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Predictably, the partnership between Newcastle United and Wonga has angered some. More worryingly, their Muslim players are being encouraged not to play in shirts sponsored by the payday lender. This includes key first-team players Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse, Cheik Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa.
The recently announced partnership between payday lenders Wonga and Newcastle United has been met with largely negative reviews in spite of the new sponsor's announcement that it would return Newcastle's home stadium's name to St. James' Park. New trouble is coming from another front today... one that could potentially have humongous ramifications on the squad if it plays out in worst-case scenario.
4 of Necastle's preferred starting XI are practicing Muslims. It goes without saying that Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa, Papiss Cisse and Cheik Tiote constitute the backbone of our current squad. Their Muslim faith, however, could cause potential problems with regard to wearing a shirt sponsored by the sky-high interest charging company.
"Those who devour usury cannot stand.... That is because they say, trade is only like usury; yet Allah has allowed trade and forbidden usury.... Allah does not bless usury, and He causes charitable deeds to prosper, and Allah does not love any ungrateful sinner. Oh you who believe! Be careful of your duty to Allah and relinquish what remains due from usury, if you are believers. If the debtor is in difficulty, grant him time until it is easy for him to repay. But if you remit it by way of charity, that is best for you if you only knew." Qur'an 2:275-280
Retrieved from About.com Islam 10-9-12
Strict adherence to Muslim Sharia law prohibits the charging or paying of interest in the process of lending or borrowing money. This produces a very clear problem with regard to Newcastle's Muslim players as wearing a kit sponsored by a company such as Wonga would be seen as explicit acceptance of the interest-charging business model. According to today's story from The Independent, the Muslim Council of Britain is already calling for Demba, Hatem, Papiss and Cheik to refuse to play in the new kits next season.
Newcastle United's £24m shirt sponsorship deal with Wonga was engulfed in fresh controversy last night when the club's Muslim players were warned that wearing the new shirts would infringe Sharia law.
The intervention from the Muslim Council of Britain will heap further pressure on the club as it seeks to deflect widespread criticism after unveiling a four-year deal with the short-term loan company.
--From The Independent
This is not the first time that a kit sponsorship deal has run afoul of Muslim law, in fact former West Ham United striker Freddie Kanoute refused to wear an 888bet sponsored kit for Sevilla FC as gambling is also an activity prohibited in the Muslim faith:
Frédéric Kanouté refused to wear a Sevilla FC shirt bearing the name of club sponsor 888.com, due to the fact the website is used for gambling. Gambling is against the principles of Islam. This meant that the club had to give Frédéric Kanouté a brand-free jersey every match.
Kanouté was allowed for a time to wear an unbranded kit for Sevilla for a time, but according to the same profile quoted above, he began to wear a sponsored kit following 888bet's agreement to donate money to an Islamic charity. It remains to be seen whether such a remedy would be available as it pertains to Wonga's sponsorship of Newcastle United's jerseys, but it seems unlikely that Wonga would be thrilled for 4 of Newcastle's starting XI to be running around the pitch at St. James' Park in unbranded kits.
Of course nothing in NUFC fandom can be easy, so this really cannot come as a surprise that there is more than the expected backlash to the sponsorship by a company with the public reputation of Wonga... but this will be one to keep an eye on as it plays out between now and next season.