Kanouté strikes chord with Seville faithful
Mali soccer star stumps up half a million euros to save city mosque.
17 December 2007
SEVILLE - Seville's 2,000-strong Muslim community will be able to continue praying in the city's central mosque thanks to Sevilla striker Frédéric Kanouté, who has bought the premises outright for EUR 510,000. In use for the last six years, the mosque, in Ponce de León plaza, was due to be closed after its rental period had expired, until Kanouté, who along with team mate Seydou Keita, regularly prays there, stepped in.
The Malian international is a man of few words, both on and off the pitch, and is deeply religious. Typically, he played down the purchase of the mosque, saying only: "It was the right price for a premises in a good location."
Kanouté embraced Islam 10 years ago, when he was 20. Since then, he has been heavily involved in a number of humanitarian projects in Mali, notably a EUR 750,000-contribution toward the construction of an 18-hectare complex for abandoned street children.
Although French born, a change in FIFA rules four years ago allowed Kanouté to play for Mali rather than France. In the 2004 African Nations Cup he was joint top goal scorer, putting away four goals in four matches to help Mali reach the semifinals before losing to Morocco. He has lived in Seville since leaving England's Tottenham Hotspur in 2005. Now Sevilla's leading striker, his annual salary is around EUR 2 million.
The 2006/2007 season proved to be the most productive of his career and earned him much praise for his prominent role in Sevilla's double UEFA Cup and King's Cup triumphs. During this year's holy month of Ramadan, he also impressed Spanish soccer fans by maintaining his form even though he was fasting.
Kanouté, who regularly prays in the locker room, refused last season to wear a jersey advertising an internet gaming site, because gambling is forbidden in Islam. The club had to give him a brand-free jersey until he accepted wearing the sponsored one in return for the donation of funds to an Islamic charity.
José Manuel Espinosa, one of the directors of the mosque, says that it is central to the life of the Muslim community in Seville, organising cultural, religious, and educational projects. He says that when Kanouté heard that the rental agreement was running out, and that the local community lacked the funds to pay for the building, he immediately stepped in.
"If it had not been for Kanouté, then we would not have had a mosque on Fridays," he said, adding: "The Muslim community of Seville expresses its thanks to Kanouté."
The city's only other mosque, the Macarena, has traditionally been used by Seville's Moroccan community. A third mosque is planned, but is awaiting a new location, following the decision by residents of the Los Bermejales neighbourhood not to allow construction there.
[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ FERNANDO PÉREZ MONGUIO 2007]
Subject: Spanish news