As fans celebrate football legend, Lionel Messi, for his first World Cup win, some aren’t happy that he wore a traditional Arabic robe, the bisht, as he lifted the trophy.
The bisht is a traditional garb worn by Middle Eastern men to celebrate prestigious occasions and symbolises wealth and royalty. It typically comes in a variety of colours with the most common being black with real gold trimmings. Throughout the Middle East, you can find politicians, royalty, and high-ranking individuals wearing them. It is akin to a tuxedo in Western culture.
The gifting of the bisht is essentially “a mark of honour”, according to Mustafa Baig, lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Exeter.
“So only a select few people would actually wear the bisht,” said Baig. “They basically honoured him [Messi] by putting it over his shoulders. It’s like a mark of honour, and just kind of a cultural welcoming and a cultural acceptance.”
Secretary-general of Qatar’s World Cup organising committee, Hassan al-Thawadi, echoed Baig’s statement, “It is a dress for an official occasion and worn for celebrations. This was a celebration of Messi. The World Cup had the opportunity to showcase to the world our Arab and Muslim culture. This was not about Qatar, it was a regional celebration.”
Not everyone saw it this way. Perhaps it was an example of cultural misunderstandings between the West and Muslims, but pundits from outlets like the BBC thought Messi wearing the bisht and covering up the Argentina jersey was “a shame.”
Gary Lineker said on the BBC that, “This is a magic moment, it’s just a shame in a way they’ve covered up Messi in his Argentina shirt.”
Journalist, Tariq Panja, went further saying that “Qatar wants this to be its moment as much as it is Messi’s and Argentina’s.”
Football administrator and lawyer, Nicola Palios, said it was a “bizarre idea to make Messi wear a black robe to lift the trophy. Ruins what should have been an iconic photo by making him look like a Harry Potter extra. Surely any player lifting the World Cup wants to do so in his country’s colours?”
Casual islamophobia aside, Messi himself seemed unperturbed receiving this genuine honour from Qatar.
There are plenty of other things to take issue with the Qatar World Cup, but this isn’t one of them.