Bachar Houli is, by all accounts, the first devout Muslim to play in the Australian Football League. Born to Lebanese parents, he is the second ever Lebanese player in the league. He is currently a midfielder for Richmond.
â€œIâ€™m grateful for the position Iâ€™ve been put in. Iâ€™ve got a role to play and that is to educate others about the way I live and the belief system I follow,â€ Houli told the Herald Sun. â€œItâ€™s all about being proud of who you are and talking about it because a lot of people donâ€™t understand and itâ€™s about educating them that Iâ€™ve got a couple of different ways I go about life.â€
Australian Rules Football has never been typical sport for Muslims in Australia. And Houli first pursued his passion as an 11-year-old when he would sneak out of the family home to play. â€œInitially, I found it awkward and I was kind of scared because my parents werenâ€™t aware that I was going to play and they were really against it,â€ he said. â€œIt was the old trick of putting the teddy bear underneath the blanket. I got away with it a few times, but it didnâ€™t last too long. Luckily my brother backed me up and said, â€˜Youâ€™ve got to let the kid play and enjoy what heâ€™s doingâ€™.â€
Houli prays five times daily, including on match day when he will perform his salat under the stadium for five minutes before and after the game. â€œAll I need is a little space to do my thing. I perform one prayer before the game and if it clashes with another one I perform that prayer after the game,â€ he told the press. â€œWith our religion itâ€™s all about cleanliness and being clean so coming in at halftime youâ€™re going to be quite sweaty and not smelling all that good. When we pray itâ€™s as if weâ€™re facing God, so we have to present ourselves in the best form.â€
Houli praised the Tigers and his former club Essendon for their understanding. He said: â€œTheyâ€™ve both been very, very supportive. They have offered me a number of rooms to perform my prayers.â€ Ramadan has presented additional challenges to Houli as it has many Muslim athletes, especially with the holy month having shifted toward the summer these days. But special training and nutrition regimens, coordinated with team trainers, has allowed him to perform his religious duties safely. And currently, Houli is taking on one of the biggest challenges of his life. He is in Mecca performing the Hajj. Clearly, Muslims in Australia couldnâ€™t ask for a better role model.