By Carolyne Meng-Yee
|Sonny Bill Williams (right) and Anthony Mundine (left) after the bout with Scott Lewis. Photo / Getty Images|
Heâ€™s converted from a rugby league teen sensation into an All Black juggernaut, and along the way become a promising heavyweight boxer.
But Sonny Bill Williams has also made a spiritual conversion to Islam.
While rumours of the 25-year-old sporting superstarâ€™s religious beliefs have circulated for some time, the Herald on Sunday can reveal he made the leap of faith two years ago.
He has since become the first Muslim to wear the All Black jersey, and requested halal food during the Northern Hemisphere tour last year.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when followers are forbidden from eating between dawn and sunset, falls in August this year – when the All Blacks play three Tri Nations matches. It is during the final build-up to the Rugby World Cup.
Williams regularly attends Friday prayer sessions at a Christchurch mosque, according to friends.
Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand first vice-president Javed Khan said his allegiance was commonly known among the Muslim community.
â€œHe is practising the religion and he is a great role model for the youngsters. We will pray to Allah that he will win the World Cup for us. Everyone talks about it you know. The Muslim community, everyone knows everyone, you know.â€
Williamsâ€™ manager Khoder Nasser and mentor, league star and boxer Anthony Mundine, are both Muslims, as is his brother Johnny, who lives with him in Christchurch.
Williamsâ€™ friend Tairek Smith said he had regularly prayed with the 1.91m, 108kg second five-eighth since he embraced the Sunni branch of Islam during a ceremony at the Regentâ€™s Park mosque in Sydneyâ€™s western suburbs in 2008, where former Canterbury Bulldogs teammate Hazem El Masri attends.
All Black manager Darren Shand said the starâ€™s religious beliefs had a â€œminimalâ€ impact on the team.
He said: â€œHe has talked to us about his dietary needs and we do make some concessions there. We request halal beef and so on but he doesnâ€™t make a big deal of it.
â€œWe always leave playersâ€™ religious affiliations and a lot of those holistic things outside of the game. Thatâ€™s their personal life and they decide what they do.â€
When asked if his faith clashed with the All Blacksâ€™ philosophy for encouraging players to jbe free thinking and self reliant, Shand said Williams was a â€œspongeâ€ for information.
â€œThatâ€™s why he is so good at all the sports he has been involved in. He just ticks all the boxes. He wants to be the best.â€
He is in training for the Crusadersâ€™ Super Rugby campaign and was unavailable for comment.
– Herald on Sunday