoming to people of all cultures.
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.
Islam is the country's second largest religion after Christianity.