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German News Outlet Spreads Misinformation About Moroccan Football Players

Rend Beiruti Rend Beiruti
16th December 2022
German News Outlet Spreads Misinformation About Moroccan Football Players
The gesture is very common regardless of religion (Twitter)

Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.

Earlier this week, popular German news outlet Welt TV reminded us that Islamophobia, racism, and disinformation are alive and kicking. 

Reporting on the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, a Welt TV anchor linked Moroccan players’ celebration of reaching the semi-finals to ISIS fighters. 

The report was aired on December 12, after the Moroccan team defeated Portugal in the quarter-finals, becoming the first African and Arab team to reach this stage. 

Moroccan Players Accused of performing an “ISIS Salute”

Three Moroccan football players, Zakaria Aboukhlal, Abdelhamid Sabiri, and Ilias Chair, were shown in the locker room holding the Moroccan flag and pointing their index fingers upwards. The Welt TV report compared their gesture to the one performed by ISIS members. It was also reported that their way of celebration caused “irritation” in Germany.

In an English subtitled version of the Welt TV segment, the anchor remarks, “It is unknown whether the Moroccan players were aware of the meaning of the greeting.” This condescending remark assumes that the German TV channel is more knowledgeable on Islam than the Muslim players themselves. 

The segment also ignored the centuries-old meaning of this gesture among Muslims. Pointing one’s index finger to the sky signifies Tawhid: The confirmation of the oneness of God, a core belief of Islam. 

In the context of football, it is more likely that the raised finger is also done to claim victory. It is not uncommon for football players, Muslim or otherwise, to celebrate their victories or goals by raising their index fingers upwards, as can be seen below.

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In fact, the gesture has been described as Lionel Messi’s “Trademark pointing to the sky.”

There have been other instances where the index finger gesture has been contested due to links with ISIS. For example, in 2016, Bedfordshire Police in the UK dropped the logo for its Islamophobia Awareness Month because it featured an index finger, after pressure from right-wing groups and individuals. 

It is important not to inflate this conflation. Tawhid has been around far longer than extremist groups such as ISIS. 

The Welt TV report has all of the characteristics of disinformation. It propagated false information that would mislead the audience. Moreover, this kind of reductionist reporting deflects from the real news, which is the joy of watching the Moroccan team’s impressive victory. 

The performance of the Moroccan team brought much joy not only to people across Africa and the Arab world, but also to others who enjoy watching an ‘underdog’ team make it so far. More critically, these types of misinformation fire up Islamophobic sentiments and hate crimes.   

Uproar Over The Welt TV Report on Moroccan Players

Online commentators and journalists from all over the world have castigated the Welt TV segment for its blatant Islamophobia and racism. 

German journalist Tarek Baé tweeted an analysis of the segment, which he described as a “hate crime.” He asked, "People all over the world raise their index fingers in celebration. But only with Muslims, it should be terror. What do you call the picking out a group of people to be demonised?"  

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This is not the first incident of policing Moroccan players and their celebrations. Prior to this, the German outlet Die Tageszeitung criticised Moroccan players for raising of the Palestinian flag, claiming that it was an act of antisemitism. Again, this coverage does not genuinely engage with these issues and dismissively makes outrageous and defamatory claims. 

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Meanwhile, a cartoonist for the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant Shareda shared a depiction of Moroccans on a scooter speeding away with the World Cup trophy. This caricature features a blatant racist stereotype, positioning Moroccans as thieves and again dismissing their incredible journey to the semi-finals. 

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Erroneous Interpretations of the Muslim Prostration 

Following Morocco’s defeat to France in the semi-finals, the New York Times reported:

“Morocco’s players walk the length of the field and then, stopping just outside the penalty area in front of a stand full of their fans, dropping to their knees. France is already in the dressing room. Morocco’s team just doesn’t want to leave.”

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This inaccurate description is one of many examples of erroneous reporting. The players were performing Sujood, not merely “dropping to their knees.” This is a Muslim prayer gesture done to thank God. Secondly, the reporting neglects the incredible journey Morocco has had this World Cup and their commitment to their fans and negatively portrays their presence on the pitch with their fans. 

Regrettably, these recent media articles and reports reveal the persistence of Islamophobia, racism, and lack of interest in the Muslim culture. 

Misbar’s Sources:

The New Arab

The New York Times

Teller Report

Russia Today

Morocco World News

Middle East Eye via YouTube


Doha News


Middle East Eye