Home » ‘My heart burns, my blood boils’: Houli’s vow to speak up on Gaza suffering after King’s Birthday award

‘My heart burns, my blood boils’: Houli’s vow to speak up on Gaza suffering after King’s Birthday award

Houli was the first devout Muslim to play top-level AFL when he was drafted to Essendon in 2006. He became a hero for the Tigers as an important player in the 2017, 2019 and 2020 premiership sides, and used his profile to advance understanding of Islam.

He created the Bachar Houli Foundation, a non-profit organisation run in collaboration with, and out of offices at, Richmond Football Club. The foundation gives about 5000 young Muslims each year the opportunity to participate in organised sport.

The retired footballer was criticised last October for reposting to social media a pro-Palestine video that he deleted several hours later after it was explained to him it had caused offence as it included factually incorrect information.

Houli has established a senior secondary school for talented Muslim athletes.Credit: Wayne Taylor

Houli said the incident had made him feel “sick in the guts because my intention was to create awareness”.

He is not the only sporting figure to have run into controversy while trying to make public statements about the conflict in the Middle East.

Australian cricketer Usman Khawaja was blocked from displaying a dove on his shoe and bat by the International Cricket Council last summer because the message was deemed too political, and instead opted to wear shoes bearing the names of his two daughters.

Houli said he did not consider himself a political person but vowed to continue to raise awareness of the suffering in Gaza.

“It’s not rocket science what’s happening around the world,” he said. “It’s out there and thank god for social media today, the fact that what we’re seeing today is what has been happening for a long, long time.

Usman Khawaja trains for the Boxing Day Test wearing shoes with a black dove on them.

Usman Khawaja trains for the Boxing Day Test wearing shoes with a black dove on them.Credit: Getty Images

“I just looked at this thing from [soccer champion] Cristiano Ronaldo as well. He said, ‘I stand with you, with the Gaza kids.’ We need role models out there to continue to raise awareness. And once again, it comes back to peace.

“So if people want to look at it as otherwise, then you need to think twice and you need to really evaluate your thoughts and opinions because that’s what we asked for. That’s what we ask for. We ask for peace and happiness around the world, and we don’t want to see anyone suffer as a result,” Houli said.

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“I personally want to continue to raise awareness, purely just say peace. I urge the Australian government and people in positions of power just to do their best to put a stop to this.

“That’s it, no message of hate. I’ve been always on the front foot working with our Jewish brothers and sisters. We’ve had interfaith programs and I’m the No.1 advocate for that and I will continue to be that, but we’re seeing what’s unfolding is affecting us all [and] I mean everyone.

“When you see innocent kids starved to death or women dying as a result, at the end of the day it’s humanity and that is all I stand for, and I will continue to stand for that no matter what faith or culture you belong to.”

Houli has established his own independent senior secondary school, the Islamic College of Sport, for young athletes in Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs who might not fit in at other Islamic or mainstream schools.

“It is for kids who traditional academia was not for them but at the same time [are] being told by numerous Islamic schools you have to find another avenue in life or another school to continue your pathway,” he said.

“This is something I would have craved as a young man. I was pretty smart at school but far more into my sport than education, and for me this would have been ideal.”

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