Was there a game like football during the Era of the Prophet (pbuh)?

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Was there a game like football during the Era of the Prophet (pbuh)?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Among the sports activities that the Prophet (pbuh) was engaged in, interested in and encouraged people to do, were games that aimed to prepared people to war and that were called games with a purpose.  They were games like horse riding, archery, throwing spears, swimming, wrestling, horse and camel racing. There were also games that aimed entertainment within a legitimate framework. The most common ones were running races. The Prophet himself raced with his wife, Hazrat Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) several times. 

In the classical resources that are available, there exist sports activities that we have mentioned above and similar ones. However, there is no information that football and similar games were played and watched at that time. Nevertheless, Muhammad Hamidullah, the Pakistani scholar, who devoted most of his life to the research of the life of the Prophet, who carried out deep researches about the life of the Prophet (pbuh) in both Makkah and Madinah and who taught at Turkish universities for a while, mentions a game called “kurrak”, which can be described as football, in the second volume of his two-volume book called “the Prophet of Islam”.

The researchers that came after him received the information about the game “kurrak” from this resource. The information given in this resource is as follows: 

"Before Islam, in the Era of Ignorance, Makkans played a kind of foot ball called kurraki. Many people came to watch this game. There were fields to play kurraki in every district of Makkah. There existed kurrak in Madinah, too. We do not have detailed information about the form and the rules of that game. However, the Prophet (pbuh) did not ban this game."

That is the whole information in the books that are regarded as first level resources. It does not fit the personality of the Prophet (pbuh) and his ethics and sunnah to describe and introduce the Prophet (pbuh) as a “football spectator” and – God forbid– as a “football fanatic” acting upon this information.  Besides, it does not seem possible to establish a connection between the football played today and the game of “kurrak”. If there is a similarity, it is the fact that kurrak is known to be played by foot only. 

There are some conditions for games and entertainments to be regarded as permissible:

1. Not to neglect performing prayers and worshipping by being engrossed in it.
2. Not to gamble or bet on it.
3. To avoid cursing or swearing while playing.
4. To treat the opponents humanely and ethically.
5. To wear clothing items that are in accordance with Islamic criteria...

By the way, it is necessary to consider the warning in the following hadith: “Avoiding unnecessary things shows the beauty of the Islamic understanding of a person.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd 11).

Resources:

1. Muhammad Hamidullah, İslam Peygamberi(The Prophet of Islam), 2:1075.
2. Celal Yeniçeri, Hz. Muhammed, Yaşadığı ve Yön Verdiği Hayat, İFAV Yayınları. p. 280
3. Bütün Yönleriyle Asr-ı Saadette İslam, Ensar Neşriyat. 4:380.

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