Hats off for a striking own-goal scored by Premiership Footballer Papiss Cisse in his dispute with Newcastle United FC (see our post of 15 July – Football Strip Adds Interest to Debate). To re-cap, Cisse has refused to wear Newcastle’s usual strip because the activities of its shirt sponsor, Wonga, offend Sharia and Islamic principles relating to the charging of interest on loans.
No solution to that issue has yet been reported, but you can expect what little sympathy Newcastle fans and bosses might have had for his position to have been significantly eroded by the recent appearance of photographs of Cisse in the City’s Aspers Casino. Aspers confirms Cisse as an “occasional visitor” (i.e. more than once) who is – perhaps by way of distinction from other visiting footballers – “very well-behaved and very welcome”. The casino would not confirm whether Cisse did actually gamble – another infringement of Sharia law – and his agent denies it, but the photo of him sitting at a dealing table, hat pulled down (hats only permitted in the Poker Room, reveals Aspers’ dress code, oddly), may then take some explaining.
Helpful this may be to Newcastle’s PR position in its dispute with Cisse about the Wonga branding, but does it actually alter the law behind it? It would be a brave employer which took from an employee’s marginal respect for one tenet of his faith that he must therefore be equally willing to ride roughshod through others. However, the Cisse question is a little different. His issue with Wonga is not that it requires him to breach Sharia law in benefitting from the charging of interest, but that his wearing the strip promotes an organisation which does, and so gives the wrong impression to other Muslims. It is a much harder argument to contend that you are willing to be associated with certain non-Islamic behaviours and not others. At least with the strip issue, Cisse could argue that he is contractually bound to wear it and that his contract expressly prevents his wearing it being used to indicate his support for the sponsor. Periodically wandering into Aspers, on the other hand, must be seen as wholly voluntary and so quite without the same possible mitigation. Whether he did actually gamble is then about as relevant as whether he does actually lend money at usurious interest rates, i.e. not at all.
Cisse’s local councillor and a supporter in the Wonga debate says “Islam is not about picking and choosing”. Maybe not, but his appearances in one of the region’s premier gambling joints have certainly lengthened the odds on his chances of success were this particular off-field drama ever to be played out in the Newcastle Employment Tribunal.